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Developing a theme the editor — sorry, the Editor — has written about in the magazine, Kathy Shaidle argues in Talk Sixties, Act Fifties: The Ice Storm  that “looking back on films made during the 1960s and 70s,  many of the most iconic ones are more like melodramatic morality plays than commercials for the sexual revolution.” She goes on to offer evidence from the movies the liberated suburban parents in The Ice Storm  would have watched, like Alfie , Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice , and The Graduate .

This has struck me as well, how movies I’d always heard were great statements of liberation came down with a bump. (Of the three listed above, I’ve only seen The Graduate , and as Shaidle points out, the ending does not encourage one to follow the characters in their flouting of tradition, and judging from her descriptions of the other movies that the most positive ending of the lot.) She asks:

[S]o many seminal 60s and 70s films tease a message of liberation, but pull the trap of the gallows in their final last moments.

Why? Without the supposedly evil Hays Code to hamper them, why did all these daring young moviemakers keep employing the old tropes of cosmic justice? Residual Catholic or Jewish guilt? Lack of imagination? Did they find that “playing tennis without a net” wasn’t much fun after all?

What is it about people and movie endings, anyway? Never mind  Rocky Horror ; what about gangsta wannabes who can recite all the dialogue from  Goodfellas  and Pacino’s  Scarface , neither of which end terribly well.

It’s as if the seductive glamor of the first two acts inoculates viewers to the brutally punitive third.

This may be in part simply the exercise of a dramatic logic. A happy ever after ending in a liberationist movie just isn’t going to be very satisfactory.  The ending has more of a dramatic kick if the characters don’t end happily ever after. But presumably the endings also express the experience of people who’d known that kind of liberation and knew how it often ended.

I have talked with people who led such lives and who did not regret them, exactly, but who wistfully described the cost and who wished now that they had led a more domestic life, without all the baggage of a liberationist history. On the other hand, I’ve talked with people who’d lived that kind of life and seem happy as clams today. It’s hard to generalize. Maybe the directors will more often the first sort.

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