Last night was Oscar Night on the far side of the country. I watched the highlights this morning, complete with First Lady Michelle Obama's announcement of the Best Picture award - Argo - and with Best Actress Jennifer Lawrence's tumble up the steps in her haute couture Dior gown. I suppose even glitter, glamour and glory doesn't forever keep away reality.
Yet isn't that what the motion picture industry is all about? Elevating us to a different plane, allowing us to escape reality if only for a few snippets of time.
Imagine the 1950's and the best picture winners. All About Eve. An American in Paris. Greatest Show on Earth. From Here to Eternity.
Now imagine children from the South Mountains where electricity was only a decade old, where neighbors gathered at the one home in the community equipped with a television and where the big attraction on Friday and Saturday evenings was going to the Pilot Mountain School auditorium to watch a movie for a dime. Back in the forties, the PTA had purchased a film projector and by the fifties, teachers were showing films not only on weekend evenings for fund raisers, but also during school hours.
As I interviewed former students from that era, my eyes were opened to the power the movie industry had to influence a sheltered culture. The children were exposed not only to films with educational themes, but Hollywood films, Niagara starring Marilyn Monroe for instance. A former student told about watching it during school hours. Educational, I'm sure.
Another spoke about the first movie she had ever seen, a western, where gunfighters shot and killed each other. This impressionable child cried at seeing a death for the first time ever and even her mother's assurances that it wasn't real couldn't convince her to watch another movie for years to come. When the class went to the auditorium on film days, she opted to remain in the classroom and do extra work instead.
And then there was the elderly gentleman who told of another point of view:
It didn’t make a difference what the movie was, but on Saturday night, Friday night, one of them, I’d ride my bicycle down to the school and see the movie. They’d draw a pretty good crowd, because there wasn’t nothing else to do. They had a preacher down here that started out in a brush arbor. He’d have revival. We’d go and he was talking one night, he says, “Here they got a damnable movie machine up there at Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse that’s people going to see. You oughten be going to see such as that.” I didn’t quit going. It was his problem, not mine.
I'm not all that convinced that Hollywood was unaware of the possibilities of their culture altering media. This was a case of the proverbial genie out of the bottle, no way to return to the innocence before. The outside world had arrived in the South Mountains and life was never the same.