August 22, 2002
The Way We Were
I've been reconsidering what the 1973 schmaltz-filled classic, "The Way We Were," means to younger women.
I never liked the movie, though I can't tell you how many women modeled their lives after the pursuit of Robert Redford.
On its own, "The Way We Were" created a hothouse for intermarriage. True, Redford lacked ambition and talent, but few others could light up a girl's life with not much more than a uniform and a smile.
Barbra Streisand was all but missing from a rerun of the second season's finale of HBO's "Sex in the City" (now in its fifth season). I happened to catch it last weekend. In the episode, the three of the four 30-something New York women burst into the Academy Award-winning theme song by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and extol what they call "The Hubble Moment" in a female's life.
I was mystified. What's a "Hubble," other than a telescope observatory?
"The Way We Were" belonged to my generation of Jewish women, feminist, liberated, activist. We owned it, and we owned the Streisand that came with it. She taught us how to behave in the world, which was ready for us to burst on the scenes.
Time passes. Here's a new generation symbolized by Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) saying that our generation's battle is over and that the rules of sexual compatibility can be found in matchmaker.com.
It's daunting, to be displaced by the young, who are about to be displaced themselves.
I never found the Robert Redford character attractive, though many of my friends sought exact replicas of the kind. Given a choice between CNBC's Larry Kudlow and Jim Cramer, until the stock bubble burst, I've gone for the Cramer kind of guy.
Perhaps that's why I missed that this iconic male, who had led countless Jewish women into interfaith dating, was named Hubble Gardner.
The Hubble "moment" comes after years of struggle in the war between the sexes. The "moment" comes in that instant of acceptance that, cute though the guy may be, he is really, truly gone. And he's incompatible with us to boot.
In "Sex," Carrie is trying to accept the loss of ex-boyfriend "Big," who has become engaged to someone else. She invokes the split-second in which Redford's blond tresses are stroked, a testimony to love and difference. The Hubble "moment" has come. She is telling her friends she's ready to move on.
I was amazed. After so long, "The Way We Were" merely symbolizes to younger women the one who got away. Particularly sad because no one understands why Big and Carrie break up. They seem perfect.
The very next night "The Way We Were" was shown on TCM (no commercials).
The film was directed by Sydney Pollack from a screenplay adaptation by Arthur Laurents of his experiences on the political left. It was a rare attempt to deal with 20 difficult years of American history, from 1930-1950, ending with the blacklisting of the Hollywood 10.
That it failed in its political aims no longer seems like any surprise at all. "The Way We Were" makes Warren Beatty's "Reds" seem like the "Three Little Pigs."
What the movie captures more truthfully is the chasm between "the insiders" and "outsiders." Streisand's character, Katie Morosky, is dark-haired, curly, loud, political and aggressive, out to make the world a better place.
Almost everyone else in the Hubble crowd is blond, thin, apolitical. They don't like FDR.
In his biography, "Original Story By," Laurents laments his and Streisand's lost battle for more serious political content in the script. But though Carrie might not see it, a chunk of history does remain intact. This is the bitter tone of intolerance Laurents told journalist Patricia Bosworth he had learned from his mother. This is the attitude that makes "The Way We Were" so hard to watch even now.
"Her watchcry was, 'Every one of them hates every one of us!' Bosworth wrote in The New York Times. "Them" are of course the non-Jews.
"Sex in the City" blatantly ignores America's ethnic stew. Fashion provides plot points. Streisand's character took her politics seriously, but she cared about her haircut too. It started out curly, ironed out into straight bob while she tried to fit into the assimilated crowd; then she got curly when she feels finally free to be herself.
Maybe it's OK that Carrie missed the paranoia and fear of my earlier generation. Or maybe younger women have their own hands full.
"The Way We Were" meets "The Way We Are."