Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  June 12, 2002 at 5:11 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, June 12 (UPI) -- Love isn't what it used to be and neither are movies, if this week's CBS "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Passions" is a measure of the 21st century's standards of love.

Executing it's usual exhaustive and inspired research to present a retrospective of outstanding movies, this three-hour special was by far the best in AFI annals.

Some 1,800 filmmakers, directors, actors and critics with unerring exactitude voted their choices of the best romantic movies in Hollywood history.

The show is panoply of the best musicals, drama and comedies ever made with a cast that recalls cinema's greatest era in recognition of love, romance, cupid and valentines.

Just as does the list of the best American screen romances, the show reflects an enormous diversity in mores, manners, tastes and social awareness of the 20th century.

The magic 100 films brings into sharp focus how the maturing technical aspects of filmmaking have eroded the quality of stories and human relationships in favor of special effects, violence and inferior story telling.

Romantic movies are about people, how they behave and react to one another and the power of love -- not fireballs, explosions and digitized artifice.

The AFI list of 100 includes most of the finest movies in the century-old industry going back to a brief flickering experimental Thomas Edison scene of a mustachioed swain bussing a Victorian matron more than 90 years ago.

"The Kiss," of course did not make the AFI's list of 100, but director D.W. Griffith's 1920 silent "Way Down East," starring Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess, was No. 71.

Almost all of the 100 classic shared in common the essential quality of tenderness between men and women eliciting instincts that set humans above and beyond all other inhabitants of the planet.

Voted No. 1, as might be expected, was "Casablanca" (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as the star-crossed lovers who must part in the crises of World War II, perhaps never to meet again.

It is, in fact, the delicate, tenuous filament of love that makes romantic films powerfully dramatic and touching, which the AFI show demonstrates in all 100 films.

Following "Casablanca" was No. 2 "Gone With The Wind" (1939) the complex, clashing love story of dashing Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and headstrong Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) from Margaret Mitchell's epic Civil War novel.

No. 3 was director Robert Wise's masterful inter-racial musical romance, "West Side Story" (1961) starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer.

Few would argue with the choice of these three Academy Award-winning movies.

The paucity of representative pictures from the second half of the 20th century is indicative of how filmmaking has declined in the production of adult stories in favor of appealing to teenage tastes in movies.

The transition indicates clearly the decline in Hollywood values from artistry to economy in the bottom-line mentality of current film production.

Most of the AFI's 100 best romantic films were taken from the 1930's through the 1960's when romance provided movie magic rather than special effects, blatant sex and violence.

With rare exceptions film clips provided for the AFI show were brief and included some great classic love scenes, most prominent of which was the Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr kissing scene in the surf in "From Here To Eternity" (1953).

Another memorable favorite was the tenuous kiss between Bogart (an uncouth slob) and Katharine Hepburn (an uptight spinster) in "The African Queen" (1951).

Curiously, Bogart appears as the lover in five films on the list -- curious because such famed heartthrobs as Tyrone Power, Robert Taylor, Errol Flynn and Charles Boyer did not appear in any.

Similarly, Hepburn not particularly singled out as sexy or outstandingly beautiful in her heyday, appeared as the leading lady in six of the listed films.

Cary Grant, predictably, led all actors, appearing in six of the AFI selections: "An Affair to Remember," "The Philadelphia Story," "To Catch A Thief," "Bringing Up Baby," "The Awful Truth" and "Notorious."

Perhaps the most obvious difference between mid-20th Century love stories and contemporary romantic films is the handling of sex.

The old-timers understood the magic of allowing audiences to use their imaginations while today's filmmakers get into raw nudity, sweating bodies, intertwined naked limbs and slobbering open-mouthed kisses.

Directors such as Capra, Hitchcock, Lubitsch, Wise, Ford, Stevens and many others knew that true romance somehow stops short of the sex act itself and requires another emotion altogether.

In too many movies today lustful boy and girl jump into bed without a hint of romance. Writers and directors, many of them suffering the impatience of youth themselves, fail to savor the enchantment of a relationship not quite fulfilled.

Ergo, the physical relationship becomes a matter of body mechanics, not to be confused with romance at all.

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