Sunday, October 28, 2007

a whiter shade of pale

Okay, first I have to confess that I watched (pretty much in its entirety) a commercial for the Flower Power CD "hits from the sixties" collection. Not exactly an infomercial, because no information was to be had. But the same length and talk-show format.

I don't even want to get into the circumstances of why that's what I'm doing on a Saturday night. Suffice to say, I had my reasons.

Anyway, you know how they play clips of the songs? (Or maybe, if you're not as pathetic as I am, you don't.) Some of those songs I was barely familiar with, since I was a little kid when they were popular. I was all curious, so I looked up the lyrics.

An aside -- it never fails to amaze me how few pop songs manage to be comprehensible from beginning to end. Some are worse than others -- at least 5% of those songs are just fucking with our minds. I've noticed that when all else fails, people chalk up the song theme to "drugs" and move on with their lives.

Okay, A Whiter Shade of Pale. A haunting, Bach-like tune. An incredibly poetic phrase. How beautiful must this song be? I looked it up. It seems to be about a drunken rape, although who can tell? And it turns out the one shimmering phrase it contains was something the songwriter overheard at a party. No doubt some alcoholic trying to say "a paler shade of white."

Whatever. Through my usual process of free association, thinking about 1960s music made me think about That Darn Cat, a 60s Disney movie that was remade in, um, the 90s? The remake had a punk version of the That Darn Cat song. It's so cool how pumping up the tempo and shout-singing in a gravelly, nasally boy voice can instantly transform a song. It's like stirring a powder into a glass of water. (Despite my description of punk rock, I truly love that version of TDC.)

Thinking about TDC led me to think about The Parent Trap, another 60s Disney flick (also starring sex-kitten-but-we're-supposed-to-pretend-she's-just-cute Haley Mills) that was remade in the 90s.

The Parent Trap held a particular meaning for me. You know how schizophrenics are always saying the TV is transmitting secret messages to them? Well, without the crazy part (or, er, you be the judge), that's what TPT was for me.

It's the story of twin girls, separated as babies when their parents divorced, who meet at summer camp. They figure out that they are sisters, and in order to reunite with their estranged parent, switch places when they go home.

So get this. In the 1960s version, one of the girls is told her father is dead. What kind of macabre mind conceived of this children's film? There's a scene where the girls are lying on bunks in their cabin, talking. You can see fir trees out the windows, and pretty much smell that "camp" scent of wood, pine, maple, and wool. You can feel the summer heat, that stillness in the air. In that scene, the girl finds out her father is still alive.

I saw TPT for the first time when I was eight, in the summer after my dad passed away. I wasn't so naive to believe that he was actually living on the Eastern seaboard, waiting for the right moment to reveal his whereabouts (after all, I had seen him in his coffin). But I was wistful.

That movie was like grief masturbation for me. My mother never noticed that there was anything weird or inappropriate about it, which left me to find solace in the whole "he's alive!" fantasy. Brian Keith, blond, blue-eyed, and rugged, looked enough like my father to make for excellent grief porn.

But like any consumer of porn, I switched between characters. For example, in one scene the girl who was estranged from her mother greets her maternal grandfather. He's wearing a suit and smoking a cigar. (Two things my dad did during most waking hours.) She runs to him, hugs him, and then ... wait for it ... smells him. I think she says "peppermint and tobacco" but I may have been too busy substituting "Old Spice" to accurately remember the line.

To this day, I marvel that TPT was ever made. It's almost as if the idea that a child could lose her father was so outrageous, so unheard of, that it never occurred to anyone that such a theme might be a bit, well, crass. Ironically, I was consoled by its non-normalcy. Haley Mills was my home girl. I could watch the screen and think, "Hey, that's just what I would do if my father suddenly returned from the beyond!"

All this makes me wonder if any kids' movies today have wildly insensitive themes, somehow invisible to adults. Or was that simply a feature of the 60s, along with dangerous toys made with chemicals, sharp edges, and swallowable parts? I miss those toys, too, by the way.

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