The other day, my grown children and I were watching a 1939 Bob Hope movie, The Cat and The Canary, with my aunt. In it, the cast of characters is trapped in a creepy house with a killer. You know, it’s the type of movie where the secret passageway creaks open and a hand slides slowly out. My daughters were squirming like madwomen on the couch whenever that would happen. “There’s a hand, a hand,” they would squeal. Now these are young people who routinely view movies and TV shows in which someone’s head is chopped off and rolls to the ground, but it was the old-time suspense that had them jumping in their seats.
A few days later, I was watching an episode of Poldark on Masterpiece set in 18th century England. In it, a husband presents his wife with a fine pair of stockings, for which she feels unworthy. To demonstrate that she is not, he asks permission to put them on her. Here is a scene with a husband and wife, of all people, in which the man is putting clothes on the woman, and yet it was one of the most romantic scenes I’ve seen in a long time.
It sometimes seems like the pendulum in entertainment has swung so far toward the grotesque, violent, and perverse that it must, at some point, swing back toward the middle. That’s gotta happen soon, right? How much further can we go?
My intent here is not to sound prudish, it’s to remind artists of all mediums that your audiences were blessed with an imagination at birth, and sometimes it’s best to let them use it.
Instead of seeking to impress us with your showy effects, you might find that our reaction and interaction with your work is all the more intense for the faith you put in our creative sensibilities.
In other words, quit trying so hard, and let us do some of the work.