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Transgressive retro

The following has some spoilers.

The weekend’s movies were Far From Heaven and Catch Me If You Can. Definitely a retro weekend, not even counting the incredibly hip Soma FM Secret Agent streaming radio station I’ve had tuned in since Thursday. I feel like a martini, and you’re just the sort of woman to drink me…

Ah, sorry. The mood took me for a moment. More a Catch Me If You Can mood, I think; that’s the lighter of the two films. It has that jazzy sixties bliss to it, up to and including invoking James Bond with a short Goldfinger clip. That makes the contrast between the two all the more interesting, though, since they’re both about transgressions against the natural order.

Frank Abagnale Jr. breaks free of social restrictions and demonstrates exactly how much we rely on social convention to fend off the intruder. In Far From Heaven, the Whitakers both transgress, with varying degrees of success. But in Catch Me If You Can, the final dynamic is very different. We’re encouraged to cheer for the young con man — and in the end we’re reassured that it was OK to cheer, because he got caught and his pursuer was his very best friend. His real father (played by Christopher Walken, in a really brilliant turn) taught him that it was OK to lie, and wound up a sad sorry corpse. His surrogate father, the FBI agent, brought him back to the straight and narrow and in the end everyone’s happy.

Far From Heaven doesn’t offer the easy out. Cathy Whitaker’s life is ruined by the combination of her transgression and that of her husband, Frank. Oddly, Frank’s life doesn’t seem to be so bad, which got me thinking about the exact relationship between her love for a black gardener and his love for another man.

Homosexuality is so far outside the comprehension of the time that the couple can barely even talk about what’s going on. Their first scene together after she catches him kissing a man is particularly well filmed; it’s an atonal song of confusion and barely spoken thoughts and stammers. Lovely stuff. As a result, Frank’s infidelities are ignored by the world around him. Cathy’s potential infidelities are not.

Did Cathy step outside her life only because she had no other reaction to Frank’s actions? I think so, to a degree. Raymond (her gardener) is a symbol, and she’s willing to reject him when it’s the necessary thing to do. She doesn’t go back to him until Frank rejects her, at which point she needs another anchor in her life. Then again, when faced with the fact that going with Raymond will only hurt his daughter, she steps back. The safest analysis is that she really does love him, and that Far From Heaven follows the line of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas all the way through, but I wonder.

Anyhow, meanderings through theory aside, I recommend both of ‘em. Far From Heaven is by far the better movie, but Catch Me If You Can is a fun little romp if you don’t get hung up on obsessing about the end. It’s hardly Spielberg’s fault that the real Frank Abagnale turned to the side of the law, after all. They’re both excellent evocations of times past, lovingly and skillfully filmed. Good weekend for movies.

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