Wednesday, December 22, 2010

12 Days of Favorites: Desk Set

 The story of Love & Squalor begins many years before the fateful meeting of Wilde.Dash and M, long before the almost nightly movie marathons on uncomfortable and rank smelling dorm furniture and Sound of Music sing-a-longs. From the mid 80’s on, unaware of each others’ presence, M and Wilde.Dash were bonding with family, not over board games or a large family meal (ok, there was a lot of that too), but over the likes of Woody Allen and Walter Pidgeon. The holidays in said families were filled with the usual Christmas fair, but also with strange family film favorites and traditions. So hang your stockings with care and when your sister starts complaining about your billionth viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life and how boooooring it is, spend your 12 Days of Christmas with the movies that have followed Love & Squalor from infancy to bloggerhood.

I’m not one of these people that love Katharine Hepburn. I love the idea of her and who she was but there’s something about her manner that gets under my skin in movies, more grating than great. But Desk Set, one of her many collaborations with Spencer Tracy, is the major exception. Hepburn is the head librarian at a TV network who can answer just about any question. The women there  pride themselves (as most reference librarians do) on their speed, accuracy, and general knowledge, until Tracy barges in with a computer that they think is there to replace them. I used to hate this movie. When my parents would extend their executive veto on movie nights and choose it, it was the worst sort of boring torture for someone under the age of 10. But now, after more than a decade of maturing, I have joined my mother in the niche market for this film: library nerds. But the great thing about Desk Set, in addition to the unending subtle witty banter, awesomely feminist atmosphere, and love story, is that it does something we don’t see a lot of these days. It deals with these grand philosophical topics, particularly the advent of technology and how it changes the human landscape, without getting saccharine, sappy, or preachy. Tracy is not the bad guy, nor is Hepburn an old stick in the mud whose dreams are rightfully smashed with a pink slip. Despite all the antics and comedy (giant thudding computer and all), it’s one of the most human films out there. Hepburn and Tracy, two of Hollywood’s biggest actors, are unrecognizable here, totally immersed in their roles. And even though our computers don’t need an entire large room to fit in these days, everything about Desk Set is relatable, particularly in this recession. So when someone gets all excited about watching Up in the Air or any number of numbing romantic comedies, pull this one out instead. It’s sexier, it’s funnier, and 100 times more comforting to those fighting joblessness and the tide of new technology that might be replacing them.

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