I finally saw Red Tails a few weeks ago at the budget cinema. For those of you who did not see the movie, very quickly, it was a classic World War II tribute film with an All-Star cast of African-American male movie stars in the lead roles. The twist with this movie was that it focuses on a squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen, thus the predominantly African-American cast. There were white actors playing members of other squadrons, “Big Brass,” “The Enemy,” and a handful of women—reflecting the typical demographics of WW II movies.
I liked the movie, it was an interesting concept, and my understanding is that George Lucas got flak (ha, ha) from people in Hollywood about a movie with a predominantly African-American cast—it was niche, “no one” would attend, etc. Well, the movie to date has made almost $50,000,000 at the box office, so somebody saw it, and there were a bunch of White people there when I saw it, so it has some kind of general curb appeal.
I will say, it contained most of the classic features of the WWII movie—the squadron leader’s struggle with responsibility, the cracker jack trouble maker, failure, triumph, death, planes going down in flames, victory, those lost found again in one piece.
Something was bothering me about the movie for weeks, nagging at the edge of memory. Then a story online jogged my memory and the piece slipped into place. The Enthusiasm Face. In Red Tails, they didn’t do The Enthusiasm Face. You know, the expression found on the face of the pretty nurse riding in the jeep, holding her hat on her head as she bounces along. The expression on the face of the “Boys” when they find out their getting the Three-Day Pass. Found also throughout Meet Me in St. Louis, Bye Bye Birdie, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Singing in the Rain. Popped eyes, jaw open, craning the neck forward just so much.
In a film class in college, I was told this expression was common in Old Hollywood because a lot of the actors in the early movies got their start in stage productions where exaggerated expression was necessary to reach a live audience during a performance. You still see this in contemporary movie stars who spent time on Broadway, check out Glen Close, particularly Mars Attacks!
Personally, I find The Enthusiasm Face to communicate a level of incredulity that is, . . . . incredulous. I usually figure anyone making The Enthusiasm Face in real life is trying to rip me off somehow or otherwise manipulate me. It seems appropriate to a ten year old kid who just got told by their parents that the family is taking you on your first ever all day trip to the Big Amusement Park and you’re going to get there at Gates Open and stay until the fireworks close, and you can have all the lemonade and fries and hamburgers and on-a-stick you want and go on as many rides and play games and see shows the whole day. Otherwise, it just seems . . . . Weird. Maybe it makes sense when you find out you and your partner are having a baby, or just got your dream home? Generally, it seems “Gosh Golly Gee Whiz” appropriate to the nursery, one of the things Wendy Darling was supposed to give up, but instead she runs off with Peter Pan. (Taking her brothers with her. Some date. Guys beware . . . . )
The thing is, I see now that Hollywood has been waging its own war with The Enthusiasm Face for some time. Remember the Michael Keaton-Jack Nicholson-Kim Bassinger Batman movie. Where the Joker’s deadly potion locks the victim’s face in a horrible rictus with jaw open and eyes popped?
Well, it may be against interest in this World, but I think I like my smile, my way of showing approval and amusement, encouragement, enthusiasm, satisfaction. Shoulders back, head slightly back, jaw closed, eyes ever so slightly narrowed.
Smiling in a neighborhood near you, soon . . . . 🙂