Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guest Post: The Classics

Today's blog post comes thank to my friend Sophia, an awesome person, fellow geek, and full time genius who doesn't have her own blog but has agreed to write some posts for mine. 'Cause that's how she rolls. 

When we’re growing the idea that our family norms and idiosyncrasies aren’t matched by those of other
families doesn’t cross the mind frequently. I am sure I was aware of this at some level before the age of
10, but that’s the first time I can recall it hitting home as an actual realization. I had invited some new
friends over for a slumber party filled with the typical pizza, board games and movies. And I had the
movies all picked out, some of my favorites, The Yellow Submarine, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. I
decided to start with the classic film about alien invasion and before the opening credits had passed one
of the girls asked, “Is this a black and white movie?” Well, yeah. And that was the end of that. Until
that moment I don’t think it had occurred to me that everyone’s family didn’t gather around the TV and
pop in a video cassette of something made prior to 1970.

Keep in mind this was in the days before being retro was cool. Maybe it was cool for people like John
Cusack, but not for pre-teens in the Colorado suburbs. It was just weird. And I suppose I might have
taken that realization and decided that social acceptance was more important than that moment in To
Kill a Mockingbird when Scout is trapped in her ham costume. But hanging out with the girls talking
about Jonathan Taylor Thomas never filled me with the same thrill as the shot where we see Boo Radley
behind the bedroom door. And so I kept going. It was no longer just the movies Dad brought home
that I started watching. I went to the video store and picked out movie after movie. Thank goodness
for a video store with a healthy selection of classics. The Thin Man, The Philadelphia Story, The Maltese
Falcon. And the more I watched the more I enjoyed the newer movies we’d see in theaters. The more I
realized that just as a good book is timeless so is a good movie. I also learned that just because a movie
is old it doesn’t make it good. I’m looking at you The Conqueror.

I think any reader realizes that books have power; a good book can change your life and affect your
understanding of the world and your place in it. Movies have similar power. The magic of movies,
though, involves the massive amount of collaboration required to make them happen. And how so
much of that magic is pure accident. Would Casablanca look the same if there had been fewer writers?
The experience of watching movies, at least as I had it growing up, added to their power. In those days
we didn’t have cell phones and going to the theater was a treat. Movies seen on the big screen are epic
simply by the method of delivery. The lights dim, the screen beckons and you allow yourself to be taken
away from reality. Like passengers on board a flight, you share this experience with strangers and leave
with a common bond.

In our house, not always the most easygoing place, movie time was where we came together as a unit.
The lights were off, every person was in their designated spot in the family room, the popcorn was out
of the microwave and the Hot Tamales were distributed equally. Mom had her Sno-Caps and was in no
danger of losing them. Dad would have to parcel out some of his beloved Twizzlers to us girls and we
would pop in the video. I remember going to friend’s house where a movie was put in. There was no
change in atmosphere or attitude. People came and went and talked and yelled and not a single person
seemed to be paying attention to the movie. What was wrong with these people? Didn’t they know
the proper demeanor for movie watching? In our house I had the honor of cueing up the film. I got to
decide if we were sitting through previews or jumping right into the film. When I was in charge of the
remote there were no delays and no snow allowed.

This was supposed to be about my love of classic movies but it turned into a mini autobiography. Sorry
about that.

People wonder why I love old movies, but I don’t think I do. I just love movies. I love the romance of
movies. The idea that you can take a train across Russia with Yuri and Tanya in Doctor Zhivago. You
can roll your eyes along with Princess Leia at a short stormtrooper and you can imagine that someday
you may be as witty as Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. It’s hard for me to distinguish
between the appeal of The Mark of Zorro (1920) and the appeal of The Departed (2006). They are both
absorbing to watch.

I also think that this perspective helps keep me from turning into a movie snob. The type of person who
insists on calling it cinema and looks down on people who have never seen anything by Truffaut and
refuses to watch anything that might be construed as a blockbuster. To me, movies are about stories.
Some stories are deeply meaningful and have something to say about humanity, life, etc. (The Seventh
Seal, Joe vs. the Volcano) and others are meant to entertain and allow us to escape (The Thief of Bagdad,
Pirates of the Caribbean). These and everything in between have value and you should watch and enjoy
what you want. I know I can act shocked when someone hasn’t seen the original Ocean’s 11 or Star
Wars: a New Hope but that’s primarily because movies help me make sense of the world and it’s hard
for me to understand how other people can go through their day without having a film library in their
head to fall back on. Although seriously, there might be something wrong with you if you haven’t seen
the original Star Wars trilogy. You should go watch it.

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