Monday, October 11, 2010

Secretariat: Thoughts on the Movie

We went to see Secretariat today.

I've loved horses so long I don't remember the first time I knew I loved horses. I loved watching the Triple Crown races; in Central Pennsylvania in the mountains, those were the only races that were ever covered on television. In 1973, I was home from college on the weekends for those races, at least in part because no one in the dorms (or my boyfriend, who had a TV) would have been interested in watching anything so non-topical or uncool as horse races.

In 1973, when I saw the post parade for the Kentucky Derby, I fell in love with Secretariat. He was so big, so perfectly shaped that I was sure he'd be the winner. I gave my memories of watching Secretariat to my Uncle Edgar in this story so I needn't repeat them here. But I wanted to repeat feeling those feelings, so off to the movie, hoping it would be okay.

It was. It was a good movie, about a woman who had more faith in a horse and a heritage than in "common wisdom." And the horse was Secretariat. Some critics say that there wasn't enough about the horse himself, but I can't agree. To have more about the horse, you'd have to have a horse actor that was just as big and perfectly formed as Secretariat was. That horse doesn't exist. Most of the movie was about Penny Tweedy, Secretariat's owner, and how she finagled her colt into immortality, without the backing of her family, by and large, and in the face of a phenomenally male-dominated venue.

There was enough about the horse, and some nice staging of the races to bring tears to my eyes, remembering my own experience watching the events. Other things struck me, more deeply, however.

One was that the entire audience (and it was fairly full in the theater for a 1 pm show) were old people. All of them. No little kiddies, no young people. All old folks, maybe going to remember one of the highlights of their lives. Hell, that was why I was there. I knew when I saw the running of the 1973 Belmont Stakes I'd never see anything like it again in my life.

The second thing was that I thought the characters looked stilted, stylized -- all of them. Then it hit me that the actors were portraying a culture that has been dead for more than thirty years. Back then, I was part of the rebelling youth while I was on campus, wearing ratty jeans, running with a bad crowd, breaking all the rules that my parents had taught me. On the weekends, however, I was Miss Proper, wearing skirts or dresses to church -- I even still owned a pair of white cotton gloves. In the movie, Penny Tweedy wore dresses, was neatly hair-do'd, ladylike and polite. She had no sensational sex affairs, no vicious language blowouts, no dirty trade tactics. No cosmetic surgery, no multiple marriages, no strident television appearances. I remember that time.

Finally, Penny Tweedy not only defied the stereotype of being a housewife, but showed that being a housewife did not mean a woman had become a moron. She took control of an estate and her life, and forged success out of a very dicey situation. She should be held up as a role model for all young women, in how to fiercely and gracefully make a big difference in the world.

But that's not going to happen. Instead, the women who should be pointing to this story as example will sneer at it for being a Disney fantasy, and encourage girls to turn their attention to the importance of carrying condoms for when they want to have random sex, and laud the fashionistas who seek to dress 9-year-olds like little whores.

Chastity, modesty, and honesty? Courage and self-denial? Ooh, forget that. It's Disney crap.

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