So last weekend I was transported, briefly, into a melancholy altered state of nostalgia while watching the 1979 film Rich Kids. Prior to turning on the TV that night, it's a movie I'd never heard of - thanks Saturday Night at the Movies - though when I did a little research learned that a) Robert Altman produced it b) the reviews were quite favourable and c) the budget was cut rather unceremoniously to defray the financial and critical disaster that was Heaven's Gate.
Heaven's Gate is a movie that's strangely dear to my heart though I'd never seen it either, till last year (also courtesy of SNAM). My father had a little something to do with its production. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Canada. Coincidence?
At any rate, Rich Kids is a movie about urban affluence, two kids coming of age in the late 70s and, moreover, about the soon-to-explode trend of upper-middle-class, middle-aged divorce.
The kids in question are on the cusp of adolescence (12) in 1979. As I watched the film with my husband, we were intrigued by how related we felt to the boy and girl characters even though, in 1979, I would have been 9 and he would have been 15. We related to urban landscape of pre-renewal NYC though he'd been a Montrealer and I lived in Toronto (via NY, interestingly enough).
I mean, Scottie'd had that haircut; I'd worn those overalls - unironically. I'd lived in a house like that, gone to private school. We both remember those pot smoking newly single dads with their hipster, newly-single pads and all the girls. (Note: we both have parents who are still married to one another, but we're just about the only ones.)
The late seventies were a time of gorgeous, modern (nascent, but as we know it) debauchery that resonates because I was conscious and I was there.
The divorce sub-plot was particularly interesting to Scott and me, as a long-married couple, with a daughter, who have managed to bandy around the concept a few times in our day. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but I've almost got divorced just slightly less often than I've had depraved, passionate make-up sex. I'm not proud. Sometimes it's tough being married. It's tough to carve out a meaningful life in the context of family while desperately striving to nurture one's own needs as an individual. It's tough parenting. These things are frequently unsexy. They are insistently real.
A propos of divorce in the movie - as in the day - I should mention that it was driven by the (then-emerging, almost in full swing) ennui brought on by changing mores, by first wave feminism crashing against old-school conventions. While watching the film I wanted to scream at the screen, occasionally, to say "Listen, Cushy Richies with the house in the Hamptons: Do you honestly think the world gets better for leaving what you've struggled to create in the pursuit of free love and some soft drugs?"
You know you can do that within the construct of marriage.
Rich Kids was melancholy, rather than tragic, because it tackles divorce without the 360 degree view. It's about moving on without backlash.
Look, I'm as much for divorce as the next girl, when it's the clear course of action. (And really, other than in my own marriage, who the hell am I to judge what constitutes that?) But I've seen enough people go through it - people from then, people from now - who start off believing that divorce is redemptive when, sometimes, sadly, it's pointless.
One night, as early parents, sleep-deprived by paralysing stress and the needs of a baby, after another fight about another stupid subject about which we were destined to disagree, I advised my husband that the word divorce was theretofore off limits. I clearly remember saying if you want to crash and burn, let's do it. Otherwise shut the fuck up. I cannot carry on a relationship in the black shadow of its demise. I remember cuz I thought it was kind of smart and poetic for 3 a.m.
And he thought about it for a second. And then he said ok.
And, so far, we're still married. (I recommend it.)