The Loooooons, Norman, The Looooons
I've always had a soft spot for On Golden Pond. Yes, that On Golden Pond on a lake with loons and trees and Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn all in that beautiful golden eighties glow.
It came out in 1981---the same year as Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I remember all the mothers praising it. I remember seeing the film in the theater and feeling sophisticated because it was the movie all the mothers saw. I related most to the thirteen year old boy (even though I was only ten, girls mature faster) because I used to spend summers with my grandparents, and Grandpa had a streak of commudgeonness like Norman in the film.
It's a very simple story. Norman and Ethyl (played by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn who both won awards) own a summer house on a lake. Norman is turning eighty and grouchy. Ethyl is always up and happy. When their estranged daughter (played by Jane Fonda, lots of bikini shots) shows up with her new guy and his thirteen year old son, Billy, tensions erupt.
Oh no, not family drama! You might exclaim, but this film is way too pleasant and sophisticated to become a family therapy session.
Jane and her fella exit to Europe and leave Billy with Norman and Ethyl who quickly win him over because how cool is it to spend a summer on a lake with Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. You can practically smell the homemade biscuits. There's swimming and boating and diving. Sure, the film has one tense sequence when Ethyl has to rescue Norman and Billy in Purgatory Cove, but everything ends nice. Father and daughter resolve their differences. No one dies.
I got to see On Golden Pond again recently at a screening at Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica. The Promenade Playhouse (located on third street promenade shopping mall across from the pretzel shop) has an acting school, so there were a lot of young acting students who were maybe wee babies when the film came out. The whole scene felt very Inside The Actors Studio which makes sense since Mark Rydell who directed On Golden Pond is the director of Actors Studio West.
Watching the film for the first time in more than twenty years, I had forgotten how nice it was. It's obviously a play adapted to film, but in between the scenes are beautiful transitions with shots of nature and piano music. The transitions give the film a nice slow pace. No need to rush. We're on a lake. Time is passing, but gosh darn it, we're on vacation.
Mark Rydell was also present for a q&a afterwards. In LA, you have to have a q&a. He had great stories about the actors which the actors in the audience lapped up like kittens.
That night, as I walked back to car, past the holiday lights, I felt happy. On Golden Pond, a film about old age, took me back to my youth when everything was possible, when problems were resolved with a back flip, when Katharine Hepburn was my idol. Now in middle age, I know life marches on, but some places are nice to revisit---like an old summer house on a lake.