Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I miss movies of the week...

Movies of the week.... that's a concept that a lot of young people don't know, mainly because they grew up with many TV channels, DVDs, and the Internet.  But when I was growing up, you could count on at least one "movie of the week" on any of the big three television networks-- ABC, NBC, and CBS.  In the late 1980s, Fox came along and we had four networks.

I remember watching these movies, mostly when I was a teenager, because before then, I was too young.  They'd always come on at 8:00 or 9:00, usually 9:00.  That was too late for me.  My dad was kind of strict about bedtime during the school week, probably because when I went to bed, he could sit in the kitchen and drink unbothered.  Mom didn't really care when I went to bed and neither of them cared if I actually turned the light out at 9:30.

This morning, I ran across a made for TV movie called Fatal Love.  Actually, that's the catchy British title.  In America, the film, which starred Molly Ringwald, was called Something To Live For: The Alison Gertz Story.  It premiered on March 29, 1992, almost twenty-six years ago.  I was nineteen.

A pretty horrifying made for TV film about AIDS.

I didn't actually see this movie when it originally aired because I was in college.  I didn't have much TV access in those days.  I did have a black and white TV that was left by a former roommate, but I didn't use it until my senior year.  I think I watched the film in 1996 or so, when I was visiting the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia.  They had a bar and restaurant and showed AFN (the Armed Forces Network).  Even though I grew up in a military family, Armenia was the first place I ever encountered AFN, which shows American TV shows to government and military personnel overseas.

A bunch of Americans were gathered around the TV watching this movie about New York city socialite Alison Gertz, who had a one night stand with a bisexual bartender at Studio 54 when she was 16 years old.  The year was 1982 and very few people talked about AIDS in those days.  Gertz picked up the AIDS virus from her one sexual encounter with the bartender and got very sick six years later, at age 22.  Because Gertz came from a "good" family and was neither gay nor a drug user, her doctors initially didn't think to test her for AIDS.  It turned out she had a rare form of pneumonia that usually only strikes people who are immunocompromised.  Gertz went on to become an AIDS activist and spoke at many schools around the country, warning young people about the dangers of unprotected sex and the hell of having AIDS.  

I remember clearly that an early episode of Beverly Hills 90210 was based on Alison Gertz's story.  I'm pretty sure this film aired after that episode, though.  I remember seeing that episode when I was about 18.

As I'm sitting here watching this movie, listening to the very dramatic soundtrack and listening to Molly Ringwald's shrill voice, it kind of takes me back to a simpler time.  In those days, we watched dramatizations of situations that could make your life a bad time.  Everything from domestic violence (but only toward women) and eating disorders was covered.  There were a few films about AIDS, which was a big problem in the 80s and 90s.  There were some about teen suicide, including one notable film that starred Molly Ringwald and a young River Phoenix and Heather O'Rourke, both of whom are now dead.

This is a good film about teen suicide, circa 1985.

Sometimes these movies of the week used very talented actors who went on to bigger and better things.  For instance, in 1981, Jennifer Jason Leigh starred in The Best Little Girl In The World, a film about a teenager with anorexia nervosa.  In those days, most people didn't know about anorexia nervosa.  Steven Levenkron wrote a groundbreaking novel about the disorder and then, a few years later, singer Karen Carpenter died of complications from years of anorexia nervosa.

This film included a young Helen Hunt and Ally Sheedy...

Speaking of Helen Hunt... she was also in Shattered Lives, a film about teen drug abuse.

Maybe I just miss these movies because they remind me of a simpler time, when people gathered around the TV for entertainment instead of the Internet.  Thanks to the Internet, we can find these movies today.  And then there's always a good, old-fashioned book, which is becoming more and more appealing to me these days.  

Watching the end of this movie about Alison Gertz, I see her confronting a fellow female AIDS patient who is nasty and mean to her... and then comes around.  How stereotypical.  I love it.  Incidentally, the real Alison Gertz died less than five months after this film premiered.

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