Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I was raised on Hollywood. When I was a kid back in the Fifties, the local TV stations were awash in old movies. They were cheap programming: the Early Show, the Late Show, the Late Late Show. In New York, where I grew up, the “Million Dollar Movie” showed the same film all week, twice each night and then repeatedly over the weekend. If I saw King Kong once, I must have seen it a thousand times. In one week.
The thing about old movies, aside from the fact that, as a rule, they were pretty good, was that they had a clear value structure. The good guys always won, bad guys always lost, home and family were of the utmost importance, and love conquered all. It didn’t matter if it was serious films, comedies, westerns, romances, adventures—the values were the same. In fact, they had to be: the Hays office made sure of it. A studio couldn’t release a film unless it met these standards.
We could probably argue at length about whether these enforced moral standards were good or bad for the art of cinema, but I think they were good for the audiences at the time. After all, these movies were made during the Depression and World War II. What was wrong with movies that made you feel good at a time when the world itself wasn’t all that great?
I think this feeling about entertainment has stuck with me, and it comes out now in the books I like, and the ones I recommend for Select Editions. Sure, I can read so-called serious literature and send myself into a state of permanent depression as well as the next person, but I don’t enjoy it much. What I like is a book that’s fun. It can be serious or funny, it can be quiet or it can be adventurous, it can be a mystery or a thriller or a romance or a historical, but it has to be fun. It has to be entertaining. And underlying that sense of entertainment is, I think, a clear value structure. I like it when the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, home and family are of the utmost importance, and love conquers all. It’s cornball, sure, but it’s my kind of cornball. I come by it naturally, having been raised on all the old cornball of Hollywood. Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.