An Affair Beyond Memory

An Affair Beyond Memory

Chick Flick is a slang term for the film genre dealing mainly with love and romance which is targeted to a female audience. It is usually defined as a genre in which a woman is the protagonist. Although many types of films may be directed toward the female gender, chick flick is typically used only in reference to films that contain emotion or themes that are relationship-based (although not necessarily romantic as films may focus on parent-child or friend relationships). Chick flicks often are released en masse around Valentine’s Day. Feminists such as Gloria Steinem have objected to the term and its sister chick lit while a film critic has called the term derogatory.

The Chick Flick is probably just a form of celluloid reincarnation of the courtly romance genre that dates back to the late 11th century. The practice of courtly love was developed in the castle life of four regions: Aquitaine, Provence, Champagne and ducal Burgundy, from around the time of the First Crusade (1099). Eleanor of Aquitaine brought ideals of courtly love from Aquitaine first to the court of France, then to England, where she was queen to two kings. It has been handed down through the centuries by legions of troubadours, who sang and talked of the spark of the physical beauty of their ladies and the feelings and desires they aroused in men.

It was most likely the 1957 film, An Affair to Remember that popularized this genre of film. An Affair to Remember is an American romance film starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, directed by Leo McCarey. The film is considered one of the most romantic movies of all time, according to the American Film Institute. The film was a remake of McCarey’s 1939 film Love Affair, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.

Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant), a well-known playboy and dilettante in the arts, meets Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) aboard the Transatlantic ocean liner SS Constitution en route from Europe to New York. Each is involved with someone else. After a series of chance meetings aboard the ship, they establish a friendship.

When Terry joins Nickie on a brief visit to his grandmother when the ship anchors near her home at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast, she sees Nickie through new eyes and their feelings blossom into love.

During their visit, it is revealed that Nickie has a talent for painting, but has dropped it due to his critical attitude towards his own art. As the ship returns to New York City, they agree to reunite at the top of the Empire State Building in six months’ time, if they have succeeded in ending their relationships and starting new careers on their own.

On the day of their rendezvous, Terry, in her haste to reach the Empire State Building, is struck down by a car while crossing a street. Gravely injured, she is rushed to the hospital. Meanwhile, Nickie, anxiously waits for her at the observation deck at the top of the building, unaware of her crippling accident. After many hours, he finally concedes that she will not arrive, believing that she has rejected him.

An Affair…has had many imitators over the years. It was directly featured in one of my favorite films, Sleepless in Seattle, which spun off what may loosely be called a sequel, You Got Mail. Those two films are its best known and most popular imitators. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starred in both. In the former, all the women seemed to swoon over An Affair…while their men lampoon it with mocking comparisons to the action flick, Dirty Dozen, which brought tears to one of the men.

On a first date with a new lady friend, I asked her what her favorite film was. Without a the slightest of hesitation she proclaimed An Affair to Remember. I had never seen the full production. All I knew about it was in the clip they used on Sleepless…So I went out and purchased my own copy.

I usually watch films in two nights. In this case it advantageously served to bifurcate the movie at perfect intervals. In the first night, Nickie appeared to me to be very charming, and flirtatious but was characterized as a complete rake, who lived off the largesse of dozens of rich and beautiful women. Terry was beautiful and demure but a woman who had struggled her whole life as a singer to support herself.

Both characters had significant others, whom they loved but without the intense feelings that cause a couple to approach the altar. After their chance meeting on the cruise, there seemed to be a chemical reaction that only God can explain. (Divine grace, Serendipity?)

While Nickie did not deserve Terry’s respect, it was perhaps his witty repartee and personal humor that attracted her. Or perhaps it was she was lonely and hurt because her business-obsessed fiancée was busy tending to his economic affairs.

What turned her and aroused my immediate feelings was in my Part II when he took her to meet his lovely grandmother. I learned a long time ago that a woman can always tell about a man’s character by watching how he treats the women around him.

Terry felt so at home with him and his grandmother that I could feel the love blossoming in both of their souls. My first choke moment occurred when the new couple started to leave for the ship whose horn’s discordance could be heard, echoing in the distance. Terry turned and came back and gave a special hug to the elderly woman. That was my tipping point in the film. I was totally hooked by her display of emotion. The rest was just epilogue as the plot developed.

In all the films above, I found myself identifying, not with the successful suitor, Grant and Hanks, but with the lovable losers. I mean they are all stable, successful and totally devoted to their special ladies. But each one seemed to lack some special quality that they found in Grant and Hanks.

I sometimes wonder if I have that deficiency myself, even though I enjoyed a long and a very loving marriage for over a half century. Was my Judy just one lucky shot or is there anyone else who could see in me what she saw?

I cry in films all the time. Maybe not in the Dirty Dozen, though I cheered former football great Jim Brown’s fatal touchdown sprint near the end of the movie. I am not ashamed to admit that. Evidently there is a male equivalent to the Chick Flick and that is the Guy-cry film. My new hero has become a man that cries shamelessly at will but is secure in his own manhood. Actor Jude Law’s character in the Christmas season film, The Holiday, brilliantly captures this essence. I cry every time I see him do that. When his new lady sees him do that, she just melts before his eyes. Played by Caren Diaz, she had been unable to cry since her parents’ divorce when she was 15. A match made in heaven?

All of these films are predicated on the belief that there is just one person out there who has been chosen as our soul mate for eternity. While the films always show us their beginnings when their emotions are in full bloom, once the curtain fades to black, we are left to wonder if they really did live a long and happy life with each other or did reality intervene and force them apart. Despite the pervasive cynicism of the 21st century, Hollywood still lives on the illusion of the Happy Ending.

I guess what I really want to to do, even at my geriatric stage, is to star in my own Chick Flick. It is never too late. I love this genre because they are all apparently lonely people whose current paramours do not fulfill their need for a complete emotional connection. There is still enough of that left in me to want to enjoy love the second time around. As the lyrics of that song promise Love is lovelier the second time around

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Written by
William Borst