A View From Behind the Meter
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” is a line that almost everyone who has gone to the movies during their lifetime knows which movie it came from. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind is one of the most recognizable characters in the one hundred or so year’s film has been in our experience. I grew up with film. When I was a young boy in Brooklyn New York during the war years of the forties my mother took me and my sister to the movies regularly. I saw Fantasia, Gone with the Wind, White Heat, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, It’s A Wonderful Life, and many others holding my mother’s hand both in and out of the theaters of Manhattan. She took us to see Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman during this time and both my sister and I spent a great deal of time with our butts in the air because we were afraid to look at the screen. We buried our faces into the seat to try and avoid the scary moments. I was thrilled with each visit and my infatuation for the silver screen grew yearly but it dates to those war years both before and after 1946. I was hooked and I spent every Saturday during my preteen years at the movies. For twenty-five cents I could see a double feature, fifteen cartoons an adventure serial and, if I was lucky enough to be a possessor of the correct color advertisement given out the week before, a large popcorn with butter.
For years I watched B movies by the droves and never saw them as “B-movies” with the connotation of B meaning bad. They were just movies and my appetite was almost insatiable. It is truly amazing how much of our common vernacular comes from the movies. “When I’m good I’m very good but when I’m bad I’m better” I’ve heard at least a hundred times and most who utter those words have no idea that they come from the Mae West movie “I’m No Angel.” The Wizard of Oz has some of the most oft quoted lines. Who doesn’t use “Toto were not in Kansas anymore” or “I’m melting…” and of course the big one “There’s no place like home…” Generally the movies have given us moral structure pitting good against evil and clearly outlining what is considered evil. A consideration for others is always considered a good trait and the absence of that trait a definite path to self destruction.
Even in the movies of today such iconic lines as Clint Eastwood’s “Make my day…” or Star War’s line “May the Force be with you…” are repeated over and over in our everyday conversation. We use the words and the sentiment of these movie lines often unaware of the origin. I sometimes wonder how movies have shaped our society without our awareness. While I was in college I read “From Caligari to Hitler” which outlined the influence of movies on the German people and how the Nazi’s under Goebbels as Propaganda Minister used that influence to promote the rise of Hitler. The Nazi’s took over the film industry and made obvious pro Nazi movies and newsreels without the consideration of truth or facts. The newsreels were on every screen in Germany every Friday and they influenced the German public to believe ideas and values in a very unreal rendition of what for them was all the news they got. Leni Riefenstahl made “Triumph of the Will” in the late thirties and it canonized Hitler as the gift of God to the German people. Just as we were looking at “…mirror, mirror on the wall…” the German people were raising their hands and chanting “Mien Fuehrer.” The movies have been a part of the world’s social conscious and used by people for both good and evil purposes. It is highly influential and as one can see every election cycle a tool in the hands of a good marketing team to change your mind at least temporarily if not forever.
The last line in “King Kong” spoken by the film director character, Carl Denham, when asked whether the airplanes killed the beast, has always stayed with me…”…no it wasn’t the airplanes…it was beauty that killed the beast.” Our love of beauty draws us over and over to the movies. We wish to be scared, teased, titillated, thrilled, romanced, but most of all we wish to see something beautiful that makes us forget the daily beasts in our lives and hopefully not be killed in the process. The process of living in somebody else’s shoes for two hours and forgetting mine is why I keep coming back to the movies, which is probably why you do as well. I’ll see you in the movies!
-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach