Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Diasporic 1980's Film Festival, with a Special Tribute to Frank Capra

Today is Frank Capra’s birthday! I KNOW! I am sure YOU bounded out of bed and ran around in a wild celebratory frenzy just like I did this morning. Wow. I feel so connected with you right now.

But seriously, this morning, as I lay abed thinking about what to write, something kept moving me toward The Diasporic 1970’s Film Festival. WHICH IS SO AMAZING because, if you’ll recall, it was my discussion with a colleague about her dissertation on Capra's It’s a Wonderful Life that got the whole diasporic film thing going. Kismet, or just plain ouiji board manifest film destiny? You decide.

First off, we’ll have to adjust the genre, and I know how you hate adjusting the genre. It is going to have to be the 1980’s Diasporic Film Festival, followed by an homage to our diasporic boyfriend Frank Capra.

Sharpen your pencils.

The other night MZA and I watched An Officer and a Gentleman because it was on PBS, for God’ sake, BECAUSE it is so damn old it is a classic worthy of viewing on federally funded TV. Sigh. Joints creak.

An Officer and a Gentleman came out in 1982 when I was…um, 19. Do the math because you’re not getting me to spit out my current age anymore. I’m going all Blanche DuBois these days and will only be viewed through a paper lantern scrim. Pass me a lemon Coke.

ANYWAY, I was 19 and so back then we were all in a tizz over the scrumptiousness of Richard Gere and our main focus was a) she’s ON TOP? How embarrassing! And b) did they really “do it” on the set? HOW EMBARRASSING!

Yes, these were the pressing intellectual concerns gracing my somewhat innocent Polly Purebred mind. However this time, I had my mind out of the gutter and I was far more focused on what an AMAZING performance Mr. Gere was giving and also how unbelievably sexy and scrumptious and sinuous he was.

ALSO, please see Lou Gossett, Jr. in a performance so tight and smoking and taught and killer that you'll need a Valium from the intensity. Don Cheadle is the only man to come along in a long time to match that intensity and thespic skill. Additionally, I was quite impressed with the atmospherics of the film—it conveyed the time, place and the particular salty, slightly seedy, company townishness of the Navy base in Washintgon state.

There, that concludes this portion of the Diasporic 1980’s Film Festival.

Let us now honor Frank Capra. Happy Birthday, Mr. Capra!

My favorite Capra film is You Can’t Take it With You. That also happens to be one of my favorite plays. It was written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman and I saw the play at Arena Stage when I was 16 and it had this really weird effect on me, in that I wanted to crawl onstage and become a part of this obliviously wacky family. I wanted that chaotic absurd madcap acceptance of all things abnormal kind of life. I WANTED IT SO BADLY.

Of course now I understand that as a teen (read: OUTCAST) it was probably very reassuring to watch a family of kooks embrace all of their kookiness so lovingly and unquestioningly. Kind of like the Munsters Effect, you know? Like we’re perfectly normal, what’s wrong with YOU?

That is a theme that plays out in a LOT of sitcoms (which owe a lot to the wackiness of plays like You Can’t Take it With You and that whole genre)—the wacked out family that ends up freaking out all the “normal” people and it turns out the “normal” people are just freaks anyway. There was The Addams Family, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, etc. The message was: Celebrate the Freak.

Hmm, maybe I should write a dissertation on how Frank Capra, far from being a director about the diaspora, was really a CHAMPION OF THE FREAK. I have got to stop re-writing everyone’s dissertation! For the love of Pete!

What he truly accomplished was a gentle and respectful representation of the improbable—an angel trying to get his wings, a family of kooks with a delusional daughter in a ballet costume (we’re ALL about delusional dames in ballet costumes here at Zeldafitz) and an everyman who storms Washington with beliefs—yeah, yeah here is where I’m supposed to say that’s the most improbable of all. There, I said it. He also directed It Happened one Night with Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable and lemme just say, it’s very titillating! Indeedy, who knew there was such sexual tension going on back then! It is, again, about misfits, unlikely bedfellows and improbable events.

Frank Capra, far from being the patron saint of idyllic picket fence America, saw further into our eccentric hearts and directed films about our most essential and endearing traits—our undying belief in the rewards of being a good person and the esoteric patchwork of nuttiness that makes a person real, and not just a shell of projected normality.

Close your notebooks class, go out and jump over a white picket fence and then reach into your pocket to see if those petals you thought you dreamt about are still there…

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