In a fit of nostalgia last weekend, I bought "Love Story" at a yard sale. After handing over my dollar I took the video home, eager to watch it again for the first time in a very long time. I asked my husband to sit through it with me, and he reluctantly agreed. He fell asleep shortly after the ice hockey scene, but I made it all the way through.
I have been doing that lately: watching again, after many years, the movies that shaped my expectations of life, love, career - and wardrobe. The real stars of Love Story, for me, were the clothes. For an hour and forty minutes, Ali McGraw delivers all of her painfully simplistic platitudes wearing a gorgeous shearling coat, short plaid skirts and dark tights. She sounds demented, but she looks great. And Ryan O'Neal could not be sexier in his rumpled wool sweaters, tweed jackets and corduroy pants. Is it any wonder that I convinced my boyfriend to buy a tan corduroy suit for a fall dance in 1979? A pair of Brown leather clogs completed his look.
The dialog in "Love Story" was mostly forgettable, but the look of the film made a lasting impression on me. A fact I realized only after watching it again last week after more than 30 years. I realized that the images I saw when I watched it for the first time in 1970 somehow planted themselves in my brain and shaped my taste. That must be why each and every autumn, when it starts to get cold the leaves turn, I immediately think of brick buildings, plaid skirts, wool sweaters and Ryan O'Neal.
The movies of the '70s were like training films for me. "The Goodbye Girl" taught me about being dumped and finding true love. "Kramer vs. Kramer" showed me that it was possible to lose yourself in your marriage. "The Stepford Wives" warned me about the perils of moving to Connecticut. Movies like "Love Story" and "Brian's Song" allowed sheltered suburban girls like me to sit in the dark and live vicariously through someone else's pain. It was practice for the future, when people we loved would actually get sick and sometimes die.
And then there was television. I didn't date in high school. Did anyone? I babysat and watched a lot of television. I got those kids in bed pronto, so I could get in some serious viewing time. My Saturday night lineup consisted of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Carol Burnett Show" and Don Kirschner's Rock Concert. Don Kirschner's was always a bit of a disappointment. I never knew who the bands were, which made me feel like a dork, which explained why all I ever did was babysit, or so I thought.
I wanted to BE Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore.) She was independent, smart, pretty and popular. She had a good job, straight hair and lived by herself in an apartment with shag carpeting. What more could you want in life? I can still see the snow falling on Minneapolis outside that big bay window in her apartment. She used to get dressed in her closet and sleep on a pull out couch in her living room. I couldn't wait to see what she wore every week. When my husband and I went looking for our first apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, I chose the one that most resembled Mary's.
Like any teenager I had my favorite singers as well. Growing up on Long Island, I felt a certain kinship with Billy Joel. Me and a million other kids. But my real love was Jackson Browne. Not just the music, you understand, but the man as well. I played his albums over and over. I knew the words to all the songs and I thought I knew what they all meant. I wanted to run away with him. When we replaced our turntable with a CD player I replaced all my Jackson Browne albums with CDs and gave them another listen. I had to laugh when I realized how little I knew about what the words meant back then. Twenty years of living adds a lot to your understanding of things. And I guess it's a good thing it never worked out with Jackson, considering that nasty business with Daryll Hannah. So unlike him, don't you think?
So now I'm wondering what sort of images have settled in my children's minds. I want to make sure they have a chance to absorb some beauty, some valuable lessons, a little inspiration and maybe a few fashion tips along with everything else that is out there. So I'm stacking the deck in favor of Mary Tyler Moore and Jackson Browne. I have a list of movies I plan to watch with my children. Some day when we're buried under four feet of snow with nowhere to go, I'll pop in a video and make sure no one falls asleep.
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