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As I often do in the evenings, I was flipping through a
magazine and absent-mindedly channel surfing. I was looking for anything of interest to half-heartedly
watch as I sipped my chamomile tea before bed. Most of the time, I don’t have two full hours to devote to
movie watching anymore. Half an
hour before bed is about all I can handle before my lids start to droop, but I
used to watch movies like they were going out of style.
My obsession with film began when I was in the sixth grade. Actually, it might have begun much
earlier than that when I first saw “The Wizard of Oz,” which was, hands down,
the greatest thing I’d ever seen at the age of four. It captured my imagination like nothing else ever had, and I
promptly became obsessed. However,
unlike children of today, I had to wait patiently for my movie to come on once
a year. CBS owned the rights back
in the 70’s and 80’s, and once a year, we would make plans to be home at 7:30
so my mother could begin tweaking the aluminum foil on the rabbit ears. We got two channels really well, ABC
and NBC, but CBS took some work, and more often than not, it was slightly green
with a wave through the middle.
Still, I had to see “The Wizard of Oz,” and poor reception was not going
to stop me.
My movie obsession took on close to abnormal proportions by
the time I reached middle school.
By then, I had been introduced to “Gone With the Wind” and had read any
and all biographies, autobiographies, and historical accounts of the making of
that movie that were available at the East Asheville Branch of the Public
Library. I knew everything there
was to know about every actor in that film and even those who had auditioned,
but for various reasons, had been turned away. I knew all there was to know about David O.Selznick and his
battles with the bigger studios, I knew about the controversy surrounding the
two directors, George Cukor, who was the original director, and Victor Fleming,
who finished the film, and coincidentally, wrapped up “The Wizard of Oz” that
And because of “Gone With the Wind,” I developed an unusual
love for all old movies, unusual at least for a 13 year-old girl. By that time, we had added a fourth
television channel to our viewing area, channel 21, which specialized in
classic movies. Each Saturday
morning at 10:00, there was something called “Critic’s Choice”, so instead of
Superheroes and Smurfs, I was watching Humphrey Bogart in “The Treasure of the
Sierra Madre” or Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.” On Sundays, the film fest began at 12:00 with a comedy,
usually an Abbott and Costello or Ma and Pa Kettle feature. Then, at 2:00 and 4:00, there would be
two back to back classics. You can
imagine how my father and I spent our Sundays. Church could not go over either because Bud and Lou were
waiting. On weeknights, at 8:00,
there was always a classic movie.
Each week focused on one star in particular. For instance, one week might feature William Holden, and for
five nights, I watched things like “Sabrina” and “Sunset Boulevard”. And the topper was the middle of the
night features. This was sometimes
a bummer, mostly because I had to go to school, but weekends and snow days and
summer vacation were awesome because I routinely set my alarm for 1:55 a.m. and
dragged into the living room with a blanket and pillow and watched a back to
back double-feature. There have
been many mornings that I have watched the flag flying and stood at attention
while the “Star Spangled Banner” played before the channel turned to snow, the
sun came up, and I dragged myself back to bed for a few hours of sleep.
I tell you all this to point out one thing: I really love
old movies, yet I can’t remember the last time I sat through an entire film and
just let myself sink into the moment of it, to be completely absorbed by the
characters and the story. As I
flipped through the channels the other night, I happened across an image of
Gene Kelly in his crisp white pants and perfectly shined shoes, tapping across
the top of a baby grand piano. I
put the remote down and watched, for the first time in years, “An American in
Paris.” It was awesome. I guess I had forgotten just how much I
really do love those great old films, art in every sense of the word.
It got me to thinking about my favorites, a list that could
not possibly be narrowed down to a top five or ten or possibly even 100, but
just for fun, I’m listing my top ten for this moment, because in truth, this
list might change depending on the day.
*Let’s just go ahead and say that “The Wizard of Oz” and
“Gone With the Wind” are givens.
1. The Dirty Dozen: This is my favorite war movie. How can you beat the premise? Twelve hardened criminals on death row,
most of them total psychos, who are given the chance at freedom if they can
train for and complete a nearly impossible mission to kill as many German
officers as possible. It gives new
meaning to the term “hero”.
2. The Godfather:
This one is film art for various reasons, not the least of which is the fact
that we fall in love with, feel compassion for and are rooting for ruthless
killers. The best part of the film
is when Michael Corleone comes out of the bathroom and kills the police chief
and drops the gun. It’s the
turning point of the movie, and most networks screw it up completely by putting
a commercial break in at this point.
Avoid this on TV for that reason and rent it instead. I don’t want the point where Al Pacino
relinquishes his chances at ever going the straight and narrow completely
interrupted by a Geico commercial.
3. True Grit: Really, you can substitute just about
any John Wayne film in here, but I’ll include this one just because it’s his
signature role, and because of dialogue like:
“I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned or see you hanged in
Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience.
Which’ll it be?”
“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”
“Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”
4. Cool Hand Luke: Paul Newman—need I say more? “What we’ve got here—is—a failure—to
5. When Harry Met Sally: I watch this at
least once a year. It’s just such
a funny, feel good movie, and those are nice sometimes. “I sneak over to her willage…”
6. The Color Purple: This one rips my
heart out multiple times, it is achingly beautiful, and good triumphs in the
end—it’s my favorite kind of film.
7. Braveheart: Obviously, Mel Gibson is in a kilt so this must be on my
list, but I also like the never give up, fight until the end, do what is right
mentality; again, these are the kinds of films I tend to really love.
8. And speaking
of, there’s also 300: This is one Rob assumed I would hate,
but despite its really strange qualities, I loved the philosophy (well, all but
the throwing “defective” babies into ravines part). “Spartan! Come
back with your shield, or on it.”
9. It’s a Wonderful Life: The BEST
Christmas movie ever with White Christmas as a close second. Still, this is my favorite. “To my big brother George, the richest
man in town.”
10. To Kill a Mockingbird: Based on my favorite book of all time,
it is a coming of age story for both a child and a nation. My Lord, to write something like that…
well, it just takes my breath away.
And the movie is nearly as good as the book. Gregory Peck is awesome, as always, and those kids are dead
on. I can’t wait until Harper Lee
is old enough to watch this one with me.
You’ll notice that I also love to quote movies… A LOT. Sometimes, nerd roots run deep. But it’s fun to think about some of my
old passions, things that I found great enjoyment and pleasure in. Obviously, some of those things change
with time, but often, those old hobbies or interests are still there; we just
haven’t tapped into them for a while for whatever reason.
Journal Topic: What are some of the things you used to do that you
really enjoyed? Why haven’t you
done them lately? What are some
that, if you had the time, you might like to try again? Think about taking an hour or an
afternoon to do what you used to love—just for fun. You might surprise yourself.