The Sunday Intertitle: The past is an ENORMOUS other country


I’m inclined to like William C. DeMille for saying of his more famous brother, “Cecil has a habit of biting off more than he can chew, and then chewing it.”

But really, opening his 0ddy titled 1920 drama CONRAD IN QUEST OF HIS YOUTH in such a way rather defeats my ability to face another Sunday. Back to bed it is, then.

14 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The past is an ENORMOUS other country”

  1. A truly great title card. Every word of it is true, and as the years pile up I feel this more keenly. I long to revisit 1967 — knowing what I now know.

  2. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    … “as memory paints it”… Right on!

  3. “As memory paints it,” because life as lived… nobody wants THAT!

    If I traveled back to 1967 knowing what I now know I’d be the smartest foetus in Scotland, more or less.

  4. Inspired by Saki, perhaps:
    The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened. It’s only the middle- aged who are really conscious of their limitations.

    CONRAD IN QUEST OF HIS YOUTH was originally a novel by the fine and almost-forgotten novelist Leonard Merrick.

  5. I shall watch the movie and report back! William C. is an intriguing figure, the realist to Cecil Blount’s religious erotomaniac.

  6. Well I was 20 in 1967. I had established myself as a writer and I was living in New York at a very vital time. The arts were flourishing and socially I found myself , to quote Pauline Kael, “sliding across surfaces of fur and chrome.”

  7. Sounds ideal! What would you do differently? Or would you just appreciate it more?

  8. I’d just appreciate more — and taken more opportunities to have sex.

  9. A Dennis the Menace cartoon had the six-year-old telling a playmate, “I wish I was five again . . . knowing what I know now.”

    Myself, I now clearly see I was a jerk and kind of creepy in my youth and some time beyond. A few years back I was in an amateur musical with a teenager who unpleasantly reminded me of me. When he spent three minutes slogging through a painfully explicit and unfunny dirty joke (something about a father resenting his son’s big head for ruining his sex life, garnished with Spanish accent), I was tempted to lecture him for his own good and as a public service for the rest of the cast. Then I remembered how I took such advice when offered.

    A lot of films and television on the idea of revisiting and/or correcting youth, directly or by proxy.

    “Cover Girl” has Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth as young showbiz hopefuls; the Complication takes the form of an old gent who was in love with Rita’s now-deceased mother (played by Rita in flashback). He takes it upon himself to make her a star and match her up with his handsome protege. It’s not clear (on purpose?) whether he’s courting this lookalike vicariously or retroactively making himself her father. The drama “Come and Get It” explicitly had an old tycoon lusting after a lost love’s daughter.

    The song “Long Ago and Far Away” feels like it was written for this character, but in the film the old boy doesn’t sing and Gene gets the song, which plays as a generic ballad (a damn good one) instead of a plot number.

    The silent short “Be Your Age” had an aging widow eager to cut loose with a young beau, so her lawyer presses Charley Chase into that role. Among other things, Charley is faced with being stepfather to Oliver Hardy. She wearies of the game and accepts the lawyer instead. Ollie immediately hits him up for allowance money.

    This idea is played elsewhere a couple of ways:
    — An oldster gets involved with some youngsters (non-romantically) and proves to be Young at Heart. His/her experience somehow turns things around for the kids (“When I was in show biz . . .”).
    — An oldster makes a fool of him/herself, comically or tragically, chasing youth or a particular youthful body. Foolishness often involves some humiliating attempt at modernity. (unintended subtext of most of Bob Hope’s later movies)
    — The occasional inverse takes it from the sweetie’s angle, as he/she realizes he/she doesn’t belong in the oldster’s world and/or doesn’t want to belong. (“Sunset Boulevard”?)
    — An oldster dabbles in youthful antics, successfully or unsuccessfully, and gratefully retreats to the comforts of age (the old bohemian in “Barefoot in the Park” who eventually pairs with the heroine’s mother; any number of “Seven Year Itch” husbands)

  10. Lee Tracy in Turn Back the Clock revisits his youth, and both iterations of Freaky Friday plant an adult in a child’s body to rediscover the “joys” of high school.

  11. Joys of high school, heh. The only people I know who remember high school fondly have done so ever since they graduated.

  12. Most of the problems of school have to do with the way it resembles Lord of the Flies, with the kids making up their own rules.

    It’s like when a friend needed to get admitted to a psychiatric hospital and were told it wouldn’t be good for them: “Full of loonies.”

    The problem with all institutions is threefold: the institution itself, the staff, and the people it’s “for.”

  13. Amazingly like my recollection. I did not care about HS (I was otherwise occupied), but when I noticed, the school seemed only to be working for the chosen few whom the administration and faculty wanted to help, because helping them would reflectively burnish their reputations.

    One thing, it didn’t resemble Lord Of The Flies, too many stoned students and faculty, so it was quite peaceful on that front.

  14. Well that’s nice. There were rumours of glue-sniffing at my school, but otherwise I think it was mainly testosterone to blame for the bad stuff.

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