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Revelations: Of old movie bondage

July 8, 2011 at 2:08 a.m.

Jennifer Preyss

BY JENNIFER PREYSS

For as long as I can remember, my father has loved classic movies.

I've teased him often about his love for black-and-white and Technicolor pictures, and enjoyment of the two best channels on television (he says): Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics.

Every time I go home and wander into the den or his home office, it's a good bet he'll have one of those channels on in the background.

Without any inquiry on my part, Dad will usually look at me at some point after I sit down with him and ask me if I've ever seen whatever movie happens to be on television.

Of course, I'll usually say no, and he'll give me a brief summary of the film.

Then without fail, he'll say, "These movies are great. This is what America used to be like, when it was the greatest country in the world."

And I'll smile (and sort of roll my eyes), and allow him to believe it's the first time I've ever heard him utter such a profound statement.

"Oh, that's cool Dad," I'll say, followed by, "You want to watch something else? Perhaps something in color, or of this decade?"

But recently back in Texas, something finally happened. All those years of fighting off watching the old black-and-white pictures caught up to me.

For absolutely no good reason at all, I started getting into watching old movies.

In the past two weeks, I've seen "Jane Eyre," "Little Men," "Cyrano de Bergerac," "Anna Karenina," "The Last Time I Saw Paris" and "Of Human Bondage."

Dad was right, the movies are actually good.

And I think I've developed a fascination with Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor.

I always knew them from their aged faces and reputations of grandeur. But in their heyday, and for decades after, they were beautiful, refined, well-educated, fabulous dancers, stylish fashionistas and powerful on-screen ladies.

So, as I normally do when I'm interested in someone's life, I went to the Internet and started reading up on them. I read about where they're from, other movies they were in, who they married, when they had children, what they looked like as they aged, and how they died.

After a few days of watching their careers evolve through photos and biographies, news interviews and commentary from other actors, I can absolutely understand why these two women were revered and lauded in the film industry for so many decades: Bette Davis for her tempestuousness, and Elizabeth Taylor for her larger-than-life air. And they both seemed very brazen to me, never hesitating to tell it like it was.

So, as I was watching "Of Human Bondage," for the second time this week, something occurred to me. This time, when Bette Davis (as Mildred) screamed her brilliant shrew-like monologue at on-screen co-star Leslie Howard (Philip Carey) after he tells her he's disgusted by her, all the little details of her life I'd been collecting on the Internet poured into my thoughts.

I sort of cocked my head to the right and realized how God-like it was to be able to know the course of this woman's life, and how she would die more than 50 years later.

As the movie continued and I watched her playing the role as a 26-year-old up-and-comer, I thought, "You're going to be married four times in your life, have one child, adopt two others, earn two Academy Awards, be nominated for eight others, have a song written about your eyes, and die from breast cancer at 81 years old at 11:20 p.m. on Oct. 6, 1989, in a French hospital."

It was weird. I felt very powerful with that information for some reason. Perhaps because I know at this very moment, God knows all those details about my own timeline. Right now, He knows who I'll marry, if I'll have children, where my career will start and end, and somewhat more fascinating, when I'll die. He knows the exact date and hour. No one else in the world could tell me that information. The realization made me feel very small, and made the Lord seem very big.

I never thought watching old pictures would have the ability to teach me anything, certainly not about God's omniscience. But it seems He has the ability to teach us and show anything if we're willing to pay attention, even through old Hollywood movies.

I guess I'll have to thank my Dad for that one day - both of them.

Jennifer Preyss is the faith reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com.

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