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Weekly Streisandicure: The Way We Were

June 12, 2010

Sydney Pollack, Babs and an inexplicably shirtless Redford

The 1973 sweeping (read: really long and more like three different films) romantic weepy The Way We Were is one of those films which evokes surprising ambivalence from me. It’s got all the right moves: Sydney, Redford, Babs and America’s answer to Charlotte Rampling – the lovely Dr. Goodhead herself Lois Chiles. Yet the film is soggy, dull in many places and its framing of feminism is rather trite and tiresome. Honestly, there are times when I don’t even find it satisfying as a love story. My goodness, these are some attractive folks. Less processing and more humping, please. It’s far too chatty and self aware. Like Anakin turning into Vader, the ending is a foregone conclusion so it’s important to make the journey somewhat more enjoyable. Unfortunately, well The Way We Were isn’t all that pleasant. It might be positioned as a film concerning itself with “misty water colored memories” but let’s not kid ourselves. These two are oil and Windex. Kate (Babs) and Hubbell (Bob) are just not meant to be together and the countless regrets, relocations and reunions don’t do a whole lot to change this fact. Why do I like this film so much? Well, for starters, I believe it’s a great film for one to use as an emotional maturity measuring stick. I check in with the film every couple of years to see what aspects of it endear or repel me. In my entry Sidney and Sydney I wrote the following:

Sydney led to me to his Gingerbread house with a gumdrop called The Way We Were. Of course, I knew the song before I knew the movie. I was staunchly Team Katie in my early 20s, with my self righteous politics, “tall” personality and inability to get pretty boys to like me for extended periods of time. After a recent viewing I am totally on Team Hubbell having grown increasingly intolerant of folks who have a clear understanding of who you are and sign that contract (under NO duress) at the start of a relationship and then have the cheek to later be all crockery tossing when you won’t – you know – BE different. Like it’s your fucking problem they didn’t fully appreciate how much you NOT changing was going to burn their home fries.

With each subsequent viewing I move closer towards the Team Hubbell spectrum end of things and further away from Team Katie. While I don’t seek to be prescriptive in my framing of the film, I have noticed other people having similar experiences with the film – even those who find themselves moving towards the Katie end of the spectrum. Actually, having conversations with my friends about the measuring stick concept and listening to their perspectives tends to be far more enjoyable than actually watching the film. This isn’t to suggest I don’t like it; I do. Like many films, I have a complicated relationship with The Way We Were and I don’t think this is a bad thing at all.

revlon's cherries in the snow

The other thing about this film – a rarity in any film – is there are no bad performances. Everyone is well utilized in their roles, especially Redford, Roger Ebert noted, “The Redford character perhaps in reaction to the inevitable Streisand performance, is passive and without edges. The primary purpose of the character is to provide someone into whose life Streisand can enter and then leave. That’s sort of thankless, but Redford handles it well.” It’s a reading of the characters I agree with. I do really like Redford’s restraint. His artistic generosity endears his character to me far more than his teeth – so white you could use them to illuminate your darken closets. Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow, released in 1953, is similar to The Way We Were as it is another product I enjoy a long and complicated history. When I was 14, I borrowed it from my sister. It was the kind of red I thought would appropriate the look Madonna tried to rock in Who’s That Girl, but more harmonious to my skin tone and nail shape. It’s definitely in the red family, but with more blue than orange tones, It looked much better on my nails. It also seemed like the Katie-girl thing to do, as I was just beginning my obsession with The Way We Were. It was my shade of choice along with a dreadful metallic lavender Revlon used to make called Amethyst Smoke – fifth from the right – and I wore them fairly faithfully until Chanel released Vamp and it was good bye to Cherries in the Snow. In my twenties, CitS represented all this “repression” and flatness I attributed to the patriarchy – a word I had recently learned. Vamp was really who I was and I needed to resist any attempts to CitS-ify my life. I made a lot of assumptions about my own gender construction and what I felt was the best way to be “femme” without yielding to the patriarchy. I was also at the tale end of my goth years, which I also found riddled with sexist, sizeist, racist, classist dramedy, which I felt compelled to unpack to an obnoxious degree. Still, in those moments where I found my new found earnestness unbearable I would retreat to a world of CitS and not hating everything for hating things’ sake. This went back and forth, probably until Revlon pulled the shade from the market. I believe it’s back now, and heaven knows there are tons of faithful dupes out there. The dupe I selected was from a no-name brand with numbers instead of fanciful titles for their colors. The first coat gave me that burst of promise and excitement, but like The Way We Were by the end of Streisandicure, I was glad to put it away and move on to something else.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2010 11:28 am

    To highlight the difference between how generations get their pop culture–I knew (more or less) exactly what you were talking about here. Yet, never seen the film, and had never heard the song until I clicked on it just now.

    But I *did* know it from SATC. That episode where Big finally gets engaged to the younger woman and Carrie is going on about how she’s the “curly headed girl,” and Big is Redford/Hubbell. And one of the girls (I think Sam?) had never seen the film, and they all start singing the song to her over cocktails…

    Anyway, not so relevant, but in light of your SATC post, hopefully amusing!

  2. June 13, 2010 4:43 pm

    LOL. That’s one of my favorite episodes. It’s hilarious when Miranda starts singing and they all join her except Samantha who looks at them like they’re silly. I bet Sam dig action flicks.

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