“Tonight we are watching Gone With the Wind,” said my father. “I don’t want to hear you complain about it.”
The man knew me well. I would throw fits to get out of watching old films on Turner Classic by constantly asking to watch something “current.”
“What’s current to you?” he asked.
“You know, the movies they are playing now in theaters, “ I said. “I just don’t want to watch something old.”
“Don’t be one of those kids who doesn’t watch movies before 1990,” he said.
“I’m not,” I said. I was upset because E.T was 1982 and Jaws was 1978 so clearly I wasn’t one of those kids uneducated on the movie classics. (He made me watch those films too.)
The stars of the classics didn’t always settle well with me. Bing Crosby was this old man who griped all the time and belted his pants too high, whereas every woman from Judy Garland to Vivien Leigh had the same mannerisms and high-pitched voices. The only cool one was Rosemary Clooney and I had only ever witnessed her angry in White Christmas. But, if you’ve seen that film, you know she has a reason to be.
“I want to watch something new,” I would say.
“You will never learn if you don’t watch some of the old films,” he said. “I promise you will love Gone With the Wind.”
And from the time I could walk, until the time I left for my freshman year of college, we sat on that couch and watched what my father deemed were “the best films.” While I argued and threw tantrums half of those years, the other half I pretended to be annoyed while secretly loving our tradition.
“What are we watching tonight, dad?” I would ask, praying it wasn’t another John Wayne film.
“Rear Window,” he said once. Or “I recorded a documentary series on the 60’s that you have to watch,” he said another time. “You’ve never seen a Marilyn Monroe film. We’re going to watch Bus Stop tonight,” lives in another memory of mine.
From the Lon Chaney and Charlie Chaplin silent films, to Fred Astaire and Humphrey Bogart, to numerous Hitchcock films, to Edith Head’s creative costumes, to Spielberg films, to Woody Allen, to being named after Lauren Bacall; I really learned to love the cinema.
The MGM tiger would roar, signaling us into silence for the start of another legendary story. The 20th Century Fox’s familiar intro would be sung by my sister in the seat nearby, gearing us up for whatever film it was that we were going to be partaking in.
Or my favorite, Robert Osborne, would do the introduction to a film; giving us behind the scenes facts and assuring us that we were making a good choice in what we were about to watch.
I related to these films. Thanks to IMDB (Internet Movie Database) I spent most of my high school year’s googling trivia facts and spitting out information on films to impress my father.
“You know in Grease those hickeys Kenickie gives to Rizzo are real,” I’d say. “He wanted it to be more realistic so he gave her hickey’s himself.”
Accompanied these trivia facts was an underlying knowledge that the films he was showing me had an actual impact on me. My gripes soon fizzled and disappeared altogether, and were replaced by a superior knowledge to the black and white cinematic masterpieces followed by an appreciation for the classics.
“Okay,” I said. “Gone With the Wind was amazing,” I had just returned to the room after throwing down a couch pillow and leaving when Clark Gable said, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
The end still provokes such madness. I shall never forgive Scarlett for being so hung up on Ashley. What was so great about him anyways? The guy never wanted her back.
Now, with 20 years of life in me, I enter a media class in Italy where I’m asked to watch La Dolce Vita and Sabrina. And what my father said is true; half of these students haven’t watched a film prior to 1990. (I’ll let E.T. slide) Most students have never watched an Audrey Hepburn or even heard of Fellini’s work. I’m suddenly filled with a deep appreciation and mad respect for the way I was raised on classic films being a nighttime tradition. I’m even thankful for the John Wayne films.