Friday, April 21, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Old Movies

Entertainment: 1:9

“Happy is the man…”
Photo Credit: ©2017. Eli G. Greenbaum


















“Of all the arts, movies are powerful aids to empathy,
and good ones make us into better people.” 

Roger Ebert [1942–2013]
The Great Movies IV (2016), p. xx1


I love old movies; I am indeed fortunate to live at a time when there exists a TV channel like Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which since 1994 has been showing hundreds of movies each month, many of them still standing the test of time, resisting the erosion of meaning and retaining relevance and, at the same time, reminding us of what once was essential to the human race. They bring back good memories. Yes, old movies are like good friends—they remain true and are always there for you.

Speaking of “old friends,” I was sad to hear about the death of TCM’s host, Robert Osborne [1932–2017], on March 6th.; he was 84. I found his knowledge and love of classic films, and his way of speaking of these gems both comforting and endearing. Osborne brought a classiness and style to the show that will be hard to duplicate. Mr. Osborne spoke as if he were speaking to you directly, close up and personal, as if he were a guest in your living room. 

So it was and so it will always be. There are roughly two great periods of Hollywood film-making. The later period of the 1970s when I was around and an earlier period called “the Golden Age.” Each era’s greatest films peeled back the layers, revealing something essential about America and its people. The great films resonated with the public and spoke to their hearts. The great films were the ones everyone watched and discussed; they provided a shared experience.


“We'll Always Have Paris;” Casablanca (1940)
Via: Youtube


During Hollywood’s Golden Age (roughly 1930–1959), such film classics as Duck Soup (1933), Modern Times (1936), Grapes of Wrath (1937), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Great Dictator (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Lost Weekend (1945) and Sunset Blvd (1950) were made. This was the era of b&w films. During this period in time, people went to the movies at least once a week. I was born a generation later, but I loved to watch these actors and actresses on TV, often when they showed these movies late at night (or rather early in the a.m.)

I enjoyed everybody from Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Spencer Tracy to Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Grace Kelly; from Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman to James Stewart, Cary Grant and Henry Fonda.  There was also Kirk Douglas. There are so many greats; a list can be found [here]. As can the Los Angeles-based American Film Institute’s (AFI) 1998 ranking of the top 100 films [here], and a similar ranking in 2007 [here]. There is general consensus of which films stand the test of time and are considered as worthy of this unique praise. There are sound reasons why this is so.

My era, which started around 1968, when I was allowed to go with my friends to the movies downtown, had Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Gene Wilder and an older Marlon Brando along with Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Faye Dunaway, Barbra Streisand, Jodie Foster, Madeleine Kahn and Goldie Hawn. 

Going to a movie theatre when I was growing up was a big deal. There was no such thing as large-screen TVs, or none that I was aware of back then, back to a time that began for me 50 years ago. 

“Funniest Scenes;” Annie Hall (1977)
Via: Youtube

This was arguably the greatest period of Hollywood films, including such great movies as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The French Connection (1971) The Godfather (1972), The Sting (1973) Chinatown (1974), Blazing Saddles (1974), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), All the President’s Men (1976), Network (1976) Annie Hall (1977), Star Wars (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979)

One of the first noticeable things is that this is a long list, but the number of films that I enjoyed seeing then is actually much longer. There are many more films I could add, so good was the craft of film-making and story-telling in this period of Hollywood history. As was the directing and acting, often done with an intensity and physicality that is now often lacking. 

As for the comedies, they were produced without the vulgarity so evident and commonplace today; humor tends to follow what is happening in general society.  These are now viewed as old movies, I aging along with the movies of my youth; the younger generation might views these as dated. All, in my view, are worth seeing again or for the first time.

While we had TV the movies were the big screen; it was truly magical seeing these larger-than-life actors and actresses playing the roles that they did. In the best movies, you walked out a different person than when you came in, although going to the movies was not chiefly about gaining knowledge or about forming character. Even so, Roger Ebert’s sentiments about the power of film to better the human condition, to make you a better person, echo mine. They likely echo the minds of many millions.

Going to the movies was an outing, a place and a time to be entertained, an escape from the normal And this is what the movies offered. For example, during the Christmas break from school, my friends and I went to the movies often, seeing all the movies that came out then. Not all were good; some were disappointing, and a few were exceptionally memorable. They were all entertaining. 

Afterward, we would head to a local restaurant or diner for something to eat; it was often a burger and fries with Coke. When we got older, our tastes became more sophisticated. What remained constant was discussing the movie afterward, which included recounting our favorite parts and bits of dialogue. We also planned our next outing.

I do watch modern movies,  but I rarely see a movie at a theatre. Perhaps I have just grown older, perhaps I don’t feel like making the effort, or perhaps I don’t like what it costs to see a movie at a theatre these days, especially when there are better alternatives like the classic movie channel, TCM.  In addition, now watch movies on streaming services like “Netflix” (we do turn out the lights). 

So, yes, I still enjoy movies, thus I might write about the good movies, the ones that I enjoy, on this blog from time to time. 

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