Saturday, July 7, 2007

Boston of Classic Film

Boston is my town. I love it here and always have. Yet, the Boston in classic films is not the Boston I know and love. It's very different. My Boston is made of many different shades: moderately conservative juxtaposed with moderately liberal; heavily accented townies and young students and upstarts from other states; history and modernity. Boston to me is variety and acceptance of that variety. Yet the Boston in classic films is highly conservative, extemely judgemental and socially backwards. Any films from the '20s to the mid '60s portray this city that way. Something happened (Civil Rights movement? Women's movement? Sexual liberation?) that changed Boston in the mid to late '60s that makes it portrayed so differently. I've tried to find out what that change was but to no avail.

I first discovered this anti-Boston trend when I watched a documentary on Bette Davis. She was born and raised here and had a very conservative and strict mother. Perhaps that's why I like blonde Bette Davis so much. She was rebelling from her conservative upbringing and brought an energy and fire to her new home, Hollywood. She had mentioned numerous times about heavy restrictions laid upon her by Boston society. I thought little of it, but didn't forget.

Then I watched The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) and I myself was shocked. Betty Grable stars as a typist in 19th century America and travels to Boston for a position. Her new boss, a Boston local, is shocked that the employement company provided him with a woman for the position. She proceeds to woo him with her looks and vivacity, so all ends up well with him. She also moves into a home filled with eccentrics, all of whom share a deep hatred of Boston. In fact, despising Boston society was a requirement for moving in! I was deeply disturbed by this.

Then came If a Man Answers (1962), one of the three films Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin made together. Sandra Dee plays Chantal, a young woman who has a very sexy French mother and a dour, old-fashioned Boston father. Her Boston-French heritage is her primary source of romantic conflict. Hearing the familiar Boston fog-horns in her mind turns her into a cold and unaffectionate person. It's only the French part of her that makes her snag her Bobby Darin. Watch the opening sequence of this film. It's a '60s-style carton in which a growing Chantal proceeds to lure boys and men in with her French charm only to (literally) turn them into ice with her Boston frigidity.

I don't like this at all but will have to come to terms with it. I'm intrigued enough to want to see more Boston-based films from eras past to get a better understanding of this cold, conservative Boston which is so foreign to me.

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