We went to see A Farewell to Arms. Frank Borzage. 1932. I’d never seen any of Borzage’s stuff, but I know he was a big wheel back then, and heard Scorsese say he liked him.
Well, it’s painful. You can forgive the pacing. That’s our problem. But the lead characters. I don’t know who’s to blame more, Hemingway or his time.
The first time they meet Frederick takes Catherine for a walk in the dark and they have sex. You might be thinking: racy for 1932. Well, not so much. He starts off by trying to kiss her. And she says no. And she says no again. He keeps forcing himself on her. Then she smacks him hard in the face. That makes him stop. And it makes her start apologizing. Christ, she can’t stop apologizing and she ends up begging him to kiss her, she’s so sorry for slapping him.
He tells her that if it wasn’t wartime, and they were back in the States, he’d court her, but things happen faster in wartime, and he starts to move in on her again, this time for more than kissing. Again she says no, and doesn’t want him to. So we cut to the next scene, when he’s asking her why she didn’t tell him she was a virgin.
He hadn’t figured on that.
And so on. She says a lot of idiotic stuff that must have appealed to Hemingway and men in general. She tells him that she’s melted away, and all she is now is him. You don’t catch him saying that to her. His job is just to find her whenever they’re separated. And to do it in a manly way – by braving death, the threat of the firing squad, and drowning.
It killed me, that first love scene. Reminded me of Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. That was another one, first time he meets Debbie Reynolds. They’re driving along in her car and she’s going to drop him home. He makes a move on her and she rebuffs him. That’s when he goes into rape-mode. He’s just got to have her.
What innocent times. The Thirties. The Forties. The Fifties.
And where was more innocent than Ireland? Today The Guardian ran an article about something horrific that used to go on here. I won’t paraphrase it. This is how it starts:
The bodies of 796 children, between the ages of two days and nine years old, have been found in a disused sewage tank in Tuam, County Galway. They died between 1925 and 1961 in a mother and baby home under the care of the Bon Secours nuns. Locals have known about the grave since 1975, when two little boys, playing, broke apart the concrete slab covering it and discovered a tomb filled with small skeletons. A parish priest said prayers at the site, and it was sealed once more.
What were these nuns thinking?
And what were men and women thinking in the cinema, as they watched men force themselves on women?
For once we seem to have the upper hand on the past, if only because the evil of today feels more overt.