The year was 1970. Many of us weren’t even zygotes yet.
The Stooges released their second album, Fun House, while The Jackson 5 were singing about the ABCs and The Beatles were, unknowingly, releasing their final album, Let It Be.
On the big screen, Airport was busy making audiences fear planes while M.A.S.H. and Patton were offering very different takes on the subject of war.
And one film, Love Story, focused on that most universal of subjects: love.
Accompanying the mournful piano-laced theme at the intro of the film we see a young man sitting on a curb in the middle of winter while the narrator asks, “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?”
From there the scene dissolves to a young man and woman having an agitated conversation about a book. The man, hockey player Oliver Barrett (Ryan O’Neal), is attending Harvard while the woman, Jenny Cavalleri (Ali McGraw), is studying classical music. A passionate hockey player and a classical pianist? Can they get along, much less fall in love? The answer may not surprise you at all, but the trip getting there is worth about four tear-soaked hankies. Recently, while watching the film, I had a few observations:
I know that song from somewhere
One of the best/worst things about hip-hop is sampling. Some folks loathe it because they feel it is ripping off the hard work of another artist while others view it as a gateway to music history.
Where would late ’80s rap be without James Brown’s “Funky Drummer?” The aforementioned piano-laced theme is so delicate and beautiful but for some reason, whenever I heard it throughout the film, a weird uneasiness would kick in with visions of troubled souls and violence.
After rewatching the movie, I scurried to the interwebs. It turns out my queasiness was not unwarranted. Henry Mancini, the man behind the immeasurable Pink Panther theme, probably didn’t know the tragic “Theme from Love Story” would serve as the crux of Immortal Technique’s gruesomely tragic song “Dance with the Devil.”
Love montages existed in 1970
When I first saw Love Story in the late ’90s, I was instantly struck by two things. The first was the use of montages used to communicate the passage of time in a young couple’s love affair. I’d always assumed montages were more of an ’80s thing meant for films like Footloose and Revenge of the Nerds. You learn something new every day. The second thing: Time can be cruel to classic films. Arthur Hiller’s tragic romance is a great example.
Thank god for Roger Ebert’s wit
As a burgeoning movie dork, I bought, and still buy, books by movie critics. One critic, the late Roger Ebert, once devoted a section of his Movie Home Companions to a glossary of movie terms he had coined to describe stereotypes and cliches commonly found in films. One of the terms, “Ali MacGraw’s Disease” stood out for me.
Described as a “movie illness in which the only symptom is that the sufferer grows more beautiful as death approaches,” the term on its face was a pretty humorous takedown of a cliche that blossomed in the wake of Hiller’s film. From my 17-year-old mindset, it was a gleeful middle finger to such things as romance and melodrama, with little clue as to the context of the term’s invention.
Thankfully a bored young man once watched Love Story assuming he’d find some good snarky riffs to justify Ebert’s tongue-in-cheek “disease” definition. One full hundred minutes and two misty eyes later, I realized why the film’s quote, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” was so popular.
Extra fun fact about Love Story
According to IMDB, Harvard grad, Tommy Lee Jones made his film debut playing Oliver’s roommate, Hank. Jones and his then roomie, Al Gore, served as inspiration to Segal when he came up with the character of Oliver. Well, isn’t that special?
There’s a sequel
There’s a 1978 sequel out there called Oliver’s Story. It’s not very good. Unlike Love Story, Ebert hated the reprisal. It also carries the crude, clunky tagline: “It takes someone very special to help you forget someone very special.”
Terrace Theater screens Love Story on Sun. Feb. 9 at 1 p.m. Buy tickets online at terracetheater.com.
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