Friday, May 1, 2015

Hush hush themed viewings

My seventh wedding anniversary was about three weeks ago.

I couldn't resist the urge to recognize that event -- three weeks late -- with a first-time viewing of Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch.

I could, however, resist the urge to tell my wife about it.

In fact, when I saw the movie at the library last Wednesday and made it one of the dozen movies I borrowed, I went so far as to store it separately from the pile I left spilling out all over our kitchen table. And when I finally watched it, I didn't start it until I was good and certain that my wife had turned in for the night, and wasn't going to make a surprise reappearance in the living room.

Yeah, I didn't really want my wife to know I was planning to watch this movie.

Now, don't go thinking there's trouble in my marriage. There isn't. Or, no more than your average marriage, where people disagree and sometimes those disagreements become terse exchanges. We have a good marriage and we have fun. The children exhaust us, but that's to be expected.

But let's just say you never really want your wife to know you're watching a movie like The Seven Year Itch ... especially when it's been about seven years since you got married.

I guess my interest in watching movies by themes just outweighs the potential danger those viewings might entail.

If you are somehow unfamiliar with either this movie or this term, I'll explain. The movie is the one containing the most iconic image of Marilyn Monroe, where her skirt blows up over that subway vent. You know that because it's in the poster above. The term is the one that describes the wandering eye of a man married for about seven years, when he gets the "itch" for some "strange."

And that is indeed what this movie is about. As one of many elements that really date this movie as a product of the 1950s, the story concerns the time-honored tradition of Manhattan men sending their wives and children to the countryside during the steamy summer months, when the city is at its most unpleasant (and when it smells the most like urine, an observation I am contributing to the discussion from having lived in New York for three summers). When the cat's away, the mice will play, or so this movie thinks. One particular man, played by Tom Ewell (reprising his stage role), begins fantasizing about the woman renting out the apartment upstairs for the summer, played by none other than 1955's most iconic icon. Although the movie ascribes this philandering behavior, or at least the potential for it, to all married businessmen, it conflates it with the fact that Ewell and his wife have been married for seven years, meaning his eye is even more inclined to wander than it otherwise would be. (Or perhaps it wouldn't be at all, because he's a loyal family man -- except that the itch causes him to contradict his natural tendencies.)

So it was all too easy for me to imagine my wife interpreting my viewing of The Seven Year Itch as a kind of "instruction manual" for my own wandering eye.

Of course I'm going to tell you that my eye doesn't wander ... but of course you're going to know that I'm lying. However, it's a wandering that's yearning only for aesthetic appreciation. It's a wandering with no intent to do anything about it. It's a noticing of the fact that beautiful women exist in the world, and it's probably inevitable in that regard.

It is not, however, unique to being married for seven years. Most honest lovers of beauty will admit that they notice it where it exists, and I probably noticed it on my honeymoon at about the same extent that I notice it now. In fact, I am unconcerned enough about my wife knowing that I watched The Seven Year Itch that I am writing about it in a blog post that she could theoretically end up reading (though she probably won't, because I'm too prolific for her to keep up with). I'm just not, you know, volunteering the information to her.

As for the movie itself ... it is both delightful in some ways and incredibly square in others. And it's probably pretty sexist throughout ... though not in as uncomplicated a manner as it might originally seem.

The fact that Monroe's character has no name, and is only known in the credits as "The Girl," would initially seem like an extreme form of objectification. However, what quickly becomes clear about her is that she may not actually exist. Although one other character sees her -- the janitor hilariously played by Robert Strauss -- an argument could be made (and I'm sure has been made) that she is just a figment of the imagination of Ewell's Richard Sherman. After all, Sherman talks to himself throughout the movie, a fairly artificial holdover from the play -- but one you buy into soon enough, since he has a Walter Mitty-like imagination that he indulges through regular fantastical daydreams. Then near the end, when speaking to another character (who does not and has not seen The Girl) about her, he makes the quip that "she could be Marilyn Monroe," separating the distinction between the real world and the cinematic world -- and also cementing her function as the embodiment of idealized female beauty. It's pretty interesting that she exists as a symbol of Sherman's desire to cheat on his wife, a symbol he is struggling with more than he's struggling with an actual person.

And since Sherman is ultimately a good guy, you probably have a pretty good idea of how things turn out. It's worth noting that once his wife is consigned to Maine at the beginning of the movie, she ceases to be any kind of active presence, which could be viewed as another way that the movie silences its women. However, it's not like The Seven Year Itch thinks of Sherman as some perfect specimen of humanity, either.

Ultimately, the movie is just sillier than I thought it would be and often looks more like a sitcom than a proper movie, a function of its origins on stage I'm sure. That said, it does have some useful insight about how married men -- married people, really -- fight the inevitable urge to see someone other than their spouse in the nude.

It's just not, you know, the kind of insight I particularly want to discuss with my wife.


Nick Prigge said...

I feel like this blog post itself could be a movie. Man (Jason Segel) watches "The Seven Year Itch" on his 7th wedding anniversary. Wife (Shannyn Sossaman) finds out. Chaotic hijinks ensue.

Jandy said...

I rewatched this myself recently - though Jonathan came home while I was watching it, and I didn't bother trying to hide it or anything. :p I guess we're only up to three years, though.

I remember not liking it at all when I first saw it - I think I thought it was both silly and sexist, and that was at a time when silly was bad. This time I thought it was silly and awesome, and that it's more of a satire on sexism than actually sexist, but I admit, it's a really REALLY fine line, and I'm not sure the film doesn't cross it a few times.

Derek Armstrong said...

Nick - Totally, except Shannyn Sossaman? Is she even still alive?

Jandy - But I guess the question is, did you feel the INSTINCT to hide it from him? Did you think for a moment "He'll know I watched it while he was out for a reason"? Yeah, the line is fine, but it worked for me overall.