This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Walts of the Greatest Generation: Gran Torino

My grandfather never allowed us to curse.  We weren't allowed to say damn, or shit, and certainly never f***.  The rule need not be written-- we just knew.  If you cursed when you were in grandpa's presence, you may or may not live to tell about it.  

Grandpa grew up in the 20s, lived through the Great Depression, and lived most of his life making up for it.  He never cursed, but he had what most people would now consider a derogatory term for nearly every race.  He didn't mean to be racist.  In a sense, he was just born that way. 

He came of age in the years when racist jokes, labels, and stereotypes were thrown about regularly and no one even batted an eyelash.  You could pat a woman on the ass, call her 'a good-looking dame', and not be sued.  It was before politically correct, before worker's compensation, before womens' lib, before social security... 

This is the era of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) in Gran Torino, Eastwood's latest film.  There are a lot of men like Walt: war veterans, hard-working Americans from our nation's 'Greate
st Generation' (according to Tom Brokaw anyway.)  And in that era, there were also a lot of Walts (including my grandfather.) 

Certainly, Grandpa didn't have the gruff voice or the commanding presence of Eastwood, but when he spoke, you didn't argue.  Grandpa flipped out when it looked like I was going to be bussed to the 'black neighborhood' for 3rd grade... when I got to dating age, he made it very clear that he'd like me to find a nice, white boy of decent stock.  No intermingling of races for me-- not when
 Grandpa was looking anyway.  When I was taking dance classes, he abruptly asked my instructor how old she was, and when she answered, he asked her if she was married. She said "No." He could've walked away.  But Grandpa couldn't leave well enough alone.  

A thirty-something attractive dame, unmarried? What is this world coming to? 

So, his next question was: "Why aren't cha married? Something wrong with ya?" Yes, dear old Grandpa.  On a United Airlines flight to Texas in the early 90's, he frisked an airline stewardess in search of more chocolate chip cookies.  Publicly, she giggled.  Privately, she was probably calling an attorney from the Skyphone.  

His en
dearing term for me was 'pumpkin' and when he was especially proud of me, he'd say, "you're 'all white meat" which I guess was good-- meaning that I was the human equivalent of a chicken breast which I s'pose is the best part of the chicken.  Although, it got foggier when he'd use that turn of phrase on a black man.  I knew Grandpa didn't mean any harm.  When he said it, it just meant he was proud of the black man, in a chicken breast sort of way. 

 The world had changed around him, but Grandpa had stayed just exactly the same.  In later years, when he didn't speak much anymore, he got most of his pleasures from two things: Bessie, his big blue, 1972 Cadillac-- a car he never thought he'd be able to afford and 
ething he never had quite enough of during those Depression-era days.

So, one day, we took him to T.G.I.Friday's where, as we waited for our check,  he tried to stash their ketchup bottle into the inside pocket of his overcoat.  

"Walt!" my grandmother exclaimed.  And Walt looked up with those endearing eyes of his, and reluctantly placed the ketchup back on the table.  (During the bad years, they used to make tomato soup by adding water to ketchup.)  It was then that we all knew that we'd sort of lost Grandpa.  He was trapped in a deflated version of his former self and lost in the fog of his own time, his own greatest generation... 

Some think that Gran Torino is overcliched with Walt's 'old school' language and pollack jokes and the writer's device of the Gran Torino car, but I beg to differ.  Sure, it's predictable to a certain degree, but so are most lives.  Eastwood can go out with a bang-- that's the movie version o
f the story.  But the countless other Walts in the world with just as powerful a presence, have been extinguished quietly... that's the real life version of the story.  I know because my grandfather was one of them. 

Gran Torino 
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Nick Schenk
Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures (North America)
Now Playing

No comments:

Post a Comment