Money, you've got lots of friends
They're crowding around your door
But when you're gone and spending ends
They don't come no more
Rich relations give crusts of bread and such
You can help yourself, but don't take too much
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own
Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child."
I was thinking about this as I was reading Francine Prose's excellent review of Toni Morrison's new book God Help the Child in the New York Review of Books. (It's paywalled, sorry.)
The quote that struck me was this. Prose explains that Morrison may excel at writing relatable magical realism but her realism-realism is unbelievable:
"One reason why we may have less trouble accepting the magical elements in the book than some of the more apparently naturalistic ones is that we have learned to suspend our disbelief in the presence of something that, we feel, could never occur. But when we are shown "real" people interacting in what we assume to be the "real world", the writer--regardless of the authority of her narrative voice, or of her prodigious ability to will characters and events on to the page--is obliged to persuade us that a person might think and behave in the ways we observe her reflecting and acting."
And right there is my problem with so much of supposedly "realistic" filmmaking. I'll suspend my disbelief for a story all day long when I've been primed to with, for example, the use of an introductory hero song. Once we're clued into the magical properties of a world, we can relax and enjoy the ride. But if a film is supposed to be "realistic" then there is no way my brain will accept a story that hinges on True Love or other bullshit like that.
This is why I love Francine Prose. She is both an incredible writer and reader. I highly recommend her 2006 book Reading like a Writer if you can find it.
But then I started thinking about how "God Help the Child" came from "God Bless the Child" and if that isn't in some way also part of the problem I have with so much of contemporary nostalgia-based pop culture. "God Bless the Child" is a sly, bitter song that has been defanged and sweetened in the popular consciousness. The bite of that sarcastic "bless" has turned into a saccharine "help" and, by God, if that isn't what Farah Khan and the Nostalgia Industrial Complex have been doing to old films in the years since Om Shanti Om.
The bite, the sting, of those old films will now forever be remembered as throwaway jokes. Is it better than having old cultural products not remembered at all? Or remembered as things captured in amber, irrelevant to today? Maybe the past is just a big joke… or maybe we have to treat it that way to hold onto some feeling of "forward progress." Progress, progress, growth, growth… if we didn't laugh we'd have to cry.
Just some rambling thoughts for a Wednesday morning. Sorry, friends. I'm still not quite myself although my illness is slowly healing. But it's two steps forward, one step back… ah, well. Hopefully I'll be back to seeing new movies soon.