Roman holiday

Hello, folks–here’s the rather more recent stuff I’ve been writing on movies for Ricochet. I do not feel I have a very good reason for picking this movie, however: It is neither too funny nor too romantic. It has about it the air of a fairy tale, but this time the princess wants to be Cinderella for a day… A princess who has never seen people wishes to escape from her vaguely feudal, vaguely futuristic duties. I suppose this could be an education for all the Disney characters turned into rather shocking young people by the celebrity industry. You can tell, I mean to be rather contrarian. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun, just to bring out what people tend to overlook.

Now for the notes. The beginning, I think, is rather close to a thriller. The princess, a presumptive heir of some unimportant European kingdom, is on a European tour. Sitting, standing, & walking, waiting on people, waving vaguely, shaking hands–giving the economic progress speech here & the youth is our future speech there, accepting this gift but not that, & telling the press about her hopes for friendship & closer connections between all nations &, of course, world peace…

Behind the scenes, she is screaming mad. She’s treated like a robot, but with all the pretense of ceremony. The people in charge of this young girl habitually drug her–for her own good, no doubt, so that she’ll rest & then do her job. The inhumanity is startling, to say the least. There is, too, a similarly startling element to the plot–the royal answer to the trouble is to send men in black to hunt the princes &, when they find her, capture her. That is some part of politics, perhaps there is nothing to be done to avoid it. Liberation is difficult & that means that it is not quite what people wish–I suppose lots of us now would rather have an escape from politics, not just the kids of prominent politicians…

So this is when she enters into the drug-induced dream-like state of freedom. What’s it like? It’s filmed shot-for-shot exactly like a prison escape: Out on the exterior of a tall building, watching for the guards, make a run for it down a corridor, followed by some as-yet-unsuspecting guard, wait for the guy to end his watch, then sneak in the truck with the supplies, & you’re home-free.

Well, I should end here–if you like to talk about the romance & what it might mean to look at our vulgar modern world with wonder, sure, we can do that. In my experience, women love this movie far more than men. I’ll also say this, when my young miss saw that the princess wanted a short modern haircut, she began to disbelieve. That’s what Say it ain’t so, Joe! looks like for women…

Finally, this was written by Communist Donald Trumbo. It’s pretty good writing, but I am not displeased that for a long time he had his work expropriated…

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11 Responses to Roman holiday

  1. NandaNanda says:

    Howdy, TT! Cynic, much? :-) I just watched this again a couple weeks ago. I always thought of this as a nod to the then-newly-minted QEII…As well, (being Wyler’s) a chance to wake from the nightmare of war, and recall what lasts: Roman antiquities and romance. I have often emulated Audrey’s hair – and would ride Peck’s bike anytime! (How about a window into what you *like* in film next time? Grin.) Welcome back!

  2. titus says:

    I’m not cynical. Perhaps I should have made it clearer that I’m not trying to charm you all, just to bring out stuff that’s not obvious when people talk about this movie. I’m trying to show the psychological & dramatic background & task the movie sets for itself.
    This is why the conclusion is so austere–in her private scene, the queen-in-the-making speaks to her tormentors with an authority & a reproach that are not only unmistakable, but are supposed to show the sacrifice she is making. Duty means living & working with people who treat you that way, apparently, & there is no suggestion monarchic authority includes the kind of justice of executing people who drug you!
    It is the sacrifice of the kind of love & fun she now knows for the sake of family & country that is supposed to justify monarchy.
    I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the movie–I only want to point out that the sunny stuff is supposed to conceal something serious & at the same time to make certain problems soluble or at least livable.
    I think you can think through the new dignity a rather young American acquires from the old world when he realizes he should not be exploiting people. Notice when the man with the camera says, it’s always open season on princesses. The similarities & differences between silly comedies & scandal sheet journalism really do matter. It’s a really good question how comedy & dignity can live together. At the end, when the two newspapermen talk about how they would have done the story, you see the connection between comedy, puns, shamelessness, & journalism. There is a dedication to abolishing dignity there that takes both of them aback, even though they admire good craftsmanship: Even vulgarity requires craftsmanship. How is comedy different? Why is the democratic effect of vulgarity sometimes bad & sometimes good? I think it’s worth thinking about these things. Wyler was a very good director & his thoughtless comedies tend to be anything but thoughtless…

    • NandaNanda says:

      I’ll grant you…Wyler seldom puts a foot wrong; makes us think while we smile and sigh; but I still can’t find the ‘torture’ and ‘imprisonment’ of someone who’s been groomed for this all her life (gradually more knowingly) and ultimately accepts the strictures it entails on *her* terms…This resonates for me as a new chapter in my life entails redefining the scope of ‘care-dependent’ and how limiting limits need be…

    • titus says:

      I think the first clue is her screaming mad & crying that she does not want the doctor to come drug her again. How can anyone watch that & not wince, when you realize what it means that the girl knows what the doctor is going to do to her? We are literally talking about drugging someone for being human as opposed to robotically repeating a script she is fed. I am not sure how you folks can get over that when it’s almost the first thing we see.
      The story only makes sense if her seemingly glamorous life is a living hell–why deny that that’s what it is, behind the scenes?
      I think everyone knows that bringing up a girl to perform these duties does not mean she is soulless or that her nature is simply replaced by conventions & duties whose performance is drilled into her skull before she is let sleep.
      We’re talking about a teenage girl who reads Romantic poetry. (Shelley, but she thinks it’s Keats. The American journalist apparently is also educated enough about poetry to know about Arethusa…)
      Her acceptance of her duties at the end comes with a certain coldness & a new maturity. She may never know love again, but at least she knows something–that & every other human thing seemed to her captor a distraction before! No wonder she shows them no love nor human warmth at the end.

  3. NandaNanda says:

    Still not willing to go there, TT…Trumbo’s penchant for melodrama featuring helplessness/powerlessness (See: “Johnny Got His Gun”) is in full bloom here, it seems. Most young Royals are fairly matter-of-fact about the limits their status includes; none more so than QEII…I think I’ve said my piece. :-)

    Agree, M…

    • titus says:

      I don’t disagree about ‘most young royals.’ I don’t think you need to look at this movie & think, this is what it’s like for all royal kids! Or all kids who grow up into adult responsibility long before they’re adults!
      I’m trying to get you to let go of that & look directly at this particular story–I think it is worth paying attention to it to learn something about who we are even if it’s not the true sociology of royal families & their issue!
      First of all, as a method of interpretation, poetry requires (1)that we look at the particular case in front of us; (2) think of it concretely, not of abstract categories or even our experience–which is abstract in the sense that it does not belong to the story or what someone is trying to tell us; & (3) only generalize from that concrete example.
      I believe this also fits with our experience of conversation: We want people to listen to what we have to say & to try to make sense of it, giving us the benefit of the doubt, & then to try to answer what we have said–not whatever it is that’s on their minds!

      Now, to go back to the story & the really harsh beginning & ending, which contrast so obviously with the rather soft & pleasing day in Rome: I think we benefit from seeing such a harsh separation–with all the exaggeration–between love & duty. That’s not all there is to life, but I think anyone can see that we incline to conceal that difference just to make life livable. But sometimes, we can look at it in stark contrasts & with all the drama–at least in the way it’s presented in Roman holiday: After all, this is not One flew over a cuckoo’s nest or anything like that. But we have got to be willing to see it as clear as it’s presented at least in cases like this.
      If we do pay attention, I think we can quickly connect this kind of story about kids forced into an inhuman obedience to what’s happening to child stars nowadays. Is it really an accident that by the time they are supposed to become adults they turn into freak shows? It’s been happening at least for twenty years to girls who turns pop stars–somehow, it seems more obvious & saddening with girls than boys…
      & then it will not do to say, most musicians or artists or talent who make it big, whether they are exploited or not, do it to themselves & know what they’re getting into, &c. I don’t think that would be the proper attitude to take.

  4. titus says:

    By the way, Trumbo–yeah, I can do without him…

  5. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    I have never seen the movie. Off hand, it probably isn’t a movie that would attract my attention.

    But I am struck by what has been said here. What comes to mind is the not uncommon complaint of crazy people that they HATE taking the drugs that “make them normal”. They complain that it makes the world flat, dull, without feeling or life.

    I dunno. I have never taken the drugs. I have seen the benefit that they can confer, but don’t see the downside of them. Perhaps this movie is more the metaphor about crazy people and the drugs they have to take to make life “liveable” but not pleasant (where as their natural state makes it pleasant but not liveable).

    • titus says:

      That’s a good point–I did not think of it. In the movie, the girl is not crazy. She’s just treated terribly. Just ask yourself, would you turn your kid into a public show & drug her into compliance if she feels terrible about it…
      But aside from the movie–I’m not sure light rom.com is your delight, so I’m not going to recommend it–you do have a good point about the distinction between being functional or getting through the day & getting the elation or ecstasy that at least sometimes seems to make life worth living.
      I should have said something about that & the importance of Romanticism in sentimental education–there is more than a little of that in the story: It’s set in Rome because of its beauty, after all…

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