Believing the Unbelievable

I am and always have been a film buff. I think I inherited the gene from my bubbie who loved going to the movies and did so whenever possible. Last summer, I, along with hundreds of mostly age advantaged folks, experienced a bit of nostalgia as well as amazement as we watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers "trip the light fantastic" in their very first movie pairing. It was filmed in 1933 in black and white. The plot, designed to be taken seriously, made the audience laugh with its absurdity. The acting was so artificial, I had a hard time following the dialogue. I tried to be fair and remember that when this film was produced, “talkies” were in their infant stage, having been introduced in the late 20’s.

I had a hard time remembering what life was like during the Depression years when day to day living was bleak and thoughts of the future frightening. But only by doing so could I understand why this whimsical film was capable of entertaining the masses. The singing and dancing made people forget the hard times they were experiencing, at least for the moment. The characters were obviously wealthy, flying rickety airplanes, wearing high fashion clothes and sipping champagne. Most Americans couldn’t even imagine living a life like that, but it gave them a glimpse of what they hoped would be their future. The love triangle, also illogical, made young girls and boys believe that they, too, could find romance with the “perfect” person.

This combination of love, riches and musical talent held over to a later time when I was growing up and was only slightly more sophisticated but definitely more colorful. We watched June Allyson and Van Johnson in similar but somewhat more believable circumstances. We fell in love with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney as they saved a struggling theater from going under. They did this with sheer talent and genius, and we believed every bit of it. Later, we enjoyed the dancing of Gene Kelly on the streets of Paris and weren’t the least bit cynical about someone breaking into song and dance, with musical accompaniment, on a city street. And wasn’t it conceivable that the neighborhood kids would join in the singing? We didn’t question it for a minute.

There were still light, airy musicals in the 50’s and 60’s and beyond, but that kind of entertainment has virtually disappeared from the big screen. They have been replaced by shoot-em-ups, stories of international espionage and, goofy comedies that think nothing of making sex the main theme if not the actors’ main goal. Granted, some of the G rated, animated movies retain the character, music and style that allow us to suspend belief. If we choose to see these, we must keep in mind that we will share 90 minutes or so with a room full of children and parents who keep shushing them. If we can withstand the din, it might transport us to another time, when we had no trouble believing the unbelievable.

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