Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Party Like It's 1959

Enough of politics (although I'm really looking forward to tomorrow night's debate). The most exciting news I've had in a while is the fact that Revolutionary Road has finally been made into a movie, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Leo and Kate Winslet, no less. Yates' is, I think, the best novel of the 1950s, of suburbia and conformity; it out-Cheever's Cheever. It's filled with bleakness, drunken-ness, and all around bad behavior, which perhaps explains why it's taken 45 years for it to be adapted for the screen. My assumption is that the success of Mad Men led the studios to think the time was right for this particular period film.

If you're not familiar with Richard Yates, he served in WWII, had TB, wrote a couple of great, minimalist novels and some of the best short stories of the 20th century, was an accomplished creative writing instructor, and drank himself to death. Read his collected stories and see that Raymond Carver didn't come out of left field. In fact, just read his collected stories; many of them are truly wonderful, ultimately better than any of his novels.

Revolutionary Road is the story of April and Frank Wheeler. Frank works in PR; he and April meet at a party in the Village, fall in love, marry. Despite their "artistic" leanings they move to the suburbs. They are predictably unhappy. They talk and talk to each other, drunkenly and manicly trying "communicate," to work through their angst. They decide that if they move to Paris everything will be different. They never make it to Paris. I'm not giving away the ending, just read the book for yourself. The title is, of course, ironic.

In times of trouble we long for the safety and certainty of the past, or yearn toward the better times of the future. We watch period dramas secure in our hindsight; we know better than the Wheelers, we know their plot has nowhere to go but to grief, we feel definite that we're smarter now. But are we? How many dreams were sublimated into mortgages during the past decade, how many aspirations swallowed by consumerist desires? We still want what everyone else has, we still need at the same time to feel different.

The Wheelers' story unfolds on the cusp of cultural, political, and generational change, a cusp we are today similarly balanced upon. We smoke and drink less, we no longer wear fedoras or girdles, we believe we are more enlightened about sexual and racial politics, but underneath the song remains the same: the more we strive, the more we compromise.

1 comment:

tunsie said...

when we r at the other side of the fence,the grass is not always greener.we need 2 learn 2 appreciate what we have.if we r not happy with our own person 100 people will not make u happy.I like myself first,I don't complain about others claiming they r the cause of my inner problems.I think it is more easing on the mind 2 think back on our youth and see a more simpler comfortable life,but it is us who create our own problems by stupid choices.you can't go back.you CAN'T go back.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie