Our Fast-Changing Times Bring Changes To Movie Styles


Things change very fast nowadays, and movies often date themselves because of their themes. I was thinking about this when I watched the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail this past week. For those of you who are not movie lovers, this was a remake of a movie from the late 1930s called Little Shop Around the Corner, which itself was based on a play called Parfumerie.

In the old movie, a pair of workers in a ritzy gift store in Eastern Europe (perfume store in the play) who do not care for each other both get involved in a lonely heart’s club, where they send anonymous letters to others in hopes of creating relationships that go deep enough that they actually meet. And, of course, the two workers fall in love through their letters, not knowing that the folks they are falling in love with are the fellow workers they do not like. Eventually, of course, things worked out.

But there were so many things that changed since before World War II that the 1990s movie could no longer be realistic that way.

For example, in the old days, a letter sent in the morning might well get to the recipient later that day in a big city. They actually had more than one delivery a day (whether that was because they were abusing the mail carriers or not is not for me to say). By the 1990s, most of us felt lucky if we got a letter within the same city within a day or so. Talk about slowing down romance! And few of us wrote letters anymore. On top of that, high-end gift stores or perfume stores were disappearing.

So, a new format had to be created, and what else but the new (at that time) system of e-mail? You could still be anonymous with your identity, and the mail would be delivered more or less instantly. There was even the special thrill, if you used AOL, where you would hear a voice announce, “You’ve Got Mail.” And since the gift stores were out, book stores could be in, and what better way to represent the times than to have the man’s big chain bookstore destroying the intimate, sweet neighborhood children’s book store of the woman?

And times changed again. We are inundated with e-mails and other messages. There are no thrills when a message comes in. I get more than a hundred e-mails a day, and only a handful are from actual people I know. All it takes is one online purchase, and the e-mails are forever. Things got so bad years ago that the cute little voice was cut off. Of course, in some ways it lives on through the assorted tones we get for text messages when they arrive. And for those of my generation, writing long missives about my feelings is far easier on a computer keyboard than on my small phone. Of course, these days more messages are on phones, and that ruins a real lot of the messaging.

Not to mention, those big barracuda book stores that wiped out most of the little ones in the You’ve Got Mail have mostly gone by the wayside, as they were swallowed up by the great white whale named, not Moby Dick, but Amazon.

One could argue that those changes were after all rather minor. The key thing is that love is still the same, even in the movies, but that isn’t quite true either. Back in the first movie, girls who might actually be intimate with a suitor before marriage were considered “bad girls.” Even if they seemed sweet, they were not role models. By the time of the second movie, both of the potential lovers were living with others when the film started. And who cared?

And if there’s another remake, who knows what the gimmick will be? Of course, the love part could really be different. In a couple of years, I expect a film that plays on gender identity issues. Perhaps one will be transgendered, but that bit of personal history never gets mentioned early on.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think I enjoy the old-time movies more.