While I was away from Boston this weekend I came up with a new series entitled Travels with Kevin. The title of this series is an homage to the great American author John Steinbeck. John Steinbeck wrote some of my favorite books, and one of the things I loved about his writing was that his books captured America so well. Steinbeck wrote “he was moved to see his country on a personal level, since he made his living writing about it.”
I think films do such an amazing job highlighting cross sections of American living, but the pictures they paint sometimes neglect the specific of the inhabitants, and cultural undertones. Steinbeck wanted to ask the question what are “Americans like?” I would like to use film and my own personal experiences in specific places to help create my own understanding about America.
I have written some about New York City, but most of my weekend was in Long Island. Long Island is the place I went to college (CW Post). This island was home to one of the great American poets Walt Whitman, but it seems the people around the island celebrate and have a greater love for Billy Joel.
Long Island has become a place where people go to escape the hectic world of New York City. The rich head out to the Hamptons in the summer and host lavish parties, and gay (mostly men) head to Fire Island to hit up circuit parties. Long Island is filled with a beauty and despair. My best friend lives in Port Washington a town that segregates itself from others, a town like many in Long Island. Long Island is not home to just wealthy people, but towns are split and so segregated this allows little interaction between different classes, races etc.
Long Island has such great beauty and worth but a small percentage give a large percentage of the perception. Not everyone on the Island is a reject from the Jersey Shore, but Jon Stewart’s interview with three men who wanted Long Island to secede from New York does remind me of many of my classmates in college. Long Island ‘s beauty can be measured in connection with the far East and place like Montauk.
Love and Death on Long Island (1997) stars John Hurt as Giles D’Ath a British author who has lost his wife, but while going to the movies one day stumbles into an tasteless American film and falls in love with Ronnie Bostick (Jason Priestly) an American heartthrob. The film shows the beauty of Long Island painting a picture of this beautiful place.
There is also this image of America as a society that is more open to dealing with social mores like homosexuality. Like within the book "Death in Venice" this author leaves a society of stuffiness (Great Britain) and comes to a country that honors different cultural trends. While on Long Island this past weekend and when I was in college I did not look at the area as a bastion for open-mindedness, in fact I am puzzled by the comparison of this Island as place where people go to surround themselves with others like them.
I think this film represents an interesting concept about popular culture in America as well. The films Ronnie stars in are mindless films, the typical stuff that caters to young viewers. America has an obsession with superficial things like youth and beauty, and this film set in Long Island represents the power that has on everyone.