Sunday, August 09, 2009

I've just finished watching Roman Holiday. Melissa and I sat together and watched it on the Mac in our room, our 2 month old son sleeping on the floor in his car seat. About two-thirds through it, she fell asleep and I wondered at the moment--an old black-and-white romantic movie playing, my wife and I together, and she falling asleep. It felt remarkable, and seemed like a Norah Ephron moment; felt like it should belong in Sleepless in Seattle, if only for the strange similarity. Occasionally, Melissa'd snore slightly (very womanly snoring mind you), and I would in turn kiss her to get her to stop. Now, lest my wife read this and believe she is renown for her log-sawing prowess, this only happened two other times tonight, for a sum total of three incidents. And her snoring only seems to happen when the light is on and it is late--direct tie-ins to the nights I keep her up far past her bedtime watching some TV show or movie. I've never felt it necessary to complain, and am not doing so now. This is merely anecdotal, and honey when you read this, you know I love you.

The last time I watched this movie was in 1996 with Craig Whetten and Kristy Adams in Mr. Barth's Film History class. I was a senor in high school, and was so far detached from the antagonist in this film that I could scarcely relate to most of it. I remember Audrey Hepburn's character sleeping on the street and that is about it. Poor Mr. Barth, I do believe most of my essays were complete and utter crap on most of the films we watched. If only to go back and carry on the intelligent conversation I know we could have had! If only I had granted the attention then I would willingly give now. Time and space separate the boy I was and the man I have become.

I shall say do believe I took much more from it this viewing; I found myself laughing at moments, and in others enjoying the local flavor of a post-war Italy and it's bustle. The scene when she leaves his apartment and he tails her unobserved is fantastic. The other moment I found myself compelled by was the final scene when Gregory Peck walks away, the lone man in a great empty room and ll we hear are his footfalls and the music's crescendo. He pauses to look back, astonished at the singular occurrence of this blossoming what-if love, and realizing that he will never be able write about it, only wishing he could; perhaps believing he will one day when they are old and the time long past.

Perhaps this thought of mine is tied in from the Hemingway I have been reading as of late. In not only The Snows of Kilimanjaro but also Fathers and Sons the author straight out speaks of stories we can never tell while the living subjects of those stories are still among us. I find the tie in of that theme quite compelling.

The other aspect of the story I really enjoyed was the fact that he gave his angle up willingly. Here he had the perfect setup, fully justifiable by the fact that he wanted/needed to get back to the states, and the tell-all story he intended to publish would land him there. This was a girl he could leverage to meet his ends, the golden opportunity landing in his lap. Instead he finds the soul in the Princess; puts a face to the headline, feels the warmth of the smile, learns of the passion and longing despite the weight of responsibility. He cannot bring himself to do it and we identify because we too find the human sides of things in our lives. We identify because we have done the same in some small way in our lives.

As Gregory Peck's character gave these advantages away, for love no less, we are given a sense that this is what we should be required to do. That when we are the outside observer, looking in on a life we know little about, if only we could allow ourselves to get to know that person--walk a mile as the adage goes--we would understand them. And understanding changes people.

I could write about so many aspects of this film. The fact that it was Hepburn's first is very interesting to me--she carries off so many films for me because she has this strange girl-like innocence, as if she were my own daughter grown (strange thought that as she is more of an age with my grandmother, and yet how film lends immortality!). The scenes of her longing to sleep with just a pajama top or *gasp* in the nude, the covering of herself while fully clothed after she'd come to herself and realized she was in a strange room with a strange man. These all lend to that aspect of the innocence.

And it all fits in with the time. If you note, the antagonist's buddy was a photographer of pin-up girls. What were they doing? Showing their legs. Where did you go circa 1953? Could you lend a bit of yourself to these days here?

In closing, I am going to jump back to the end of the film, to that same irresistible final shot. So many stories are told in film, and in print, with a strange tidy wrapping-up of the plot. The Guy and the Gal surmount the odds and get married, the wounded recovers and comes back to life. Why? What reason is this? Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

Real life has people passing as ships; reality does not resurrect the man from a mortal wound, nor place far-fetched potentialities as the end result. Reality is so often placed out of touch and we buy into it, whole hearted, wanting the resolution, even expecting that all will be well by the end of the piece. Perhaps it is the day we live in; that not a news-report goes by without a violent crime spelled out in the papers, the evening news, or online. And we escape to the movies in droves to show life as it should be. Not as it is. We shove off reality for fantasy as an escape.

While Peck is walking down the empty corridor, and the music swells up, he half turns, expectant. For a moment our hearts are caught in our throats; Audrey Hepburn's character has shown she will no longer be the child taking the orders. She demonstrates thus when she returns to the mansion of her own free will and volition. She even tells her staff this, revealing her new found maturity, and dismisses them to their rooms, punctuating this by refuting the milk and crackers (an object of childhood if I have ever seen one).

Could she in fact leave the room to which she departed with staff in tow after the press conference? Could she run into the arms of the man she obviously in that moment loves? We are led to believe so, for a split second, but then Gregory Peck's character, now the reformed antagonist, now the foil, realizes she'll not be walking out the door. Perhaps the tiny consolation of "She'll always have Rome to remember" carries him forward. And so he turns, walking back to the life he leads and carrying the ideas of his story which he can never tell.

And that to me is worth writing about.

Mr. Barth, I apologize my essay for this most excellent film is being written thirteen-and-a-half years too late.

-Jay

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