Letters

Are the '50s dead? Readers respond to Laura Miller's essay about "Far From Heaven" and "Down With Love."


Salon Staff
June 3, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

[Read "Burying the '50s."]

"Far From Heaven" had a decidedly negative opinion of the '50s. Perhaps Laura Miller didn't notice it, but the interracial love affair ended in agonizing heartbreak due only to the restrictiveness of that era. And the taboo nature of homosexuality, coupled with the conformity and repressiveness of the period, led directly to Cathy and Frank's false marriage and terrible breakup.

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Yes, "Far From Heaven" took a more subtle approach than "Happy Days" did, but the critique is definitely there and stated in very strong terms.

-- Joe Walsh

Laura Miller's article makes interesting points about fantasy vs. reality in '50s movies, and about films being made today and their portrayal of those times. But she states that the two modern films mentioned broach subjects unmentionable in the pre-civil-rights, pre-sexual-revolution era. This is a mistake.

Popular films such as "Pinkie" and "Imitation of Life" had as central themes "miscegenation" and "passing for white." Their points of view may make us uncomfortable today, but they continued a long tradition of films portraying interracial romance going back to the 'teens, when Richard Barthelmess made a living portraying a (sympathetic) doomed Asian in star-crossed love with innocent Caucasian girls.

Similarly, the film "Some Like It Hot," with its two cross-dressing stars, has not one but two relationships in which homosexuality is hinted at -- Tony Curtis hooks Marilyn Monroe by letting her think she's curing him of his lack of attraction to women, and Jack Lemmon appears to be swept off his feet by Joe E. Brown's character, apparently even surrendering at the end to the inevitability of their marriage when his own true, male identity is revealed.

The particular "taboo" subjects mentioned in Ms. Miller's article may be dealt with in a more enlightened way today, but within the context of pre-civil-rights, pre-sexual-revolution Hollywood, they have been with us all along.

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-- Melanie Ahrens

Regarding Laura Miller's essay about "Far From Heaven" -- I felt instantly compelled to dispute her depiction of "Pleasantville." I realize this was not the total or main focus of the essay, but I feel compelled nonetheless because "Pleasantville" is -- in addition to being my favorite movie of the last 20 years -- equally as profound as Ms. Miller is saying "Far From Heaven" is.

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In particular, I vehemently dispute her assertion that "Pleasantville" is a more overt attack against the '50s, as opposed to the more subtle attack on the "ideal of the '50s" that "Far From Heaven" is.

I would argue strongly that "Pleasantville" is also simply using the '50s as a metaphor for repression and censorship. It's a metaphor because television in the '50s was black-and-white -- and there was no such thing as black-and-white television in the 1600s. So the black-and-white thing is a cutesy way of making a larger point about repression and censorship for the entire history of time. (There are moments that are more overt than others, but they are not, I believe, the overriding focus of the film.)

I believe Ms. Miller's depiction of "Pleasantville" vis-à-vis "Far From Heaven" is unfair and misleading. "Pleasantville" awed me as a film. I believe the metaphorical nature of Pleasantville is very much in effect, and is not nearly as overt an attack against the '50s as is said.

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-- Adam Wodon

I arrived in the USA with fresh eyes in 1959. I really noticed everything because it was so different and odd to me.

I recently saw "Far From Heaven," and was amazed how accurately it represented the stage and rules of the game I had walked into in my teens.

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Moore's petticoated dresses were 1956 and her spiked heels 1960, when the dresses turned into sheaths and the petticoats were gone forever, but that was the only slight anachronism I found.

Pregnant women smoked and drank several martinis and more at a party. Everyone smoked and drank like a fish, and people referred to the "coloreds" and sexual innuendo was there but it meant flirting with each other's wives and husbands harmlessly. Homosexuality, what was that? It was totally hidden at the time.

Gosh, darn, drat, and gee willikers were cusswords in the mouths of teens I met, and Moore's correction of her child's language was an accurate line of dialogue.

It was such an oppressive era that when I tried to buy a very matronly and modest two-piece swimsuit in 1962, my girlfriends in the dressing room were shocked at my daring, that I could actually consider wearing something that naked.

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I am glad that awful oppressive era is gone forever after lasting clear into the mid-'60s. Jacqueline Kennedy was a Julianne Moore clone with a philandering husband and perfectly coiffed hair and prim clothes.

-- Sylvia Sur


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