March 29, 2009

Sexual Archetypes: the 30th Anniversary of "Sooner or Later"

We all react to subconscious triggers embedded in our brains, and often the key to breaking a habit is making the effort to unlock that code. Sometimes it's impossible to identify Ground Zero, while other times we know exactly what it is and the struggle is to try and lessen the power it has over you.

There is a certain type of guy that always sets off my alarm. While I don't consider this a bad habit, it does tend to make me overlook a more appropriate type of mate simply because he doesn't match the archetype. This was never considered a problem when I was younger, but now that I'm on the other side of 40, I wonder if remaining keenly attracted to this specific archetype will eventually back me into a corner? Should I try to break this spell? Can I? And do I want to?

I know my Boy Ground Zero: It was March 25, 1979 when ABC aired Sooner or Later, starring Denise Miller (fresh off the TV series Fish) and Rex Smith. If you don't know the story, within this page, I've depicted the most crucial plot points of the story, as remembered from the perspective of a 13-year old girl. That's exactly how old I was when it aired, that's how old the character Jessie was in the movie, and that was the target audience.

The film was written, produced and directed by Carole and Bruce Hart, who did a masterful job of knowing exactly what things 13 year old girls obsessed about. Horrible job yes, but if you've got a job to do you gotta do it well. There are plenty of money guns aimed at that demographic at any given moment, but it takes a little more effort and heart to create something that goes off like a bomb at the time and then continues to resonate for years after.

On a Friday, not a single junior high girl knew who Rex Smith was, but come the following Monday, it was a wonder we'd survived that long without him. I was blown away because his singing voice sounded quite a bit like David Cassidy (my first true love), and unlike the fawn-like Shaun Cassidy (who was on my walls at this time - as well as on the walls of a character in the movie), Rex was a dangerous, sexy MAN. And he fell for someone my age!

Denise Miller was the perfect blank page for writing yourself into the story. She was cute, but not exceptional, so not a threat. She was audacious without being precocious, so a believable role model for a confusing period of life. She confirmed the secret to jump starting a love life - makeup. And she landed the hottest rock guy in a not too improbable way. It was the most believable of scenarios, and that air of real life possibility is probably what makes it an emotionally enduring film.

I bought the paperback book. I bought the album. I bought the issue of Us magazine with a feature on Rex Smith that featured a photo of him by a pool, completely naked save for an electric guitar. I swear to you the tip of his penis was visible in the picture. I threw Shaun Cassidy under the bus. I got a $35 acoustic guitar from Sears. I waited expectantly for my Michael Skye.

About 14 years later, I finally got around to proper guitar lessons. I about plotzed when my teacher was a long-haired, Italian stallion metal guy. Knee-to-knee in a tiny room, I could barely concentrate as he put my new Telecaster through its paces. I soon dropped the lessons because he was too hot for me to be serious about learning, and because it made all those latent Sooner Or Later emotions well up. That, and I also had a boyfriend who played guitar and had hair much like Michael Skye.

So, I went home and put the dog-eared paperback and the well-worn vinyl into a box of stuff that went off to a garage sale. This was the grunge era, so these items from a bygone era were way uncool and embarrassing.

Sooner or Later happened right after my puberty kickoff. The whole point of the movie was dealing with the issues of girlish daydreams becoming all too real. "They tell me I should slow up/ Take my time and grow up/ But sooner or later is too late."

It quickly becomes apparent that the dividing line between child and teenager is hormones, and what to do about it. Your body tells you plenty, you're all ears, but you don't understand and are mortified by what it's saying. The outcome - sex - is inevitable, but it's the steps toward it that were the most confusing. Wait, that aspect doesn't change much, no matter how old you are. I guess we just have so much practice with it that it's no longer as scary.

But it was that fear of the unknown that made it so indelible and so special. Just like first love, the lead up to first sex is filled with rush of new emotions that then become unsustainable once you've experienced it. They are replaced with sensations that we experience over and over again, in many new and different ways, but The Firsts have a powerful hold on our psyche.

Many, many years later, my Mother ran across Sooner Or Later on cable, and was kind enough to tape it for me. I circled that tape for a few days, afraid to watch it again 20 years later because what if it sucked? I loved those memories from that time; why chance ruining it?

Have you ever run across an old commercial from your childhood that you completely forgot until you saw it again, but it was like being transported right back to that very moment in time, and you recall it all crystal clear? The sensory input actually produces a physical reaction; it can make you feel good, instantly. I believe the physical sensation it produces is why we spend so much time on YouTube - it's like huffing emotional glue.

My second viewing of Sooner Or Later was the second coming of puberty, and it was good. Real good. It turned out to be an exceptionally well-written and executed piece of work with an honest, emotional core that allows it to float past being unduly dated by its time period. Yeah, all that... and it had me giggling and screeching like a 13 year old girl, all over again!

I swooned and cringed in the exact same spots as before. Every emotion was just as pure and expansive as it was at 13, and being able to fully conjure that at such a late date was a heady experience. It reminded me of a Rufus Wainwright song: "I twist like a corkscrew, the sweetness rising, I drink from the bottle, weeping why won't you last? Why can't you last?"

Well, yes, it can last - just hit rewind!

Viewing it from an adult perspective just adds to the fun. Considering my age, it's now PG cougar porn primo, and I appreciate the care they took in lingering on certain camera angles. It produces this weird sensation of my teen and adult selves swooning simultaneously for different - but just as valid - reasons. It's as close to an out of body experience as I'm going to get without meditation or medication.

During the drive-in scene, Michael sings "She's Still a Mystery To Me" to himself as Jessie stuffs her face with junk food to avoid the necking that accompanied drive-in dates. Jessie asks what's the song, and Michael teaches her about John Sebastian and the Lovin' Spoonful, following up with another pointed reference by singing "Young Girls." This makes Jessie cry, because she has a bucketful of secrets to soon reveal, but at the time, it sent me to the library to dig deeper into the Spoonful, beyond the radio hits. So, Rex, thanks for another enduring gift!

Jessie is 13, Michael is 17. Yes, technically, it will be statutory rape (if 17 was considered adult in Yonkers in 1979). That's the first lens we view through, today. But of far more emotional impact is the deep sea change within that 4 year age difference at that time of life. The writers didn't need to cite laws to make the revelation of the concealed age difference so gut-wrenching for both of them.

But it does beg the question: could this story be told as convincingly today? For multiple cultural reasons, a 13 year old girl is a much different creature than she was 30 years ago, outwardly. Could the changing shape of society, parenting and criminal paranoia make this a quaint, old-fashioned story?

I've now watched Sooner Or Later with male and female friends around my age, some seeing it again, some seeing it for the first time. Everyone enjoys it, which verifies that it truly is quality work. But I've yet to have a clock in from a young girl of today. Would the story resonate? Would the Michael Skye type still be considered foxy in this era?

Personally, the Michael Skye type still resonates within me. Maybe a bit too strong... depends on the perspective and the day. I didn't need to see the movie again to conjure that, only to verify the starting point. But now that I know what the trigger is, maybe it will be easier to quell the sensation and explore the world of Non-Michael Skye types. Especially when I can get my fix any time I want by popping in the DVD!

Turns out there is a part two and three to the story of Jessie and Michael. The Harts wrote two more books about it. Waiting Games takes place immediately after, with 14 year old Jessie deep in a sexual relationship with Michael, whom after declaring his undying love for her, leaves for Los Angeles to become a rock star.

Now or Never zooms ahead 4 years, finding Michael a drunken and failed rock star coming back home and hoping Jessie will take him back.

I haven't read the sequels, though I'd certainly love to. They are not available at any of the libraries, and the third book is fetching some crazy high prices in the eBay world, so that's not happening for me. I'm content with leaving it right where it is, and wishing we could get a little more 30th anniversary love for this romance classic.


Elizabeth said...

Don't know if you'll see this, but I was a big fan of this movie too. A long time ago I started writing two novel-length stories partially inspired by the book, then shelved them for a while. A few months ago I went back to them, did some re-writes, and began posting chapters to I get very positive reviews from 13-14 year old girls. Check out the profile for CorvaCarolina at fictionpress if you're interested.

Unknown said...

You have written a fantastic article! Thank you! I just stumbled upon this old gem on youtube...someone generously posted it, and I totally forgot about 99% of this I'm so hooked. Thank you for the stills and your take on it. Perfect!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading your blog on this. I could have written it as a matter of fact - I have wondered if there was anyone as ridiculously obsessed (maybe a little strong...) with it as I am! I have what my friend calls "RSS" or "Rock Star Syndrome" - and I'm certain it was brought on by this movie. I saw it in 1979 when I was 11, and though I didn't get *all* of the innuendos then, I definitely do now. I bought the VHS tape, and have read the sequels too. I think it's super sweet, well done, with good acting, and some good messages.
But I hear ya about trying to break the habit of the long haired gorgeous guys with star quality, but who may not be the most reliable and "appropriate" - especially after 40! ;-) I still watch it all the time. And I still go for those dudes - matter of fact, I have a 6 yr. younger one coming for a visit in a few days. Will I ever learn...

kika - volta Justus said...

I love this movie.
I live in Brasil and I watch this movie for the fist time with 9 years old (in 1979). And again and again until 1986.
This year I found and downloaded the movie and watched so many times.
You are so rigth, he is my Boy Ground Zero.
I'm 40 years old, I'm single now, and I'm stil in love with Michael Skye.
Thak you so mutch for the post. And sorry for my terrible english.
Love and peace.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! This review is awesome! especially the screencaps with your funny thoughts! I love this movie so much!

Michellez44 said...

I love this Movie, I have the book and I have the sequal Waiting Games, Rex Smith was HOT in the movie :)

Anonymous said...

oh. my. god. I never read blogs, but I'm doing data entry at work and I forgot my iPod, so I admit it, I started wandering around on google images and ended up in the 70's.
You not only captured everything about that movie brilliantly, I almost gave myself away completely by laughing out loud at your commentary. I STILL get a thrill when a hot guy in a car picks me up from school (or work).
"like huffing emotional glue" had me snorting trying to stifle the laughs. I am going to rent Sooner or Later TONIGHT! Wow, you really brought it all back and I wondered if this was written for an academic project or something, it's two of my favorite things: smart and funny! and I love the way you put yourself into it and analyze why we all loved that movie so much.

Tracy said...

I was bored at work and for some reason this movie popped into my head as it does every once in a while. I am so glad I found your review and comments. Like the poster before said, I was laughing out loud and remembering how I felt when I watched this when i was 13 in 1979 and how I feel watching it now. It just brings out the younger girl in all of us. I LOVE this movie and would like to find the books but I am seeing also that the 3rd book is crazy expensive. Thank you again for making my day...:)

anonymous said...

I have to tell you how much I appreciated your writing...Happened upon it and like others have said, and I was laughing outloudhysterical with several of your comments. I esp. like the "stoner slut" remark--absolutely --what a bicth!! LOL. I am having something of a michael skye meltdown recently after a friend happened to get the movie on netflix and I relived the magic of falling for rex in my sasoon jeans. But your explanation comes closest to figuring out what the hell I am doing watching "Simply Jessy" on Youtube and yearning for something I know isn't real...or is it....:)

Hannah Gold said...

A spot on review that had me giggling and nodding my head in agreement! I was 14 when the movie came out and it has stayed with me all these years. I just bought the DVD and have watched it three times already! I am trying to convince y soon to be 17 year old daughtermtomwatch it with me, but so far no luck.

I have not read the other books...maybe I will buy the, as a treat for myself!

Thanks for a terrific posy!

Hannah Gold said...

A spot on review that had me giggling and nodding my head in agreement! I was 14 when the movie came out and it has stayed with me all these years. I just bought the DVD and have watched it three times already! I am trying to convince my soon to be 17 year old daughter to watch it with me, but so far no luck.

I have not read the other books...maybe I will buy the, as a treat for myself!

Thanks for a terrific posy!

Riverside Soaps @Examiner said...

GAWD how I love this movie! I used to have a web site dedicated to it, but it has long since died along with Geocities. I did want to mention that I have read the other two books, and I recommend NOT reading them. It was painful and kind of ruined the fantasy of Sooner or Later, at least I thought. The reality of a 13/17 relationship becomes pretty painfully clear in Waiting Games, and the adult relationship is just ACK. Stick with the movie! Plus I have to try to stop feeling how it's somehow glaringly inappropriate now that I'm "of a certain age" with kids!

Elena LaVictoire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Love your blog! The captions are great. I don't know what triggered it, but I had an image of this movie come to mind a few days ago (had not thought about this one since the 80s), and after googling 'Rex someobody' I found the YouTube links to the movie. I also read the books when I was younger and remember that cover with the heart locket and the words really printed on her shirt. Guilty pleasure unearthed! They don't make movies like this anymore...perfect for the 13 year old that's still very much in me. I had to lie to my older teenage kids when they walked through living room and asked what I was watching (mommy porn!)

Susan@Organized31 said...

I remember watching this on tv when it first came out and I, too, was 13. At the time I thought it was so romantic. Now that I'm a mom of 2 teen girls, I find it creepy. (but Rex Smith is still quite the cutie).

Unknown said...

I was 14 when I watched the TV show in 1979. I loved reading your article. SOOO funny and SOOOO relatable. I've been thinking of Rex Smith lately because he played at the local Cabaret Club (Rrazz Room in New Hope, PA) last week. I really should have gone. I could have asked him to autograph the LP record of his that I still have. Incidentally, I am male... but I had all the same sort of feelings you described when I was 14.

Debbie in Florida said...

I saw it on tv when it was first aired and I was 17 at the time. I had a crush on him too, as this writer said he was up there on the list with David Cassidy, Vince Van Patten, I used to have a subscription to Tigerbeat in junior high....I will look for the books, if they can be found. Thanks for the post and everyone for the comments. I and in my early 50s now, but still swoon for the long-haired guys and remember being a teen in the 1970s.... be a fan of the 1970s love songs, like the group Bread wrote.

LisaB said...

Exactly how I felt about I book 2. It made it seem like the "We can take it slow" message of the first was just a ruse to get her to "do it." The movie had 13 year old me believing an older guy who loved you would not mind waiting. The second book revealed the less romantic truth.

Unknown said...

Omg... I laughed out loud in so many parts, reading your blog post. Thanks so much for making this page. I was only 11 when this came out, but how can any heterosexual female above age 5 not start to melt like butter, just looking at that face and hair and body. Good golly miss molly. I once heard Ethan Hawke said something about how Angelina Jolie was created to make men weak. And I think that must have been Rex Smith's purpose in life as well... to make females weak. I literally feel like a giddy little girl, watching this again. That moment where she sees him in the guitar studio for the first time, shirt wiiide open, was too much. This would be fun to watch with a girl friend over again, but my friends are all far away and taking care of babies, so I feel like I just got to watch it with another girl around my age. Thanks! : )

Unknown said...

I'm not sure what age I was when I first saw this film but it definitely stuck with me. Certain flashes of it are so so bright in my otherwise very dull and weak memories of my childhood. I've just searched the phrase 'girl being taught guitar by her crush' on film site and there it was. After all these years I'm just surprised that these worn mental images were all from one film. I haven't watched it again yet but I couldn't resist reading your piece about how this film stuck in your head too. I'll watch it again today hopefully. Thank you. Just for context - I was born in '72 and I'm from Northern Ireland.

Displaced Expat said...

I had just turned 14 when I watched this TV movie in 1979. It's like I could have written this blog as well. You have captured every feeling I had watching it the 1st time around and watching it again as an adult. I literally cried. Thank you...

Unknown said...

This & Little Darlings, had been on my "GET" List, for years. Well about 2 years ago I went on Amazon. I was able to buy this on DVD but NOT cheap. Now spending $20 for a movie is not uncommon. But for TV movie & not even new... you know I HAD to have a lot of Love for it. & of course I Did... Do. Watching it again had took me back to time where it was so real. To feel that excitement, nervousness... that youthful craziness that I so needed. Haven't read them, but I did purchase the sequels. The 3rd is used, but very lightly. Didn't cost me an outrageous amount. Just want to thank you for listening!

Unknown said...

Yesssssah!! Loved your take(my words and “feelings”) down sexy teen memory lane! The song “You take my breath away” comes up on my song trivia quite often. And every time I am compelled to go to YouTube and see him sing it live from the 70’s. The song brings back so many feelings and memories. And he’s so damn hot it’s just not right! He’s Andy Gibb hot and dare I say maybe hotter?! Anyway I was like , “isn’t this from a movie where he’s an older guy and there’s a younger girl?” And I found your article and was giddy. Thx for sharing. You’ve probably seen this, but case you haven’t here he is now singing flawlessly live. I just stare at his lips and think of back then!

Unknown said...

Will you let us know how the sequels are plz? Thx!

Unknown said...

Maybe I won’t read the sequels. I don’t wanna ruin my love affair w the first one!

Unknown said...

I’m all about the younger guys! Always have been.

Unknown said...

Omg! So nice to know there are other fans out there who loved the movie as I did at that age and related to it... :)

Unknown said...

Love this! Love the movie. Just ordered it and the next book on Amazon!
Cannot stop playing the music. I even miss the Sara Lee Chocolate Cake! Loved that scene!!!

Unknown said...

You’ve captured my teenage thoughts perfectly... and again now as a 54 year old lol.
I watched it when it came out, I was 14 at the time, so target audience. I fell hook, line, and sinker!!
Rex has had a very productive career, but he exists in my heart as gorgeous, perfect Michael.

Nancy, owner, said...

I was an extra in this movie!