Friday, June 17, 2011

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #19: Auntie Mame (1958)

The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.

Until a couple weeks or so ago, I was blissfully unaware that a crucial bit of cinema had been missing from my childhood.  Now, the curtains have been pulled back, the lights are on, and I now know that I've missed many good years of time spent with imaginary relatives.  I should have watched Auntie Mame ages ago.  It is (and for this I need a cigarette holder and an affected accent) positively divine.  My dears, have you seen Auntie Mame?  No? Well then, just wait, let me rephrase that, why haven't you seen Auntie Mame?  There's no good reason unless you happen to already have an 'in real life' aunt who's already out traveling the world, taming wild bachelors, and redecorating according to her momentary interests.  I simply have to doubt, darling, that you have such a relative.  Unless, of course, you're the blood relation of Daphne Guinness.  Oh, you're not?  Well then, you can say you do, but I'm going to prejudge you as a liar. 

Auntie Mame is one of those great works of Orphan Porn, by which I mean it's a 'grass is greener' type tale that finds a way to make perfectly happy children suddenly lust after a life with either no guardian, or, any guardian or caretaker who is not their biological parent.  Sometimes, that caretaker may pay more attention to the child, sometimes it's a zero supervision situation.  Annie is obvious Orphan Porn, but Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, Narnia, Lord of the Flies, St. Trinian's, and Sound of Music are too.  All of these things make people under 18 concoct elaborate fantasies about the potential for a life without three square meals and a ride to and from soccer practice.  Don't try to pretend you never secretly hoped (even for an instant) you weren't related to any of these people and had veins full of witchery.  Seriously. Don't pretend.  I'm once again calling you a liar.  Seriously.  There's a reason these movies are so eternally possible and that's because everyone wants to be adopted into a family that can buy them everything, everyone wants to have magical powers, everyone wishes their medicine tasted like Rum Punch, everyone kind of wants a secret portal in their closet, everyone might not mind being able to inflict tribal violence on their playground enemies, and most people would have liked to have gone to a boarding school were no one was paying attention and they were free to do as they pleased.  No one wants to bolt through the mountains to escape Nazis, but that's not really the point.
As Orphan Porn, Auntie Mame is of the non-magical, non-boarding school subcategory.  Its wonders are derived from two things: money and exoticism.  Mame is no one's nanny; she's not one for discipline or carefully planned lessons.  Her tale isn't one specifically built around bringing family closer together or outfitted for unlikely romance.  Instead, it's simply about being Mame.  Auntie Mame is Orphan Porn because you wish you had a family member so fancifully headstrong, but unlike its counterparts, it's a spectacular character-driven comedy that plays as love letter and study of a smart, sparky, genuine, and imaginative woman.  There's no real focus on the child here, just on the guardian.  Auntie Mame is told without rhyme or reason, with bridges built from scene to scene and vignettes that fill in the blanks with pure personality.  It runs long, but is nothing if not irrepressibly giddy about it.  The story originated as a best-selling novel by Patrick Dennis in 1955, and was a semi-autobiographical account of life with his rather bohemian-minded aunt.  If she was anything like Rosalind Russell's portrayal, I'd have loved to meet her.
When I was 12 or so, I saw Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of Great Expectations.  If you're literate and logical, you'll have surmised this is leading towards a Miss Havisham comment.  You win.  Cuaron called her Nora Dinsmoor and case Anne Bancroft.  I watched the film and immediately decided that in my old age I would have to start painting on more eyeliner than a drag queen, chain smoking, and adopt a shambles chic aesthetic.  That's just the kind of lady I am.  Keep in mind: I was 12.  I was discussing my retirement plans with fellow 12-year olds as we ran around a field in gym class.  I was describing, in detail, the manner in which I would become a patroness of the arts, the vines that I would consider allowing to grow all over my walls, and the white-blonde bob haircut I would get instead of some silly perm.  Mame fits into my retirement plan without succumbing to the emotional imbalance and depression at work in a Havisham archetype.  She's poised, larger than life, ever-changing, and impossible to bring down.  So maybe, apart from Orphan Porn, Auntie Mame is one of those movies that offers up the building blocks for successfully becoming a grande dame.  Through the film we receive an etiquette primer on how to be a classy eccentric in every circumstance.  A life alone?  Grab all the artists in Manhattan, invite them over for cocktails, speak on philosophy as if you knew Aristotle himself.  Economic hardtimes?  Sell those material possessions, take those jobs, have no shame, but do everything slightly off-kilter (or dead wrong).  Yankee out of water in Dixieland?  Jump on that horse.  Don't let go.  Sudden acquisition of small child?  Enroll them in a progressive school, speak to them as an adult, take them on adventures and do not hide your morning drinking.  Crappy, prejudiced future in-laws?  Make them drink fire. Literally. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello..coming by a visting... very nice blog you have here.. hope we can keep in touch.. thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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