Well read-head: The Time of My Life
Not long before Patrick Swayze died, I watched Dirty Dancing, partly for fun and partly searching for an answer to a pretty callous question: why was I oddly upset about Swayze’s terminal cancer when not only was he a stranger, but an average actor whose only real hits, Ghost and Dirty Dancing, were twenty years ago?
Harsh, yes. But it’s what I thought.
I still recall the day that I first saw Dirty Dancing. It was 1987. My three best friends and I were on school holidays and Melissa’s dad dropped us at the cinema at the Toombul Shopping Centre in Brisbane. We were buzzing with excitement, no doubt wearing acid wash jeans and oversized shirts with our fringes sprayed and teased into concrete boards, like every other fourteen year old girl of the day.
We loved Dirty Dancing, although I recently asked Melissa about it and we agreed that we probably didn’t have much of a clue about the abortion subplot or the reason the dancing was so dirty. But we could sing every word of the soundtrack, even the unfortunately named ‘She’s Like the Wind’.
‘The Time of My Life’ was the final song played at our Grade 12 school formal as we all hugged goodbye and wondered if we’d ever see each other again.
Life is so much more surprising than fiction; you can never skip forward and find out how it’s going to end. When I was watching Dirty Dancing 21 years ago, I didn’t know how my life would turn out. The handsome leading man on screen didn’t know how his life would turn out either. Patrick Swayze was just a young actor then, who’d had some success with a TV mini series and a few supporting roles in film. Dirty Dancing turned out to be a surprise monster hit and launched him to stardom.
When I re-watched Dirty Dancing recently, the thing that made me most sad was knowing the ending. Not the film’s ending, but Swayze’s ending. I looked at that gorgeous young man bursting with energy and promise and thought that he could never have imagined that a mere twenty years later, he’d be giving his final TV interview, his body ravaged by cancer.
Film stars may be strangers to us but they are constant fixtures in our lives, some of them for decades. We see our own faces in the mirror every day so the wrinkles and sags creep up on us. But when I think of Patrick Swayze, I always think of Dirty Dancing Swayze. To see him gaunt and ill was shocking.
Newman’s 2001 film Road to Perdition was directed by Sam Mendes. After Newman’s death, Mendes recalled the film’s cinematographer, Conrad Hall, shooting a close up of Newman looking into a fire. Hall was about Newman’s age and had worked with the film star for about forty years on movies including Harper, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy.
Mendes turned around as Hall was taking the close up of Newman and the cinematographer was crying. Asked what was wrong, Hall said, ‘He was so beautiful.’ Mendes replied, ‘Well, he’s beautiful now.’ Hall responded, ‘Yeah but he was so beautiful.’ Mendes suspected Hall was crying as much for himself as for Newman because he was not comfortable with the idea of death and growing older.
Like Hall watching Paul Newman, I was also sad for myself watching Patrick Swayze.
To see Dirty Dancing twenty one years after I first viewed it was a reminder that parts of my life are now gone and can never be relived. I’ll never have the excitement again of a school holiday trip to the movies with friends. I’ll never relive the slumber parties where we wondered how we’d turn out when we grew up, who our husbands would be, what jobs we’d have, whether we’d have children. We’ve already turned those pages in our stories. All we can do is hope for endings less tragic and premature than the beautiful Patrick Swayze’s.
Here are this week’s interesting things to read, watch or listen to:
1.The D.H. Lawrence poem The Piano expresses the melancholy of nostalgia far better and more succinctly than I have above.
2. In New York magazine, Sam Mendes’ reflections on working with Paul Newman are really wonderful.
3. I think the actor John Cusack was pretty good-natured in his response to this humiliating gaffe by his interviewer.
4. Josh Olsen is a screenwriter (his credits include A History of Violence). He is sick and tired of people asking him to read their scripts and he’ll no longer be doing it for the reasons outlined on his blog on The Village Voice.
6. Regular readers of this blog may have guessed that I’m a fan of documentary photography. Life magazine has a fantastic pictorial on the modern day Ku Klux Klan. (thanks to @paula_kruger on twitter)
7. You may have heard of a famous psychological experiment in the 1960s in which the researcher ordered people to administer electric shocks to victims. It was called the Milgram Experiment and although the shocks were fake, the people giving them didn’t know that. The experiment aimed to test how readily people would obey authority even when it conflicted with their own conscience. Last year, ABC Radio National found some of the participants in the original experiment and made an interesting documentary about it. You can download the audio here.
8. I’ve been getting a lot of entertainment out of a person on twitter whose handle is @shitmydadsays. The only biographical information is that his name is Justin and that he’s 29: ‘I live with my 73-year-old dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says.’ Who knows if it’s real or made up, but the Dad’s statements include things like ‘Why the fuck would I want to live to be 100? I’m 73 and shit’s starting to get boring. By the way, there’s no money left when I go, just FYI.’ Justin’s only following one person, but at the time of writing more than 300,000 people were following him.
9. My friend and much admired colleague, the ABC’s South Asia Correspondent Sally Sara, has recently been on assignment in Afghanistan. She spent time in one of the busiest combat hospitals in Kandahar for a story about how much children suffer in war. Her story on PM was one of the most moving things I’ve ever heard on radio. It’s not for the faint hearted. I recommend that you click on the audio and listen rather than read the transcript.
10. I do love a pun and this blog catalogues shops with punny names. (thanks to @t_shaped on twitter)
- You can watch Leigh Sales on ABC1’s Lateline or follow her on twitter at @leighsales
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