Monday, October 26, 2009
"Amelia:" Far More Fascinating than the Flick
Political correctness has turned Amelia Earhart into a brave, flawless feminist symbol. The reality is much more complex but missing from the new Hilary Swank-Richard Gere flick "Amelia."
What we get is a uni-dimensional picture of a young girl thrilled by aeronautics who fulfills her dream, becomes a media icon, gets married to an adoring spouse on whom she cheats and then retreats, and finally attempts a historic round-the-world flight with a tragic end. Nothing to tarnish or enrich the popular image.
I happened to see a screening of the film at Seattle's Museum of Flight after viewing a fascinating exhibit about Amelia's life. Watching the real Amelia in newsreels and commercials gave me a feel for her charm and the model-esque beauty that caused GP Putnam, still married to the mother of his two children, to select her to ride on the first trans-Atlantic flight, and pursue her romantically. It didn't matter that she was engaged at the time; the two shed their bonds and formed a "partnership with dual control" in 1931 that included Amelia's demand for an open marriage.
Amelia was far more than a daring aviator. From the movie we never learn that in her early life, sympathy for World War I soldiers had led her to Red Cross training and a stint as a nurse in Toronto; she continued nursing into the 1918 epidemic of the Spanish Flu, which she caught, hospitalizing her, requiring surgery with a year's convalescence, and leaving her with a sinus drainage tube in her cheek.
It's true that Amelia's determination to fly drove her, but the film skipped how she became America's 16th woman pilot: through savings from jobs such as truck driver and stenographer. It also cruised right past her accomplishments in fashion design, and her hands-on creation of several fashion lines sold in a single upscale outlet in each major city. Or her career as a writer, including an editing job for Cosmopolitan Magazine. She authored two books and wrote regular columns and essays; the only hint of that in the film is a salvaged love poem GP uses to renew her affection.
Her affair with Gene Vidal, father of Gore, also began while Vidal was married, though that's never broached; he's supposedly an aviator, but their connection never gets off the ground.
It's a bad sign when you check your watch often during a film. The lack of any chemistry between Gere and Swank, and droning aerial views of water or African giraffes grow tiresome. I knew from the exhibit that Amelia's globe circumnavigation failed about 3,000 miles short of completion. Scenes interspersed in the story showing her in flight at increasing mileage points led me to think, "just 10,000 more miles 'til this is over..." The movie takes 111 minutes to run out of fuel, but the richness of her life had plenty more to offer.