Monday, January 26, 2015

Movie Moments That Changed the World

Clark Gable didn't wear an undershirt. After this, nobody else did either.

Sometimes you see a movie and get a look at a face you'll never forget, or a style you've never seen before, or hear a casual wisecrack that gets everybody repeating it. Next thing you know, the world has changed.

It's said that happened when Clark Gable took off his shirt in It Happened One Night in 1933. It was not meant to be a high point in the movie, but there he was, baring it all to madcap heiress Claudette Colbert (or at least, all from the rather-high waist up) while she looked coolly on. The audience got a little thrill seeing that Gable didn't wear undershirts, those chaste tank-tops all the world wore in the 1930s. (Interesting--undershirts today cover more.)

Sales of undershirts immediately dropped by 75%. Or did they? Was there any coverage of this phenomenon in the day? Or is it just an urban legend that everybody believes because they kinda want to believe it? Snopes has reported that it is unverifiable and suggests it is probably not true. I would say it may not literally be true, but I wouldn't be surprised if Gable didn't start men thinking that if they didn't wear undershirts every day the earth would not stop on its axis.
Marlon Brando's torn t-shirt
I think it turned men away from those Esplanade t-shirts (as we called them in New Orleans) until years later when Brando brought back the undershirt, this time the kind a gal could rip off with her fingernails.

Brando had more than one movie moment that changed everything, but here's a wee one to ponder. In The Wild One, one of the guys calls to him, just his name, Johnny, and his line was, "Yeah?" Brando improvised. Instead of the line as written he said, "Yo?" He probably wasn't the first guy to say that, but it was in character, and it started everybody saying yo instead of yeah. Sometimes at least. Just ask Sylvester Stallone.

In 1969 Easy Rider took us by storm. Probably to the surprise of Peter Fonda, who thought he was making a movie about himself, and Dennis Hopper, who likely expected to be the be the breakout star of the film, all the critics and all the audience came away in love with a totally different guy. His name was Jack Nicholson, and his antic cockiness, his ebullient embrace of wackiness--and the evening around the campfire, when controlled substances were served up for the first time in a major motion picture--won us to a new and major talent. He didn't start any fashion trends, but we couldn't wait to see him do more movies. Which he did. 
The easiest rider of all, Jack Nicholson
Diane Keaton made Annie Hall a star. Or vice versa.

The look that changed the way women dressed for a decade came when we got one look at Diane Keaton in Annie Hall in 1975. Keaton had made a few traditional movies but in this one she was given free rein by her director, Woody Allen, who wanted to showcase her own style and personality. She has said she wanted to look like Cary Grant, but on her the look came out different. And it was new, all right. It was cute, it was fresh, it was wearable, but it was a little bit crazy too.

There was a movie moment in California Suite, a Neil Simon collage of one-acts woven into a popular movie in 1979, that changed women of a certain age forever. It was the scene between Alan Alda and Jane Fonda that takes place on a California beach. Fonda is wearing a borrowed bikini and prancing around the beach looking like a voluptuous sylph. She was in her early 40s and she looked about 25. The role she was playing was a sophisticated, witty, chain-smoking divorcée, arguing with her ex-husband (Alda) about custody of their college-age daughter, and there she was looking gorgeous and sexy enough to make us all forget about her war protests (not that I ever minded them anyway). All we could think about was how to get ourselves back in shape again.
Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, California Suite
Fonda soon embarked on production of exercise videos, reinventing herself once again in her extraordinary life, and all the women I knew either owned one or joined a group using them.

I've been making a list of movie moments I won't forget. One was when, at the age of 12, I saw From Here To Eternity, with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr lying right down on the beach--in the water-- and kissing passionately. I didn't know what the metaphor was, but I knew I was feeling something new in my nether regions. Another is the first time I saw Tommy Lee Jones (the movie was Coal Miner's Daughter) and came away wondering how he could ever be in another role--ditto the first time I saw Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) who also grew as an actor with every role.

From time to time, we lose it at the movies. A guy just takes his shirt off and the earth moves. It happens every once in a while.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a doubter on the Gable/undershirt story, but there is no doubt that the movie "Wall Street" and it's main character, Gordon Gekko, influenced how men dressed in the 1980s. If not the birth of "power dressing", it was the fuel that launched it into the mainstream.