Monday, March 29, 2010

Fear of Flying with Amelia

I watched the movie Amelia the other night and was totally transported found myself in another time, place, and maybe even another soul.

I didn't expect to like it particularly. After all, we all know the story, and although I've always been as curious as the next guy about Amelia Earhart, I didn't think there was anything transcendent about her. There would be lots of flying, there would be Hilary Swank in another androgynous role, there would be the aging Richard Gere, and then there would be the flight that never returned.

All the same, I love to think about that period--the fashions, the cars, the slang and the pop culture. In those days, my own parents were very young, and I have seen pictures of them in this time frame. I relish the old movies on Turner Classics that are like little time capsules of the day--the wisecracking newspapermen, the women in those tight-fitting hats and bee-stung lips--the sense of American urgency to get out of the Depression and grow up. (That the next step was World War II, the Eisenhower 1950's and the decadence of succeeding generations never occurs to anyone.) It was hopeful; it was innocent. In this movie, it is also lush and beautiful, a landscape of the rich and celebrated. That was the side my parents didn't see.

Even though I know it to be false, I was particularly taken with Swank's version of Amelia Earhart. She came over as extremely feminine, even with her bobbed hair and mannish aviatrix attire. She seemed sexy and soft. She even looked beautiful. I went to the Internet for photos of the real Amelia and, yes, there was an elegance about her. Her smile, which I had always thought of as blandly wholesome, actually made her look authentic and accessible.

It was easy to watch the love scenes (it is always easy to watch Richard Gere do love scenes, by the way). They looked so natural, so comfortable--you might say they looked to be made for each other. And she was just as good with Ewan MacGregor, who played her paramour, Gene Vidal. I loved it when she stated her ideas about independence in marriage and her need to be free. Without the connection to flying, I always felt the same way, and wonder if there are not a number of women who perceive love and marriage in this way. It is never framed this way for us; we are told that men have a need to wander in love and that women on the other hand fall in love and stay there, demanding slavish loyalty "forever." This is a topic that is much discussed, but seldom do the women who don't buy the mythology speak up.

I liked the visuals in the movie, but it was probably the underlying story that moved me most. Earhart was courageous, but we are all as courageous as we need to be. She was one of a kind in her time and place, and if not the only one, at least the most visible and one of the most accomplished. That she was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt was news to me.

As luck would have it, two days after I watched Amelia, PBS rebroadcast its American Experience segment "Amelia Earhart" for my delectation. From it I learned that the real Amelia Earhart was not so much a pilot as a public relations phenomenon. She came around with the right looks at the right time, a zeal for flying more than a natural gift for it, and there was something about her that caught the eye of the country's foremost promoter, G.P. Putnam. I had seen footage of the real Amelia with this stodgy-looking older man and always wondered what, if anything, she saw in him. With Richard Gere in the role it is much easier to envision true love between them--but in the newsreels of the day the relationship reads as business and finance, pure and simple.

It was not simple and not exactly pure. According to the offspring of one of Amelia's aviatrix rivals, Putnam had a plan to make money off a female flier and offered contracts drawn up heavily in his favor to the selected women who might apply. He was turned down by quite a few before Earhart accepted. He wanted to make a star, and she wanted to be one. Her resemblance to the young Charles Lindbergh was not lost on the brilliant publicity man. She wrote that in the initial interview she attempted to come across as bland a mediocrity as she could. No matter; he saw what he wanted in her and they forged a partnership that would become a marriage.

That the movie Amelia doesn't capture this element of reality doesn't bother me as apparently it did bother the critics when the movie came out. I found the character of Amelia Earhart compelling enough to give the actress Hilary Swank permission to portray her as a heroine, at least of her own story. I didn't think the movie lacked challenge and excitement. There is excitement in her approach to life, in her joy in flying, in her unique grasp of the business of making money to support a passion, in her fearlessness in the face of great personal risk.

She was a role model in her day, and remains so even with the questions she left. There is much we will never know about the real Amelia, but we know that she was larger than life and the choices she made will always be subject to interpretation. That alone does not necessarily make fodder for big, beautiful romantic movies. But it supplies us for substance for any number of books, films, documentaries, and even one glorious fairy tale. I don't know about you, but I love to think about reality after I've been drenched by romance.


Hoboken Kid said...

If you're really interested in the truth about Amelia Earhart:

Mary Lois said...

Kid, there are those who believe she was captured by the Japanese and forced to play "Tokyo Rose" for a while. Her husband listed to the tapes and said none of the "Roses" could possibly have been her. I don't know why we would have destroyed her plane if it was indeed found...?

Mysteries and more mysteries. I'm going to read more of the biographies of her--but I still loved the movie.

Hoboken Kid said...

No, she was not Tokyo Rose...but in my view was on a mission for the US to find out what the Japanese were up to before WW2 (we broke their code). And she reported on what she had seen...such as Truk Island, a large Japanese navy base ...her plane had to be destroyed ..and she was returned to the US. The news was told that she was lost at sea, to cover up the mission she was on. Remember we broke their code and could not let them know we did ...TOP SECRET. We took our aircraft carriers and put them out to sea save them.

Well, you asked well what happened to Amelia Earhart. She lived in hiding under a new name. I lived in Woodbridge, New Jersey, in the early 1970s. She was discovered living in a nursing home...the local new paper told the whole story, pictures and all. FRONT PAGE news for was that her? I'll let you decide that.

Mary Lois said...

Conspiracy theories abound about the disappearance of Ms. Earhart, but I am not convinced, Kid. I don't doubt there could be a more interesting story than that her radio failed, and I hope we someday discover it for sure.

There was indeed the rumor that she lived under the name of Irene Cragmile Bolam in New Jersey, but the pictures don't look anything like Earhart (plastic surgery?) and Mrs. Bolam had her own undeniable life history as a financial executive in New York, and she even sued those who alleged she was Earhart.

Knowing Amelia's need to be in the limelight, I don't think she would have hidden, even in plain sight like this.

Chuck said...

I love conspiracy theories, but all my experiences with boats on water and the dangers that come out of nowhere threatening life and limb lead me to believe that travel in the air over water by oneself, no matter skill level, is a highly dangerous undertaking.

Lockheed said...

Well, you are all wrong, of course. From the other side, truth is that she survived the crash from running out of fuel and lived out her days in ease, but addled from head injury. Having had the pressures of the flight routines and actually facing her own demise put her over the edge.
Desiring to not be found,
islanders that she befriended reported only after her death a woman of her description living alone for years following the disappearance.

Hoboken Kid said...

Lockheed says we are all wrong. Maybe so...remember she had a skilled navigator with her. WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM?? I guess I'll just have to go see the movie and find out.

Mary Lois said...

I can promise you this: the movie Amelia will not answer any of the questions about Ms. Earhart--or her navigator.

Lockheed said...

Skilled navigator full of
Jack Daniels probably never felt a thing and/or sharks ate him.
The documentary that I saw traced the final flight covering all of the various entities that searched for Amelia. Interviews with islanders revealed possibility.
I remember an Amelia type shoe being found on the island.
Movies are movies. Life is truth.
Sometimes movies are better than life...they sure are shorter most of the time. We get to 'feel into' situations without consequences
when watching movies. I like them.

Chuck said...

The guys on YouTube I have seen on alien abduction films, coincidence? I think not. Or we can use Occam's Razor.

Lockheed said...

Bearing on the sharpest edge of simplcity, the following explanantion is best: she died. Yet, here's another. The islanders ate her. That's splitting hairs with the old 'razor', dead either way.
Not too many fliers will take off to the unknown without a functioning navcom.

jacques mullet said...

You covered the movie, actors and Amelia's apparent nature well. Also , looking into her non publc nature has interesting thoughts.
She must have been a really high strung and smart woman, yet needy
in a personal way.

The part I liked best is your last
statement, but in reverse.

Johnathon Livingston Seagull said...

As for me, I like the flotsam floated out not long after the movie's release as heard here.

The evidence is there and the facts fit. It works for me, and I was tired of not sleeping nights worrying about her anyway.

jacques mullet said...

With all the technology, DNA stuff and all, seems to me the bones from the island could be DNA tested. That site J L Seagull put up tells almost the whole story.
The part left is likely told through the ansestors of other seagulls who may have laughed, as seagulls do, through the aviators' ends. There is something real familiar about JL Seagull. It may be his daring to fly a different way.

Mary Lois said...

Damn, Jacques! I thought Johnathan Livingston Seagull was you in disguise. I'm still guessing.

jacques mullet said...

Sorry toots, not ole jaques. But, I
think I'd fly with him/her. Maybe
JL Seagull is also a Gemini.

How about a stage play about various ways AE met her demise?
Act 1 is the hype and air stats. Act 2 in several scenes each beginning the same way but going beyond actualality presenting
possible deaths of both.

My newest one is that the Nav guy
was trying to lift the landing gear, with help of waves, up over the edge so they could take off.
The plane crushed him, and he drowned. AE died from exposure and a huge wave across the island.

There are many possibilities. Only that Seagull knows for sure. The peace of sleep is with this JL Seagull.

Johnathan Livingston Seagull said...

It has been brought to my attention that the actual link to the audio program is hard to find. Scroll to the bottom of the page (below Le Cirque Birthday) and you'll find a "listen now" button.