Valentine’s Day had already come and gone by the time Marc Lapadula appeared at the Morning Forum of Los Altos Feb. 18, but the playwright, screenwriter and educator’s recollection of classic love stories left audience members enthralled.
Lapadula, senior lecturer in the Yale University Film Studies Program, entertained with tales, poems and film clips in a presentation titled “The Greatest Romantic Moments in Movies.”
He began his talk by jokingly thanking the Morning Forum for inviting him to the land of “affordable housing.”
Then he asked, “What makes a truly romantic movie ending? – ‘They lived happily after’ or ‘Here’s lookin’ at you, Kid’?”
When he showed the classic “Casablanca” clip of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart saying goodbye at the airport, the audience sighed and pined for the love that was not to be.
Lapadula’s film clips started with the 1937 “Swing Time,” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, whose romance played out in music and movement. In one single uncut dance scene, Ginger and Fred romanced each other for more than two minutes. Not a word was uttered, but emotion filled the air.
Another most famous love scene is the beach clinch in “From Here to Eternity.” As the rippled Burt Lancaster slowly strode toward Deborah Kerr lying seductively on the sand, Lapadula remarked that it was a shame that Burt had so let himself go. But then the waves washed over the sand, and moviegoers were filled with longing.
Lapadula also showed a clip of the “Airplane” parody of that same sandy scene, with the two lovers getting nearly drowned in the tide and being awash with seaweed. Not all movie moments are magical moments.
In between movie clips, there were poems of romance. Lapadula paid tribute to his mother, who always recited Mary T. Lathrap’s “A Woman’s Answer to a Man’s Question” at weddings: Do you know you have asked for the costliest thing / Ever made by the hand above – / A woman’s heart, and a woman’s life / And a woman’s wonderful love?
Lapadula also read the poem “Pathways” by Rainer Maria Rilke:
Understand, I’ll slip quietly
away from the noisy crowd
when I see the pale
stars rising, blooming, over the
I’ll pursue solitary pathways
through the pale twilit meadows,
with only this one dream:
You come too.
Happily ever after?
Citing “West Side Story” and “Romeo and Juliet,” Lapadula noted that some great romantic movies have tragic rather than happy endings.
According to Lapadula, love is not for the young alone. He showed clips of “Harold and Maude,” in which a young, disillusioned Harold has a relationship with an 80-year-old eccentric, Maude. And the 1967 “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is not just about the love of the young interracial couple. Spencer Tracy’s character speaks with poignancy about the love he has for his wife, played by Katharine Hepburn. Lapadula said it was all the more powerful because of their real-life, off-screen romance that ended when Tracy died just a few months after the movie’s release.
Movies remind us of important things, Lapadula said, human things like love, passion and forgiveness.
“We see them on the screen and recognize them in ourselves,” he said. “It’s not that we yearn for the happy ever after. It’s the real true stuff of life that is the magic.”
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.com.