What follows is a long and rambling post about my reading history with War and Peace. It’s basically a book report. This probably doesn’t have value for anyone except me, so you have my apologies in advance and be aware there are spoilers ahead.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) is the first science fiction film. After all, the sky is the original cinematic experience: the lights go up and come down; the moon and constellations change; the colors shift, fade, and intensify; and the weather provides drama and tension. Staring at the sky in night or day is an emotional, humanizing experience. It emphasizes how small you are in the face of the universe. Thus it only makes sense that one of the first subjects for narrative cinema would be the desire to explore what’s up there.
(Digression: I, like most babies of the 80s and 90s, came to know Melies’ work because of the Smashing Pumpkin’s video for “Tonight, Tonight,” which remains most excellent.)
What I want to think about today, though, isn’t films such as A Trip to the Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Contact, or Armageddon, which concern themselves with space in an entirely imaginative or fictional way, but instead with those that attempt to tell the “true” story of human space exploration.
For the sake of conciseness, I’m going to limit myself to The Right Stuff (1983), Apollo 13 (1995), The Dish (2000)*, The Astronaut Wives Club (2015)**, Hidden Figures (2016), First Man (2018)*, and Apollo 11 (2019)**, arguing that while these films are about humans leaving earth, neither the films nor the history they represent successfully abandon earth’s baggage, specifically gender and race.
Elisabeth Lane (who has started a fantastic YouTube romance channel!) initiated a conversation on Twitter recently about the books that converted you to genre romance. Not necessarily the first romances you read, but the ones that convinced you that romance was awesome. I hazarded some guesses when she asked it, but as I pondered her question more, I wondered whether my Ur-romances were books at all.
I was in my late 20s when I started reading romance. Romance novels were so precisely what I needed at that moment, I inhaled them by the bushel. It felt as if I’d been reading around romance my entire life, and now I had finally discovered the good stuff, a genre that could deliver the purest version of what I’d been seeking. But maybe the sense of familiarity, of ah, at last, that I felt when I started reading romance came from the overlap between the tropes in romance and those in movie musicals.
As a child, I’d been as devoted to musicals as I am to genre romance today. Musicals taught me about introspection, harmony, and female friends with whom you can dance in your bloomers if you’re ever carried off by a family of mountain men (see below). They’re unabashedly sentimental, almost always have happy endings, and frequently contain a (or sometimes several) central romance(s).
This list isn’t a best of or even a set of recommendations. It’s skewed by what I watched and listened to as a kid in the early to mid 90s. It’s very white, almost entirely heteronormative, and more than a few of these films are seriously problematic. But putting it together convinced me that my origins as a reader and writer of romance are in Hollywood movie musicals.
Ahem…this is going to be controversial. But what follows is a brief list of romantic comedies and dramas in which the “wrong choice” love interest is far more deserving than the “right choice” one.
Perhaps the originator of this trope, Elsa was right to stay with Victor, but Rick is Rick, and you know she’ll always wonder.
The Sound of Music (1965)
What can I say except McSweeney’s convinced me: Captain Von Trapp would have been happy married to Baroness Schrader.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Let me say I think the “she should have ended up with Duckie” stuff is overplayed (see Jon Cryer thoughtfully arguing against that here), but I don’t think there’s any doubt Duckie is a better realized character than Blane. I’ve always wondered if twenty years later, Duckie and Andie might make a go of it.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
I always pretend this movie is centered on Patricia (Parker Posey) and that after her boyfriend (Tom Hanks) dumps her to pursue the children’s bookstore owner (Meg Ryan) whose business he destroyed, Patricia goes on to take over New York publishing and find love with someone worthy of her.
At the level of satire, this movie works for me. At the level of romance…no, definitely not. Idina Menzel’s Nancy in particular deserves much better than she gets. The idea that driven career women secretly want to become princesses? No, not so much.
Letters to Juliet (2010)
This film could make the list twice, first because the B-plot (the romance between Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero) is infinitely more interesting and charming than the A-plot, but also because Gael Garcia Bernal is a metric ton more attractive/beguiling than Christopher Egan.
ETA: I deliberately omitted Twilight not wanting to reopen Edward vs. Jacob…but yeah, Team Jacob. All the way.
There were a lot of things in my head when I started writing Special Interests: a scene involving a boy giving a girl references so she’ll go out with him; Bob Woodward’s book about the 2008/2009 economic crisis, The Price of Politics; and the movie (500) Days of Summer.
I did not, for the record, hate the latter as much as many people did. (And I am going to spoil it in what follows. You’ve been warned.)
For starters, my own relationship to hipsterism is complicated. For a long time, I thought it was a word that Allen Ginsberg uses early in “Howl” and nothing more. Then one day in about 2006 I realized that it was a thing–a real, contemporary thing–and many of my friends demonstrated symptoms. Not in a bad way. Not in a pretentious way. But in an “Have you heard the new Wilco album?” “are you coming to my urban canning party?” “you did NOT just use a paper towel” way.
I’m procrastinating. And in moments of procrastination, I blog. And in case in moments of procrastination you read blogs, I present for your viewing pleasure a list of my most treasured lip-locking moments in cinema. I’m stealing this idea quite shamelessly from Katy Regnery, who blogged about her favorite movie kisses a few weeks ago.
Follow me below the fold…