Wednesday, July 29, 2015
(October 1998, U.S.)
Once upon a time...it was 1998. Geez, when I say it like that, it sounds like such an ancient period! But I suppose seventeen years is a good deal longer than we make it out to be. In 1998, there was no iPod, no iPad, no Cloud, no social media, no widespread and affordable cell phone use, no widespread and affordable DVD players, no DVR machines and the mainstream television that you purchased at your local Nobody Beats The Wiz store outlet (a company that's now defunct!) was still a tube model. It was also a time, as I remember it, when classic TV channels like TV Land were still broadcasting a whole lot of black and white classic shows and would often run twenty-four hour marathons of your favorite episodes. I can still remember staying up most of the night one weekend in my New York City apartment watching episode after episode of "I Love Lucy". Even today, I irresistibly get caught up in the "Honeymooners" marathon that's on TV every New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Ah, yes, the classics never die - even the bad ones! Bad, I suppose, is subject to one's own interpretations and memories, but honestly, I never quite got the appeal of those real goody-goody, ultra wholesome family black and white TV shows such as "Leave It To Beaver", "Father Knows Best" and "The Andy Griffith Show". Were they honestly supposed to be funny?? I catch a moment or two of some of them today on certain cable channels and the use of the laugh track in some of the most unfunny and ridiculous places is so damn obvious, that I just shake my head in puzzlement. Perhaps comedy wasn't the true point of some of these shows, but rather just to promote the post-war safety and security of good ol' fashioned family values...the kind that these bullshit Republican politicians still try to push on us today! Still, that's clearly the theme writer and director Gary Ross wants to bring to our attention in PLEASANTVILLE, and the ultimate effects (and consequences) that just a little bit of change (and color) can bring to such a world.
This is a true fantasy film with just the right amount of comedy and drama that can almost make it a believable fable if you're willing to stretch your mind and imagination that far. In what can only be considered a pre-cursor to many of the fantasy films I find my nine year-old son watching on The Disney Channel these days, a modern day 1998 twin brother and sister (played by Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon respectively), are mysteriously sucked into the black and white world of the 1958 TV show "Pleasantville" after an equally mysterious TV repairman (played by Don Knotts - from "The Andy Griffith Show", no less) delivers to them a mysterious (there's that word again!) television remote control to replace the modern one that was destroyed during a marathon of the show. Clearly, the repairman's purpose to lure these kids into the TV show is intentional because he's so impressed with David's (Maguire) knowledge of the classic show's content, history and trivia. And so, in the blink of an eye, David and Jennifer are suddenly in the show, featured in pasty black and white and must now go by the names of Bud and Mary Sue in order to fit in and make their way around their new and totally wholesome, nerdy and repressed environment. Well, just like Marty McFly's own trip back in time to the 1950s, the shitstorm will get stirred and things will become out of place. Bud, on the one hand, takes to it all very well and willingly because of his fondness for the show. Mary Sue, on the other hand, is a high school slut who's just arrived in a world where holding hands at "Lovers Lane" may be considered risqué. Still, it's a lucky break for the local high school heartthrob who's about to discover (in the front seat of a car) that his idea of "pinning" his date and Mary Sue's are completely different. Just look at his face after he's gotten laid for the very first time to see what I mean. Yes, in a show like "Pleasantville", the word sex has had no meaning until now! On the more subtle edge of things, the arrival of the new Bud and Mary Sue has also suddenly brought on a slow transformation of color into this black and white world; color not only in physical objects, but in skin color, personality, emotions, and even environment, as well. Suddenly, the persistent pleasant, sunny weather is replaced by rain and thunder. Suddenly, the undefeated high school basketball team actually loses a game! Suddenly, the common man and woman of the town itself are not quite the textbook people they're supposed to be, either. Suddenly, father's greeting of, "Honey, I'm home." is no longer greeted by a fresh martini and a hot meatloaf dinner. Suddenly, the twin beds that Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Fred and Wilma Flintstone slept in have become a double (gasp!). Suddenly, the common housewife who cooks a rather overkill version of a hot breakfast for her kids every morning suddenly discovers she's capable of having an orgasm and that she can also bring it on herself in the bathtub if her husband is unavailable or unwilling to give it to her! Suddenly, people are thinking for themselves and discovering their own true emotions, passions, desires and purposes. Sounds totally normal to you and me, but to those who grew up in that era of history may have had alternate ideas about what their perfect life should be.
To any fantasy, however, there's often a darker side. Because with change often comes the fear of not understanding such change. It would seem that even the good, wholesome people of "Pleasantville" are capable of lashing out their ugly sides of prejudice and violence when change seems to overwhelm their understanding and their way of living. As if taken right out of true history's past, signs in stores saying NO COLOREDS become visible, though color in this film represents a different physical meaning. Property destruction and book burning also take place in the presence of ignorance in art and literature. Perhaps it's just a reminder of not only where we once came from, but also of the right direction we needed to proceed in, even in the year 1998 that existed in a pre-9-11 world, following which our world's ideas of safety, security and tolerance ultimately all went to Hell! Still, PLEASANTVILLE is a pure tale of morality concerning the values of contemporary suburban America by holding up a social landscape against both the dystopian and the rather fantastic Utopian visions of modern suburbia that emerged in the 1950s following World War II and how change (color) can ultimately alter repression into enlightenment and hope. Ah, if only real life were like that!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Skip: "To be honest, Mary Sue, I didn't think you'd want to come here until we'd been pinned for a little while."
Mary Sue: "Oh, Skip. You can "pin" me any time you want to."