When Time Passes And Doesn't Wave

There it is, I thought this morning. There’s the photo for me.

 Back row: Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin. At podium: Larraine Newman.

Back row: Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin. At podium: Larraine Newman.

Because sometimes you need reminders that you’ve lived through a certain amount of years. And it makes sense that a bunch of 20-something funny people who helped create a permanent slice of television history, 40-odd years ago, would end up like this. Older. Me too.

Two original SNL cast members are missing, of course. John Belushi and Gilda Radner were arguably the most talented of the bunch, although hindsight has a way with these things. Still, what’s interesting about this picture, to me, is eying the arc of these careers.

The three men there have all had successes based on their time at 30 Rock (although Garrett Morris…not a good fit for SNL, this playwright with a social conscience, and it was always weird), but never quite rose to this kind of prominence. Dan Ackroyd has mostly been a comic second banana in his best stuff (e.g., Ghostbusters). We all know about the bizarre career of Chevy Chase with its odor of failure.

But the women have done just fine. Larraine Newman is a well-respected voiceover artist and still a lovely, very funny woman. Jane Curtin took elements of one of her more useful characters, the uptight schoolmarmish, comically repressed woman and spun network sitcom gold.

I’m not a big fan, or not anymore. But I was there at the beginning; SNL’s first season coincided with my senior year of high school, so I was set up for fandom. We thought it was all about the cast, back then, that like every other show, it would last as long as the same people were doing the same thing, with small additions and subtractions. It didn’t look like a destination goal for aspiring comics and actors. It didn’t look at all like what it became.

Anyway. A bunch of old people, not a big deal. I just remember when we all were young.

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I watched Touch of Evil last night on Netflix, noticing a few weeks ago that one of my favorite films was now available to click. I posted something about this a few days ago on Facebook, and we had a nice discussion about the film and its merits.

There was some talk about how great a movie it is despite Charlton Heston’s portrayal of a Mexican cop. There was some eye-rolling about 1950s casting, putting a Caucasian in the role of a Latino, although this doesn’t interest me much. There are some horrible examples of this in film history, but having a descendant of northern Europeans play the descendant of southern Europeans? I don’t have a problem, although it wouldn’t happen today. Still, it’s a misguided criticism, in my opinion. There are worse things.

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Like that Charlton Heston is terrible in this part. He was never a great actor (at least in film; I never saw him on stage, where he worked extensively well into the later stages of his career) in my opinion, just a noble profile to slap into those epics the 50s were so fond of. Timing was everything.

None of this is interesting. We all have tastes, in actors, in music, in everything. I wouldn’t recommend Touch of Evil to you, for example, unless I had a handle on your sensibilities and your preferences. It’s a very stylized film, with lots of shadows and odd angles, and Orson Welles’ trademark overlapping, almost Sorkinesque dialogue. Not for everyone.

It was just that I realized a slight compulsion to try to redeem Heston. Not just in this film, either. I read a book during some formative years, sort of an autobiography, and I got to know the man a little through his words. I took an interest, then, which happens when you learn stuff.

I just made a fan connection. He was a movie star for about 20 years, a big one, and he bridged a couple of very different cinematic generations. He played around with noir, made his bones with Bible flicks, did some Westerns, jumped on the scifi wagon with Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green, then joined the 1970s rush of disaster films (Airport 1975, Skyjacked, Earthquake).

None of these parts puts him in my pantheon of actors. I just think a lot about the man. If I remove his final decade or two, when he became almost comical in his political expressions (and baffled his friends and family with these), he was just a generally conservative person.

And not in an overtly political sense, although everything eventually becomes political these days. He seemed to have an affection for simple values and ways of living, most of which make perfect sense, if simplistically. I don’t have a problem with any of this. I have similar feelings and attitudes, about a lot of things.

As do my friends and acquaintances, at least some, and that’s what I’m thinking about today. I know it’s difficult, but if we can strip the political connotations from conservative for the moment and look at it as just a personal philosophy, I see conservative thought all the time.

It mostly seems to look at life as a collection of impermanent, ephemeral moments, with a solid foundation of core principles to return to. That is, a conservative temperament seems to view most progress as faddish, temporary.

And, of course, sometimes they’re right. There are a lot of temporary distractions in life, things that look important and special and ultimately are destined for the remainders bin. No question about it.

But history is made in the moments, and the future is always found hiding in the past. Some things stick. The most common dividing line these days seems to be smartphones, which are still being sneered at when not completely ignored by people I know. I mean, I don’t care if people aren’t interested in having a smartphone. It’s an expense, and we can survive without.

I mean, I can’t. Maybe you can.

But you know? This is the world. You can opt out of lots of things, more power to you, but dismissing elements of the way we are and will be strikes me as foolish, and just weird. I’ve seen a couple of friends in the past week or so post screeds about hip-hop and why it won’t just go away. It’s not music! they say, obviously suffering from an irony deficiency. For the first half of our lives, it was rock and roll; the second half, hip-hop. It is the music of our time. You don’t have to like it (although I don’t understand dismissing an entire category; I enjoy quite a bit of hip-hop), but refusing to accept it, and screaming into the void like your parents and grandparents did about the music you loved, is a bizarre thing to do.

As is freaking out about a picture of the original SNL crew. People get older. Apparently I am a people. Never mind.

Chuck SigarsComment