So Mickey Rooney, one of the last true Hollywood greats, has died at the grand old age of 93 years.
After entertaining on screen since the age of seven, he became the biggest box office draw at the end of the 1930s. His upbeat films, especially with Judy Garland, pushed the pair into super stardom and Babes in Arms earned him his first Oscar nomination. At the time of the Great Depression, his films were a welcome distraction from the reality of life, in Busby Berkley musicals Mickey and Judy would light up the big screen, spreading joy through auditoria across the land and the Atlantic as British audiences enjoyed the toe-tapping youngsters exuberance just as much as the Americans. This made me think of how important cinema is in the lives of so many people, especially in hard times, we turn to the big screen to lift our spirits and help us forget our troubles. As a collective, in wars and depressions, films give us all an opportunity to escape for a while and to see the world as we want it to be. Individually, films speak to us on many levels, when we identify with certain characters or situations; we have all watched a film and thought at some point, “that’s how I feel” or “that’s happening to me” and then we watch enthralled to see what that character does and how their story turns out. We know they are characters, but at one time they were a thought in someone else’s head, the people up on the screen have been imagined and created for us by the life experiences of the writers, directors and actors portraying stories that reflect our own lives. The world of film is at once fantastical and truthful. When one of the old Hollywood stars leaves, we always feel a sense of loss, these people who we don’t know become part of our lives, they have enriched us so when they leave us, it is only natural that we mourn their passing. We don’t know Mickey, of course we don’t, but what we do know is that he gave many people a great deal of joy at times when they really needed it. When we look at the private lives of the stars, they are often tainted – Mickey’s was tainted by drugs, debt and divorce. Well, I say tainted, that’s just life isn’t it… the stars are just like us if we delve too deeply. That’s why we shouldn’t look too closely. The stars of the big screen are there to touch our lives – whether it’s because we can stifle a tear with Laura and Alec in Brief Encounter or fend them off with Jack and Ennis in Brokeback Mountain and if I say The Notebook, many will be welling-up at the very mention… on the other hand, it’s also because they make you want to skip though puddles like Gene Kelly, sing from the roof tops like Judy Garland or hurl yourself about on the dance floor a la Dirty Dancing. Films do affect us. They touch from afar because at the heart of every good film lies a truth that is waiting to be told, to be shared with us all. n The writer, wishes to state that under no circumstances has she ever wanted to skip through puddles like Gene Kelly but will concede that she did quite like that musical that isn’t really a musical called Moulin Rouge…!