The cable channel Turner Classic Movies often provides a better glimpse of American history than the History Channel, because it shows the spirit, or sense of life, of America in the past. This is an elevated, inspired, courageous, innocent, moral spirit that lives on in the hearts of many Americans who were fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by it. It is a spirit that lives on today in the families and communities in America that aren’t interested in the hopeless-violent-crude-hostile-negative-gossipy-nihilistic culture presented by much of the arts and entertainment media today.On Veterans Day, through the night, TCM showed films I would not allow myself to stop watching, though I had not intended to see them. My feeling about my life and how I interact with people days later are still elevated by the glow of these films.
They were movies released during World War II: “Hollywood Canteen” and “Stage Door Canteen.”
They were made in 1943 and 1944, about real places in NYC and Hollywood at the time. The canteens were nightclubs where stars served food to thousands of soldiers on leave, and performed for them, for free, while civilian women volunteered to keep the men company for the evening. Everything about these films are so different from today. There are speeches that burst forth as if unwritten, from characters or stars playing themselves, about the meaning of the war, and why we must win, to preserve our freedom and specifically the pursuit of individual happiness. No altruism at all.
In “Stage Door Canteen,” the volunteer hostesses encourage the boys to be happy and to enjoy the women’s company, and berate a woman who doesn’t behave warmly to a man. Obviously it’s about soldiers so they get extra consideration, but the culture was so far removed from the fundamental hostility toward men, the presumption of evil or harmfulness in men, that I witnessed suffusing college campuses and large cities in the radical feminist-influenced late 1970s and early 1980s. This attitude still influences parts of the culture today.
It felt revolutionary to me to see these 1940s films where women respect and encourage men so directly, and women are also respected and adored. This is shown more vividly in these two movies than perhaps in any other film or TV show I’ve seen, even from that period. It’s so rare to see this fundamental respect so explicitly portrayed, rather than merely implied while part of another story. Maybe it’s because the characters seemed much more real to me than usual. These films expressed my sense of life, my sense of how people should act (even when it’s not wartime). Perhaps they seem especially real to me because I saw a bit of this positive ideal in the culture during my childhood in the early 1960s.
These films make the canteens come alive, and show the reality of them, by exquisitely choosing the best moments. I wonder if any of the incidents are based on actual ones.
If you want a happy sign in 2008 that marks the end of the feminists’ pitting of women against men, and marks the end of the hippies’ egalitarian removal of commitment, masculinity and femininity, and passionate romance, from relationships: It’s the joyful musical film for kids, “High School Musical 3.” It is has a non-cynical, innocent point of view, with worshipful adoration shown by boys and girls toward the ones they love, and pleasant flirtation all around. The songs and dances are about joy and energy and optimism and looking toward a great future.
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