I watch many Hollywood films from the nineteen-thirties, forties and fifties. One cultural moment that I find to be a recurring representational trope is the treatment of death. More specifically, I am referring to its aftermath: in mainstream films from these decades, the appropriate period of mourning after the death of someone very close — a spouse, a parent, a child — appears to be about a day.
I’m not going to give examples because for me it is too frequent to document its occurrence. Instead, I invite you to watch for this phenomena yourself, and to note the time-frame within which mourning, or the expression of significant grief, is allowed within the filmic narrative. After an initial scene of shock, and perhaps a funeral or funeral visitation, it is as if the representation or display of grief is too (narratively) cumbersome: the plot must continue.
While Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado) and Nicky Marotta (Robin Johnson) are presented as a type of “odd couple,” especially in terms of issues such as class and its entailed presentations and life experiences, the characters have crucial and perhaps defining features in common. Each has a mother who is deceased and a father who is absent, either figuratively (for Pammy) or literally (for Nicky). Thus, Pammy and Nicky have each suffered loss due to maternal death and also emotional neglect, “Adverse Childhood Experiences” or elements of childhood trauma that are strongly predictive of lifelong health — and especially mental health — problems.
Are these the faces of trauma, of grief and loss that are allowed to remain in this narrative? In my next post, I will analyse mental illness in the filmic narrative of Times Square.
This was a full-page advertisement in the October 1980 issue of Tiger Beat.
Thank heavens for large promotional budgets; I was a fairly regular reader of Tiger Beat at the time, and women or girls rarely featured on its pages.
In my previous post, I alluded — again! — to one of the many sites of loss in Times Square. Pamela (Trini Alvarado) has awoken to find Nicky (Robin Johnson) gone. The shot reverses to reveal Pamela’s viewpoint: Nicky’s now-empty bed, and through the window behind it, the World Trade Center towers.
Contemporary analyses of Times Square frequently note that the film presages the loss of a city. This loss of buildings and neighbourhoods extends beyond “mere” architecture — as if architecture ever designates material structures alone — to a cultural geography that maps absence.
But the loss that I feel most sharply when I now watch the film can be evoked by a single image:
Nicky and Pammy’s blood oath, with Nicky’s assurance that she will not hurt Pammy, the drawing of (first) blood, the frenzied yet desperate calling of each others’ names, functions as a cinematic coding for loss of virginity / sexual activity. But it is the literal mingling of fluid in the blood oath that now makes me shiver: at the moment of filming, at Times’s Square‘s release (1979-80), New York City was about to become one of the epicenters of the AIDS epidemic. As Joseph F. Lovett’s remarkable documentary Gay Sex in the Seventies (2005) demonstrates, a culture was about to be devastated. Such an image could never be viewed innocently again.
In memory of those “not lost, but gone before,” on World AIDS Day.
Posted in Cultural Geography, Cultural Studies, Fandom, Lesbian Representation, Nicole "Nicky" Marotta, Pamela "Pammy" Pearl, Popular Culture, Queer Spectatorship, Robin Johnson, Times Square (1980) movie, Times Square (location), Trini Alvarado
each day the long light dims and fades
not lost, but gone before