Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ghosts of Movies Past

by Elizabeth Schechter.

When you are a writing-mom, there is very little watching of television. At least, very little watching of adult television. I could quote The Wonder Pets or Backyardigans to you for hours. (But not Barney. The Purple Blight will NEVER appear in this household.) But I watch very little television for me. I have no idea who the characters on Glee are, or who is doing what to whom for how many black jellybeans on Top Chef. That being said, when I do get to watch TV, then I tend to pay fairly close attention. What that means is that even if I’m watching something I’ve seen a dozen times before, I’m bound to see something I have never seen before.

This lesson came crashing home one morning, when I caught about ten minutes of the movie Gigi (before my five-year-old said “Mommy, I don’t want to watch that!” and we went back to Sesame Street). It’s been a while since I’ve seen this movie, and looking at it now, my mind is blown.

How did this movie make it past the censors in 1958? HOW?

You have Gigi, the main character. Fifteen years old, and the daughter of a minor vocalist in the Paris Opera (and therefore, by the definition of the times, her mother is only a few steps up from being a whore herself– theatre women were NOT respectable), and there is a strong implication that Gigi is illegitimate herself (I cannot remember any reference to her father). Her family is poor, and there is absolutely no hope of her ever making a good marriage. So her grandmother is training her to be a courtesan.

This is the exchange that fascinates me. The censors let this through:

Gigi: You told Grandmamma that you wanted to take care of me.

Gaston Lachaille: To take care of you beautifully.

Gigi: Beautifully. That is, if I like it. They’ve pounded into my head I’m backward for my age… but I know what all this means. To “take care of me beautifully” means I shall go away with you… and that I shall sleep in your bed.

Gaston Lachaille: Please, Gigi, I beg of you! You embarrass me!

Gigi: You weren’t embarrassed to talk to Grandmamma about it. And Grandmamma wasn’t embarrassed to talk to me about it. But I know more than she told me. To “take care of me” means that I shall have my photograph in the papers. That I shall go to the Riviera, to the races at Deauville. And when we fight, it will be in all the columns the next day. And then you’d give me up, as you did with Inèz des Cèvennes.

And then there’s the bit where Gaston tells Gigi that if she is nice to him, he’ll be nice to her. Her response: “To be nice to you means that I should have to sleep in your bed. Then when you get tired of me I would have to go to some other gentleman’s bed.”

Again, I’m amazed. And I’ll need to go rewatch all of this movie sometime soon. After J. goes to bed, that is.

Now, my own TV watching will shortly be going through the roof. J. will be out of school for winter break starting the 22nd. My goal is to be DONE with my current work-in-progress (an urban fantasy entitled Heart’s Master), before then, so that I can focus on my family for the holidays. Which means that we’re going to be pulling out every holiday DVD that we own, and watching them again. This is a little bittersweet for me.

You see, my absolute favorite holiday special, hands down, is Emmitt Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which was made by Jim Henson back when I was the age my son is now, and marks the first time Paul Williams wrote music for the Muppets (The Muppet Movie came out two years later). I adore anything having to do with the Muppets, and I dearly love this movie. But it isn’t the same. You see, what you can get now on DVD isn’t the same movie I watched as a child -- it’s been cut, drastically. The narrator for the original was none other than Kermit the Frog, but when the movie was released on DVD, there was an issue with the rights to Kermit, so his very major part was cut! Which means that some of the backstory was lost, since they just pulled his scenes out whole cloth. So, when I watch this movie, I have an opposite reaction to the one that I had when I watched Gigi. Instead of seeing things that I’d never seen before, now I mentally fill in the things that I know are missing (including the very charming little dance routine by George and Martha Rabbit during the talent contest. Jazz Paws!)

Any of you ever have this experience? Watch something you’ve seen a million times, and see something that you’ve never seen before?

7 comments:

  1. I get that mostly with books. Sometimes I think I could get by shipwrecked with a box of twenty or so books, and never get bored with them!

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  2. Yes, all the time, and now I'm curious about Gigi. I've never seen it, but I'm going to look into it. I always thought that was a kids movie too.

    My kid is interested in movies and wants to get involved in movie making, so I've been bringing Great Movies home from the library from all genres saying "you need to know this one." and I run into that too, where somehting I didn;t notice pops out at me. Of course one of the nice things about having a crappy memory as you get older is that you get to watch favorite movies over and over and its always a little like seeing them for the first time.

    Garce

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  3. Yes, Gigi is a real eyebrow raiser. By the time they made it though, there weren't any censors left to squeak it past. I love that it's that frank, and it makes the audience (who might not understand all the implications) see why she'd have second thoughts about what, on the surface, sounds like a wonderful romance.

    I see things I never saw before in movie all the time. While watching Grease for the bazillonth time the other day, I finally (FINALLY!) caught on that Rizzo and Danny used to be an item, which explains why she's so nasty to Sandy. All these years, I thought she was just mean for the sake of being mean, not that her heart was broken.

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  4. My mom was a huge Maurice Chevalier fan, so we watched Gigi probably about once a year or so when I was a kid -- whenever they showed it on TV. So I've seen it... probably a dozen times at least. Completely missing the undercurrents and the historic information ever time. And if I hadn't just finished doing research into Victorian history (for The House of Sable Locks, my steampunk erotic romance that will be coming out next year), I'd probably have missed it again!

    Sometimes, having the context to hang things on makes all the difference!

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  5. Elizabeth,

    I've never seen more than snippets of "Gigi". Now I really have to view it - though it'll be a hard sell for my husband, who hates anything that smacks of a musical.

    I know what you mean about seeing new things when you watch something multiple times. I'm that way with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"! ;^)

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  6. Elizabeth, I remember watching Maurice Chevalier singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" out of context (I think Gigi won numerous awards) when I was very young myself. Even then, he seemed like the kind of old man my parents had warned me to run away from! Apparently child sex abuse was not a topic on the general radar at that time.

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  7. Jean, this movie was set in the late 1890s - early 1900s, roughly the same time that wealthy men went looking for mistresses among the little girls in the Paris Opera Ballet School. So it may not have been so out of context as you think!

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