Friday, March 4, 2011
Watched this Hollywood classic last night on TCM's current series showing all the Oscar Best Picture winners. I'd seen it only once before, decades ago.
I don't know about you, but it's always enlightening to revisit a work of art I dug when I was younger, now that I'm older, to see if it still has an impact on me.
I remember reading Theodore Dreiser's SISTER CARRIE when I was a young man and digging the depth of this novel's insights into what it was like to be young and ambitous. I identified, of course, with the younger characters in the book, including Carrie.
Then I read it decades later and noticed for the first time the "old man" (to me as a young man the first time) was the sympathetic and deepest character in the book. Both times I got a lot out of it. But it's not a book I'm interested in reading again.
I've also had experiences of reading something as a young man that had an enormous impact on me and later on rereading the same thing discovering it now falls flat (that would make an interesting list, if i ever can get myself into making lists again with any regularity or focus).
But to get to GRAND HOTEL. I watched it the first time out of obligation, because I was interested in Greta Garbo and film history. I was struck that first time by the breadth of the casting and the character subplots. I enjoyed it, but also found the old style actors like theater icon John Barrymore, well, old style.
But last night it had a poignant realism I think I missed as a young man. The desperation caused by financial fear that drives so many of the characters, especially the one played by John Barrymore, moved me in ways I'm sure I wasn't the first time.
Yes it's melodramatic and old fashioned in many ways, but it's also incredibly realistic and contemporary in other ways. It was pre-code so the Hollywood cliches of only the virtuous can win etc. was not the case (ala Joan Crawford's very modern character).
It's a classic for good reason, because you can rewatch it and end up digging it even more, which is my definition of a classic.
Check out this scene with Barrymore and Crawford first meeting (Youtube wouldn't let me embed it).