Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Where do I begin…

…to make sense of the phenomenon that was Love Story? Erich Segal, who died a few days ago, was a distinguished classics scholar, literary critic and sports commentator. Unfortunately, Eric, a nice, smart bloke by all accounts, will forever be …

Wed, Jan 20, 2010, 22:44

   

…to make sense of the phenomenon that was Love Story? Erich Segal, who died a few days ago, was a distinguished classics scholar, literary critic and sports commentator. Unfortunately, Eric, a nice, smart bloke by all accounts, will forever be associated with one of the more curious and dubious fads of the early 1970s. Published in 1970, Love Story told the tale of a poor girl who falls in love with a rich bloke and then dies beautifully. The book was a major hit, but the film (released the same year, oddly) was something else altogether. If you’re not old enough to remember the wretched thing’s emergence –  I just about am — you probably think of it as one of many undistinguished movies that exist to remind us that, during the Easy Riders Raging Bulls era, thrilling, dangerous films such as, well, Easy Rider and Raging Bull were very much the exception.

love-story-3.jpg

Cough! Cough! It’s all going dark, Ryan.

But Love Story was not just another film. It’s hard to imagine quite how huge the bloody thing was. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” the key line, became a standard meaningless aphorism of the age. If you’d just smashed your husband on the face with a tire iron, you now, thanks to Hollywood, didn’t even need to offer an apology. The horrible theme song, Where do I Begin?, was covered by every frilly-shirted crooner. Ali MacGraw, already 30 when the film was made, despite playing a student, became a major star for about a year and a half (till people woke up to certain horrible truths, in other words). The picture was nominated for a best picture Oscar and made a bucket of money. In the  all-time inflation-adjusted box-office chart  it sits (at time of writing) at number 34, just one place behind something called Avatar.

Yet the film is barely talked about now. Could it be that properly bad films are only capable of establishing camp immortality? Love Story is certainly pretty wretched. The failure to give Ali MacGraw’s disease a name — you could  kill whole tribes of Native Americans on film, but saying the word “cancer” was frowned upon — now strikes us as absurd and offensive. Ali and Ryan O’Neal have no more chemistry than you’d encounter between a horseshoe and a jar of mustard. And the dialogue!  “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?” Eugh! Sure enough, just about the only place Love Story is now shown regularly is at Harvard, the picture’s location, where it is endured as an initiation rite. Good grief. Spare me that. Just pummel my backside with a ping-pong bat, why don’t you?

Even the generation that grew up with it are reluctant to admit ever liking it. Remind you of anything? Fans of Titanic, despite that film being the most successful ever, are now weirdly thin on the ground. The hysteria for the big-boat picture now looks a little like the hysteria following the death of Princess Diana. The blubbers are all just a little embarrassed.

What will we think of Avatar in 40 years time? Heck, the picture’s still at number one and we’ve already forgotten the ghastly theme song. What’s it called? I’m in You? Here I be? May Contain Nuts?

Oh, who cares.