Francis P. DeStefano
Francis P. DeStefano holds a Ph.D. in History from Fordham University, where his field of concentration was 18th century British politics. He left the academy to pursue a career as a financial adviser. He retired in 2008 and is pursuing his interest in history, especially Renaissance art history.
A few years ago, my wife and I saw “Sully,” the film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, about the forced landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. It is a thrilling and very moving film about the crew, the passengers, and the first responders whose combined efforts saved all 155 people on the flight.
Tom Hanks plays the role of captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully) with the quiet calm and dignity that fits the pilot who became an overnight hero. The rest of the cast is equally good. I especially liked the two flight attendants who rose to the occasion as they prepared the passengers for impact.
Actually, you might say that the film is a tribute to the competence of all those involved. At one point the captain notes that over his forty-year career he had transported over 1,000,000 passengers safely, but people now call him a hero because of one crash landing. At the end he says to his co-pilot, “We were just doing our job.”
In addition to the drama of the emergency landing on water and the subsequent rescue of the passengers from the almost frozen waters, the film centers around the drama of the subsequent inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) into the performance of the captain and co-pilot on the flight. Apparently, computers indicated that the plane could have made it back safely to La Guardia airport, and that one engine was still functional.
Some have complained that director Eastwood went a little overboard in portraying the NTSB examiners as out to establish “pilot error” in the case of flight 1549. Unlike the depiction is Sullenburger’s subsequent autobiography, director Eastwood portrayed the examiners as inquisitors or bad guys. But to my mind it seemed as if they were also just doing their job.
Speaking about doing one’s job, I was especially pleased with the portrayal of the air traffic controllers trying to deal with the extremely stressful “mayday” situation. It brought back memories of my first real job back in 1964 with the Federal Aviation Agency.
I had taken the civil service exam as a fallback in case I would not be able to land a teaching job. Not too long afterwards I was surprised when a letter came asking me to interview for an entry level management analysis position at New York’s Idlewild airport. The name had yet to be changed to honor the recently assassinated President Kennedy.
Although I had no idea what a management analyst was or did, I was offered the position, and took it. I found myself in a small office on the airport grounds with a bureau chief and four senior analysts. I soon came to see that I was in the least significant part of the vast organization in charge of ensuring flight safety in the ever-more-crowded American skies. I believe that we were distrusted or regarded as nuisances by the people doing the job in the control towers and flight control centers.
I remember, on one occasion, visiting one of those centers on Long Island. Seeing air traffic controllers hunched over their primitive radar screens watching little white blips apparently approaching each other was an experience I have never forgotten. I found out that it was one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
Most of the controllers were former Air Force pilots which perhaps explains the way they would talk with and bond with the pilots in the air. The job was so stressful that most were forced to take early retirement. Insurance companies believed that the controllers had such a short life expectancy that they would not offer them life insurance. When one died on the job, all the other controllers in the country would chip in to provide funds for his widow.
These men, and they were all men in those days, were unsung heroes and Clint Eastwood did a good job in giving them recognition. Although I only stayed with the FAA for one year, I have never lost my respect for them and the job they did. I must confess that I sympathized with them when President Reagan fired them all in response to an attempt to strike.
However, I have no sympathy for anyone involved in the making of the films shown in the innumerable coming attractions we had to witness before the start of “Sully.” In particular, the violence and destruction depicted was graphic, offensive, and totally over the top. The weaponry employed by the so-called heroes of these films was incredible. How can Hollywood movie makers pretend to be for gun control when they employ so many assault weapons in their films? These films are not a reflection of the violence in our society, but a training ground for violence.
In 2016 “LaLa Land” received much critical acclaim, but still turned out to be a big disappointment for moviegoers. I thought it would be right up my alley since reviewers indicated that it was kind of a throwback to the great Astaire/Rogers films that I have always loved. Despite fine acting and great cinematography, I had to agree that it was a disappointment. It was not just that the songs and dances did not measure up. How could they in this day and age? I dare anyone to remember more than the first three words of “City of Stars,” the song that won the Oscar for best song.
The biggest disappointment had to do with dreams. “LaLa Land” could have been titled “Dreamland.” Both the main characters, played so well by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, were driven to fulfill their dreams, or to, as the saying goes, “live their dream.” He wanted to own and operate a jazz nightclub where he could exhibit his great talent as a jazz piano virtuoso. Her dream was to be a great actress playing leading roles in significant films.
The first 90 percent of the film developed the love story between these two appealing figures, but then, for some inexplicable reason, it was decided that they must break up in order to fulfill their dreams. I think it was the sad ending that disappointed moviegoers.
Five years after the breakup, she is a movie star and happily married with a loving husband and adorable child. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend has opened his club and it is a huge success. By chance, she and her husband walk into the club one night and she hears her old boyfriend playing the piano. Then, we are treated to an extended dream sequence where she imagines what might have happened if they had not broken up. But it is only a dream, and she and her husband leave after only one number.
What a downer! In the old days the ending would certainly have been altered after previews discovered a negative reaction to the ending among sample audiences. But not today, when directors and so-called creative artists would lose their Hollywood cachet if they came up with a happy ending.
Perhaps it’s because I’m from a much older generation that I object to the decision of the two lovers to give each other up in pursuit of their dreams. I don’t recall that as a young man I had any dreams or ambitions that I would not give up if the right young woman came along. When she did come along, we had a fine romance that has lasted to the present day.
I guess we were lucky, but it is also true that our backgrounds and traditions kept our feet on the ground. Sitting in that theater, I wanted to urge the young couple to give up their dreams for the one they loved. In my case, I found that anything I gave up was worth little in comparison to what I gained. We were not the only ones in our generation to choose real life over dreams.
Coincidentally, I had just read the wartime diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, an aspiring writer who was also the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. They were a dream couple in their own time. She came from a wealthy and accomplished family, and he was the great American hero because of his groundbreaking flight across the Atlantic in 1927.
But by the outbreak of World War II, things had gone sour. Even after they had recovered from the murder of their first-born son by a kidnapper, Charles Lindbergh had become a figure of controversy because of his leadership in the movement to keep America out of the war. He lost his commission in the army, and President Roosevelt and his supporters came close to branding him a traitor.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Lindbergh, despite his age and growing family, offered his services to the war effort, but he never regained his pre-war popularity. His wife stood by her husband during these years despite the fact that practically all of their friends had deserted them. They were still well off, but she had never dreamed that she would be a lonely housewife struggling to find herself. She talked of her dreams in her diary entry of April 8, 1942. (In her diary, “C” is her husband, Charles.):
“Almost every young person is a romantic idealist. Certainly, I was — and am still — in a sense. There has always been a ‘dream figure’ in my life — not always a person of course. But some people learn to accept life and that it is better than ‘the dream.’ At least I got married and had children.
“I told C., speaking of this conversation (we were talking of idealizing people), and C. said, ‘You can’t meet your heroes if you feel that way about them.’ And I said, ‘Well I don’t know — I didn’t lose my dream by marrying it!’ He said, ‘that’s the nicest thing you ever said to me.’
“But I said it the wrong way round really. For I didn’t marry my ‘dream.’ C. wasn’t my ‘dream.’ I never idealized him before I met him. It wasn’t the hero I loved in him. It was the man — the man who has never disappointed me. I had my ‘dreams,’ too, very different from C. That was what all the struggle was about, giving up my ‘dreams’ for this flesh-and-blood man—who I loved, God knew.
“I sometimes feel it is the one thing I deserve credit for, the one thing I am intensely proud of, that I had the courage and the wisdom to give up my ‘dreams’ for real life, to realize that ‘life’ was better than ‘dreams’ and that C. was life.”
— War Within and Without, Diaries and Letters, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, (Harvest Book) Paperback – Illustrated, January 13, 1995. *