Tuesday, July 19, 2005
THE APARTMENT -- by naudy
It was one of those Friday nights. The sort of Friday night that finds you in the grocery store at 11pm. Ostensibly one is there to do some shopping so as to clear another annoying chore off the Saturday errand list. Really I was there because the siren song of high-carb, high-fat comfort foods called me out of the dent in my couch and my empty house. Yeah, it was one of those Friday nights. I was contemplating the deli case, watching the yellowed crusty vat of "Neptune Salad" to see if it was moving. (You know what Neptune Salad is. It's the stuff made with "krab".) I was wondering if eating said salad would kill me, how much I would need to eat to die, and if food poisioning due to gross misjudgement didn't somehow invalidate my life insurance policy when I decided to abandon such suicidal thoughts and go look at something else. I came upon the rack of VHS tapes. This grocery store happened to be liquidating their video rental stock and heaps of them were available for $4. (This is one of the miracles of outdated formats. You can get cool cool stuff for just about nothing. This is why I collect 8tracks.) As it was 11pm on a Friday night and these videos had been available at this price for about three weeks, the selection was limited. I discovered I didn't hate myself enough to wach a Stephen Segal film. I found I hadn't reached depths of self-loathing enough to subject myself to anything involving animated ponies, military helicopters, and men with mullets. I did, however, find a movie called THE APARTMENT. It had a picture of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine on the cover playing cards. I thought "I like Jack Lemmon. And Shirley MacLaine dosn't look that crazy." So, I bought it (along with a bag of Chee-toes, a half-gallon of black cherry ice cream, and a 40oz of IBC Cream Soda.) (Yup, I'm classy.)
As it turns out, I had found a friend. The movie was about a total looser, a C.C. Baxter, known as "Bud" (or "Buddy-boy" when in trouble) who's apartment was constantly being used by his supervisors for liasons with office girls. The movie begins with him getting out of bed to leave his apartment and go sleep on a bench in the park because one of his bosses picked up a Marilyn Monroe look-alike in a bar. Of course Bud gets a cold. So there he is calling 15 people to reschedule the next two weeks of appointments at his house so he can stay home one night and sleep. I liked C.C. Baxter. I even sort of identified with him. But what was better was I liked Shirley MacLaine, too. Being a Gen X-er, Ms MacLaine was always that crazy lady who is always talking about her past lives and makes small children cry in STEEL MAGNOLIAS. I'd never seen her young. She was adorable. She played Fran Kubelik, the elevator girl who is having an affair with everyone's favorite TV dad, Fred MacMurry -- who, incidentally, is the biggest jerk EVER! So, there I was with my foady (40) of soda watching Jack Lemmon being a complete looser and Shirley MacLaine try to kill herself. It made me feel a lot better about myself. At least I had a place to live and I hadn't slept with a married man. Strange comfort, yes, but it worked that night.
Since then I'v watched this movie several more times. I'm always struck by how it encapsulates the times. THE APARTMENT won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1960. When you watch the film you see a lot of characters who are steriotypical 1950's. Women with big skirts, big bosoms, big hair, and cat-eye glasses. There's plenty of square-jawed pipe-smoking men, too. Everyone looks like a 1950's cartoon except for our two heros. Jack Lemmon is a bit of a milquetoast, sure, but he's got the narrow suit and tie of the ultimate 1960's man. Shirley MacLaine isn't built like a battleship (or a brick house for that matter) but she's perfect in the trim lean lines of 1960's clothing. She even has her hair cut short in a bob -- a far cry from the overstyled curls of the other women. I find it facinating to see this transitional movie. To see styles expressing so plainly the values of the characters is rare and enjoyable. Lemmon in his pencil leg pants is the modern man. He's insecure and changeable and willing to demonstrate affection. One might say he's the original SNAG (Sensitive New-Age Guy.) I mean, he's not smoking weed or talkin' free love but he is hearalding in a new sensibilty, a new era. The villians in this film are the self-satisfied nucelear hypocritical family guys who take their superiority and roles as men for granted. Ms MacLaine isn't the perfect mother or sexpot that the 1950's demanded but she is the tormented and complicated soul the 1960's enjoyed.
So, I guess I like this movie on several levels. Newsweek has called it "the finest comedies Hollywood has turned out." It's the last black and white film to win and Academy Award until SHINDLER'S LIST in 1993. It's as funny and pertinent now as it was when it was made, dealing with the issues of infidelity, despair, and integrity. I frequently recommend this film to friends in bad relationships as a prescription for self-awareness. I like to watch it to look at the clothing, or to wonder that folks could actually do business with only a mechanical calculator on their desk, to be amused that the top Broadway musical at the time was THE MUSIC MAN, or to be amazed at the spindly bizarre look Christmas trees had back then. I like to watch it to see Shirley MacLaine be sweet and cute and spunky. I like to watch it to see Jack Lemmon grow a backbone. And I really like to watch it when I'm by myself on a Friday night because it always cheers me up.