In my "movie life" list, I've had to jump ahead. The next five movies on the list were films I have already written about in this blog:
I mean, it starts with a dance number, and ballet not musical, which by 1985 I'd not had much experience with musicals, but I would soon come to love them. And, honestly, watching this dance opening today, it is awesome. Mikhail Baryshnikov is great. And, now for the first time I look up what that show was. Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, about a man driven to death by his faithless lover. Which that one scene of it conveyed so well I'm wondering what else might be involved in the plot.
But, I find it interesting that in 1985, I knew what defecting was. I knew far too much (at least on a childish surface level) about the Soviet Union and, you know, the horror behind the Iron Curtain. A lot of what I knew was surely propaganda, but I was young so the truth of it didn't matter. And, I was raised in a religious environment where the end of the world was nigh, so Soviet Union vs United States, nuclear holocaust, and all that would come with it, was in my head far too much.
I was still just 9 when this movie came to the big screen. I'd be 10 a little less than 2 months later. Rocky IV (starting its second week) and Spies Like Us were in theaters at the time. A lot of Cold War stuff. Back to the Future was still in the top 10 at the box office, in its 23rd week.
And, I find myself just sitting and watching because it has been probably more than 20 years since that last time I've seen this movie. And Gregory Hines is dancing down--Porgy and Bess, which while I've known that title for a long time (and brought it up in a conversation about musicals just the other day), I only now bothered to look it up and find that it is about a disabled beggar attempting to rescue Bess from her possessive lover. It's interesting that these two performances both tie together thematically--man wronged by woman, man trying to save wronged woman--but also have a remarkable
(but maybe only remarkable because I wouldn't have known what these shows were about at all when I saw this movie as a kid, and I don't know what kind of understanding I might have had of the metaphor to be remarked on now)that both fit these men trying to get away from the Soviet Union. Russia is the woman who has wronged Nikolai. Russia is the lover Raymond is trying to save Darya from.
One thing I'm sure I never understood when I first saw this was why Raymond was in Russia. I swear he explains his reasons explicitly at some point. While tap dancing. But, Cold War, Reagan's America, private school classes, and weekly church services had me pretty sure this was the division of the world that would destroy the world--
Ooh, it's now. And yeah, in 1985, I don't think I knew much about the current struggles of black people in America. There were only a handful of black students at my school. And, the one interracial couple in our church were an oddity that I'm surprised now we're not shunned more than they were the way our beliefs preached against mixing the races.
And, it's anti-Vietnam. I wonder if my parents were offended by Raymond's speech here.
And, then my mind shifts forward. College right out high school, when I start figuring out how much of the things I've been told my whole life just felt like manipulative bullshit to me now. Shift forward again. College dropout, working office jobs and high on conspiracy theories and all that madness you're supposed to latch onto at some point before you become an adult, but I was a late bloomer, a late comer to how the world was a divided and horrible place filled with corruption and warmongering and I wallow in it. Shift forward again, I'm married, I go back to college, ostensibly to finish the degree I never got, and I get it in my head that I want to teach history. And I love me some 60s radicals. You can check out some of the pieces I've written about them:
- "Flower Children Have Grown Thorns: How Weatherman Was Born from the Anti-War Movement, How It Succeeded and Why It Failed"
- "The Solution to Violence in the Streets: Framing the 1968 Democratic National Convention Police Riot in the National Consciousness"
- "Smash Monogamy: Sexual Revolution to Political Revolution"
I want to be that radical, inspiration teacher that makes some high school kid love history before they lose all hope. And, I join the speech team and I speak and I debate and, I'm the one with the out-there ideas, and damn the rules and the standards. I just want to say outlandish things and win.
Shift forward again. Grad school. Coach for the speech team. Blogger. And, you know what kind of madness came from that last one.
In '85 I doubt I could have really understood why someone would choose Russia over the West. But, there were many years between than and now when I was quite fed up with this country and others like it. And, Raymond's speech about not wanting to be turned into a murderer by Uncle Sam just to get out of the ghetto still resonates. Most of the script here is not all that impressive--the dancing is great, and these two personalities clashing is nice, but the script is almost too easy. Still, Raymond's still seething grief and rage at turning away from America resonates.
And, I wonder about my own grief and rage. My anxieties. How much can I still blame my childhood, I wonder. Or, after a certain number of decades, is everything I'm still holding onto all on me?
"I will perish, as a feather that the hurricane has swallowed
In a chariot they'll pull me through the snow in blinding gallop
All I ask of you my horses, slow your pace but for a moment
To prolong the final seconds of approach to my last comfort”