Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Don't Be Cool. BE HOT!
by James Kilbourne

“All About Eve,” that pinnacle of what have become “camp” movies, is on my mind today because I saw that 1950 classic a short time ago at the splendid old Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The performances of the actors were awesome, and the script surely can be placed at the top of the pyramid of Hollywood writing accomplishments. The dialogue is relentlessly intelligent, fascinating, and acerbic. But the reaction of the audience made we feel a little sad, for it highlighted two unfortunate tendencies that are prevalent in our culture today.

The first is lack of perspective; having any sense of what is important and what is not important. There are many intentionally funny lines in the movie, and many that are both funny and serious at the same time. But the audience laughed at anything that was seen as different from today’s conventions, either in custom or style or in manner of speech. These are generally the same people who take their own era’s surface qualities, such as hairstyles or vocabulary, very seriously. They don’t see that nose rings and baggy shorts will be laughed at by future generations, just as they are laughing at hats and the hairstyles of the 50s.

In order for your opinion to be worth anything, you need to determine what is important in what you experience. The people in that theatre missed deep and rewarding levels of that movie because they were lost in their own shallow time and they were concerned only with surface values. In most conversations I have concerning this movie, the devastating effects of a valueless search for fame never come up. Margo (Bette Davis) grows in depth and self-confidence as she realizes what matters to her is not the fame she has achieved, but the love she has for one man. Eve (Anne Baxter), is focused only on achieving fame, and becomes more shallow and anxious as the movie progresses. I think a much greater movie could have been made if Margo were striving for and realizing the value of artistic integrity versus fame, but, hey - this is Hollywood. Describing what is truly wrong with a behavior is pretty good. Coming up with something bold and challenging is asking for too much. By emphasizing the style rather than the substance, however, I believe most people are coming away from this movie with nothing.

The second tendency I think is even more prevalent throughout our culture - and more so with each generation. It is the need to be “cool.” Part of the power of “All About Eve” is that at first you are drawn in to Eve because you take her seriously. But the other night, the audience was never drawn to Eve, and it wasn’t just a matter of different styles and different eras. It was because emotions such as sincerity, deep love and real joy are not to be expressed in this culture. Anyone who displays them is either manipulative (as Eve turned out to be) or unsophisticated. Strong passions, such as shown by Eve, are, in their own right, funny. Sophistication, being “cool,” trumps passionate commitment every time.

The most horrible way to live that I can imagine is to always be worried that you are not cool. The great fear becomes that you might embarrass yourself. To give in to that fear is the death knell of all in you that is sincere. If you see that what you have said is naïve, laugh at yourself along with those who point it out. But never let it kill inside you the capacity to experience being profoundly filled with sincere feelings.

The solution for those who are overcome with a need to be “cool” is simple. Throw away your “shades” and, while you are at it, that look of indifference. Stretch all the muscles in your face, just like you stretch the muscles in the gym in order to have a “cool” body. Laugh heartily. Experience wide-eyed amazement. Love totally. Believe in things intensely. Cry easily, in joy and in sadness. Listen deeply. Trust in the sincerity of your emotions. Make joy your goal, not the absence of pain.

And if all of the above evokes a comic reaction from your friends because of the depth of your feelings, don’t worry about it. You now have a real soul. You are ready to find some real friends.

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