When author and Wesleyan University professor of film studies Jeanine Basinger decided to write a history of marriage at the movies, she remembered that her friends had been so skeptical of her own, back in 1967.
Today Basinger is, in her words, "45 years married." She reflects on her own marriage as she chronicles Hollywood's mercurial relationship with the institution in her new book, "I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies."
For the silent era, marriage represented "the perfect venue for the movies to have their cake and eat it to," Basinger explains. Onscreen, stars broke taboos – but always realized their folly, and returned to their happy, domestic lives.
"The general tradition of the story was the reaffirmation of the social unit of marriage as what you should do, and the proper way to live your life," Basinger says.
The stories shifted, attempting to explore the day-to-day difficulties of married life, but usually returned to the same happily-ever-after ending in the early studio era. In the 1939 film "Made for Each Other," starring Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart, Basinger says, "they have the glamor and they have the humor, and yet the story is about a couple that marries in haste. And when they take up their domestic life, it's just one problem after another for them." In the end, however, the couple finds happiness, and "all of a sudden, everything goes right."
When it comes to marriage in modern screen history, Basinger seems to prefer the realism of television to the larger-than-life husbands and wives on film. Of Eric and Tami Taylor, the couple portrayed by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton on NBC's "Friday Night Lights," Basinger writes, "it's possible that there's never been a more honest and natural marriage portrayed in film or television."
In addition to writing about film and television Basinger teaches film studies at Wesleyan University, where she has also mentored a number of protégés, including Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," screenwriter/producer Paul Weitz, and Benh Zeitlin, who directed the Oscar-nominated film "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Two of her other students, Michael Gottwald and Dan Janvey, produced the film.
"They're just a wonderful example of intelligence, talent, passion: all the good things film needs to have. I'm so happy for them," Basinger says of the film.
Will Benh Zeitlin thank her on Oscar night? "Benh Zeitlin doesn't need to thank anyone," Basinger says. "Frankly, you don't take credit for the kind of talent Benh Zeitlin was born with."