Time Marches On, Continued...
I wonder if the folks who wrote Cocoon had been influenced by Mae's amorous antics on the big screen? Cocoon was a 1985 sci-fi flick about a group of seniors who tap into an alien power-source to regain the vigor of youth. But they still look old, and that's the funny part... or at least, it's supposed to be, I guess. Apparently it's supposed to be funny to watch old people engaging in the activities of youth. Ho ho! Look at those old people getting frisky! Hee-haw-larious! Or is it? Heck, I hope I'm still able to get frisky even after I'm well into my seventies and eighties, and who knows, maybe even my hundreds, two-hundreds and three-hundreds, if future advances in medical science allow me to live that long.
Either that, or I can make a deal with the Devil.
At this point, I could tell you about any number of movies in which wicked folks (usually men) engage in unholy agreements with that hideous horned honcho of horror, Satan. But I shall instead concentrate on the best of the lot, the 1945 horror classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Hurd Hatfield. (Please note, while some versions of the Dorian story have featured an appearance by Satan or some pointy-eared devil's advocate, this one does not. Still, it plays out very much like a deal-with-the-devil story, so I include it here as such.) Lots of remakes have been made, and doubtless many more will spring up, but only the 1945 movie has really gotten it right.
Why? Because of Hurd Hatfield, the perfect Dorian Gray. Other actors have made the mistake of playing Dorian as too bitchy and effeminate, or too aristocratic and pompous, or just too damned male-modelish, striking poses and flinging wispy scarves around their slender throats. Hurd plays the role just right. He's starts the show as a classy rich guy who seems like he'd be lots of fun to hang around with. That makes it even more interesting, watching this cool guy wax loathsome, breaking hearts and basically wallowing in a self-plowed ditch of depravity. Meanwhile, that painting in the attic ain't gettin' any younger...
So why has the story of Dorian Gray, penned by that witty scamp of yesteryear, Oscar Wilde, been filmed so many times? Because the method by which the protagonist cheats death sounds like a great idea! Yeah, it would be great to party 24-7 and let some rotten old piece of canvas take the bullet for me. Who wouldn't love that? Well, maybe the Pope, but besides him, everybody else on Earth would sign on the dotted line.
An episode of the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker show from the seventies offered an interesting female version of the Dorian Gray tale. Kolchak matched wits with Helen of Troy, who'd made a deal with the goddess Hecate whereby she could stay fresh and beautiful forever if she kept offering up pretty young sacrifices. Helen attracted the sacrifices via a computer dating service, and by the time her work was done, a bunch of swinging singles were reduced to well-aged chunks of human jerky. Fortunately for Chicago (back then, it seemed, all supernatural critters hung out in the Windy City), Kolchak figured out Helen's Grecian formula and saved the day. And as in every episode, circumstances would not allow him to file his story. How did he ever manage to hold down his job? Each week he spent every waking moment working on stories that were always shot down by his editor.
Deal-with-the-devil let's-party-forever horror movies aren't the only ones that deal with aging. When you get right down to it, most supernatural creatures are trying to cheat death in one way or another. Vampires do the best job, since they usually look young and stay incredibly athletic. Mummies and zombies do the worst job, since they're not very limber and look like crap. We're not even talking fresh crap. They resemble really, really old, dried-up crap. Petrified dinosaur crap.
Perhaps that explains why vampire books and movies are always so popular. Like the Dorian Gray story, they provide a crafty plan by which one can evade death and have a good time for centuries to come. They're wish-fulfillment stories, and certainly we all wish to avoid old age. What's there to look forward to? Bags and sags, reduced energy, multiple aches and pains, degenerative diseases of the mind and body, loneliness as aging friends die off one by one by one....
And yet, even though we don't want to become weak and feeble, most of us still carry on in a way that's guaranteed to rush us into the grave. You know what I'm talking about. Every day, millions of Americans (and folks in all the other countries, too) are smoking, drinking, eating fatty foods, gobbling down sugary desserts, guzzling alcohol, taking drugs, engaging in dangerous sex acts, and worse. Everybody wants to have their devil's-food cake and eat it, too. Except the Pope, as noted above.
Before I write any of these columns, I think about the topic I've selected while going about my usual life, and take notes along the way. And all that thinking about aging and dying has turned me into a health nut this weekend. I didn't go out for drinks with any friends. I haven't eaten any red meat, only humble leafy salads with sardines on them. I vacuumed and polished and scrubbed, since I have allergies and I'm sure excess dust around doesn't do me any good. Oh, I've been a regular saint this weekend! And surely all my efforts have extended my life expectancy by at least fifteen or twenty minutes! Hurray!
But as usual, I'm being flippant. Now I'll shift into a more serious gear. A person really should try to engage in healthy activities every day... and I hope you do, dear reader. You and I, we don't have magical paintings in the attic to keep us young. Nor do we have any alien buddies to rejuvenate us (well, I don't ... if you do, send them my way!). Offering sacrifices to Hecate wouldn't do us any good. That wily old Kolchak will just hunt us down. Either him or the police, since murder is illegal. And I'm assuming you've watched enough horror movies to know all the downsides of becoming a vampire. Myself, I'm too fond of garlic toast to even consider vampirism (plus, that Van Helsing is even peskier than Kolchak).
So, in the absence of alien and/or supernatural intervention, I guess we'd all better follow Mae West's example and get plenty of exercise, so we can stay healthy and sexy for years to come. And if we eventually get wrinkles, so what? We'll have earned them by living a good long time. They'll be honest wrinkles.
So eat your vegetables, drink plenty of water, and every now and then, turn off the computer and go take a walk.
Oh, but I know you. You'll walk straight to the video store to rent some horror movies. You'll probably bump into me there!