I went to see American Hustle about a week ago with my father. It’s a sharp and clever period piece with some wonderful dialog and scenes. It’s also somewhat talky, complex, long, and kind of difficult to follow. I was more fascinated by the evocative way the era of the late seventies was recreated in the clothes and the sets.
I suppose this was because I am old enough to remember what the real 1978 looked like. I was 15 at the time and a Junior in High School. Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had come out the year before, and suddenly Science Fiction was fun. Disco was annoyingly everywhere, there were only three networks on TV, and Carter was President. I had this dress shirt with a rather wide collar made from Quiana, this weird polyester fabric that was kind of like silk, but stretchy too. I wore the shirt with a really wide tie and suit jacket for my High School Senior portrait. It's an attractive picture of a younger me, but looks kind of dated now.
So anyways, in the middle of this movie, Robert DeNiro shows up for a small cameo part, and I suddenly found myself doing "The Math". I suddenly recalled that Robert DeNiro did a movie in the late seventies called New York, New York. It too was a period piece. "The Math" part was that New York, New York took place in 1945, thirty two years backward from 1977, when the film was released, and I remember going to see it with my parents. There I was, this gangly, pimple faced teenager looking at a movie that seemed to have taken place in some ancient, wholly different universe than the one I lived in. The clothes, the sets, the lingo, the music, all of it seemed so long ago and foreign.
But now, it was thirty six years beyond 1977, and I was watching American Hustle. But, unlike New York, New York, I could actually remember the period I was watching. I thought of my father, who was sitting there next to me in the theater. He's in his eighties now, and seems to always be calculating how much time he has left before he dies. It's silly, because he's very healthy and still has all of his wits. I went with him and my mother when I saw New York, New York, and it suddenly occurred to me that when he was watching that film, he must have felt the same way I felt watching American Hustle now, recalling his teenage years in the mid 1940's.