by Paul Batters
Part Two continues with the wonderful, personal stories of how our featured writers came to discover and love classic film.
Blog: Maddy Loves Her Classic Films Twitter: @TimeForAFilm
I grew up in the 1990’s and was brought up on the animated Disney films such as Bambi and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. I was very into dance when I was little and my parents bought me the documentary That’s Dancing (1985). That introduced me to so many classic era actors and films. It especially got me interested in Fred and Ginger, The Nicholas Brothers, Gene Kelly and Eleanor Powell. I started to seek out many of their films as I grew up.
If I had to pick one film in particular that made me fall in love with this era of filmmaking, then it would have to be Top Hat. It was the first b&w film I saw and I loved everything about it – from the characters and the dancing, to the stunning sets and beautiful costumes. This girl was hooked! In my teens I discovered Alfred Hitchcock. His films made me a classic film fan for life. They were what first made me aware of the language of cinema and got me interested in how films were made. Rear Window was the first I saw and I remember eagerly returning to the Library every weekend to borrow more of his films.
Blog: CineMaven’s Essays From the Couch Twitter: @CineMava
I would need to go into some type of hydro~therapy, deep dark hypnosis to pull the memory of what film led me into loving classic films; and also to get into my past life as Cleopatra. My parents told me I used to run into the living room and stand in front of the tv set during commercials. Commercials, for heaven’s sake!! Were they bite-sized movies for the tiny Baby Boomer I was? It’s hard for me to say just what film set me on this path of being a classic movie buff. My mom took us to practically ev’ry Disney movie back in the 1950’s. American TV of the 60’s and 70’s threw away a lot of “old movies” and I was up all hours of the night trying to get my fill. Maybe seeing these films was a way to connect to my father and aunt with movies they grew up seeing on the big screen. For my 16th birthday my father gave me my first movie book: on Bogart films. Cinemabilia was a NYC book store I got lost in for hours. Classic films are just in my DNA.
Blog: Once Upon a Screen Twitter: @CitizenScreen
I arrived in the United States from Cuba at the age of five and immediately fell in love with movies. We were given a secondhand television set where one day I happened upon Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage. The unique point of view sequence at the onset of the movie fascinated me even then. I longed to see the face that peered out at the dark, grim world. I have loved film noir ever since. The only other genre that competes is the musical; it is what truly made my imagination soar. I remember vividly seeing On the Town and marvelling at the notion that my father had brought me to a place where people danced on the street. We lived in a crowded New York City apartment. I remember too wishing that my family were just like the Smiths in Meet Me in St. Louis. Alas, there are too many of those moments to recount, too many ways the movies made me who I am. It is to those days, when I knew no one outside my family, when those characters were as real as any person I had ever met, that I owe my love of movies.
Robert Short – Writer
Having been a fan of classic films for over fifty years now, I find it difficult to ascribe any specific movie as the pivotal film that inspired my love of the golden era of filmdom. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the decades in which I chiefly grew up, the cinematic offerings from the 1930’s and 1940’s were the general fodder of movie viewing on television; I undoubtedly saw many from a very young age. I can say with greater certainty that I had developed a conscious interest in “old movies”, a relative term, by the age of twelve or thirteen. Perhaps the interest grew organically; perhaps it was a moment of epiphany.
Again, while I cannot pinpoint any definitive “watershed” title, there is possibly one film of note which served as a cornerstone in my movie-watching career. “Juarez” marked my first “late show”, the late-night movies that I was finally permitted to watch after beginning high school in September 1969. A typically lavish production from Warner Bros., and another quality contribution from 1939, the film was immensely entertaining, albeit often historically inaccurate. Admittedly, the fact that “Juarez” was my introduction to the venerable institution of the late show, now gone by the wayside in the wake of our modern digital era, may seem very trivial and unimportant. However, the late show itself was once the chief means to watch classic films; through it my access to many wonderful movies was greatly expanded.
Blog: Old Hollywood Films Twitter: @oldhollywood21
My lifelong love of affair with classic movies began when I stumbled across director John Ford’s Western Stagecoach (1939) on PBS when I was in grade school. It soon became my favourite movie mostly because I wanted to be BFFs with Doc Boone played by Thomas Mitchell (I didn’t understand that what I thought was very funny behaviour was caused by alcohol), and I secretly wanted to be Andy Devine mostly because I thought driving a stagecoach seemed like a cool job. I’ve watched Stagecoach dozens of times since then, and while I’ve given up my ambition of being a stagecoach driver, I still find the film a rewarding experience all these years later. There are several reasons for this including the masterful plot, which Ford unfolds with clockwork precision, and the roster of great character actors. Most of all, I return to Stagecoach because of Ford. The gruff director despised being called an artist or even worse an auteur, but the truth is he was both. Ford’s fluid camera work makes Stagecoach poetry in motion, and he would return to the theme of one man’s quest for justice throughout his career.
Blog: Cinema Essentials Twitter: @CineEssentials
Although I grew up watching classic films, most were colour films from the 1950s and 1960s. If there was one film that overcame my childhood resistance to black and white, then it was Green for Danger. It’s a brilliant comedy-thriller that plays with the conventions of the murder mystery genre.
Alastair Sim plays an eccentric detective sent to investigate a series of suspicious deaths at a hospital, where he finds a range of suspects. Sim is unquestionably the star of the show, but there are many good supporting performances, from Trevor Howard, Sally Gray, Leo Genn, Megs Jenkins and Rosamund John.
The film was made by Sidney Gilliat, who co-wrote The Lady Vanishes and its spiritual successor Night Train to Munich. That gives you an idea of the sort of humour and playful tone of the film, which are mixed with a bit of tension and an intriguing mystery.
I first saw Green for Danger when I was 7 or 8. I’ve seen it numerous times since, but I usually forget who the murderer is, because it’s the performances and characterisations that make it irresistible. And the film is so entertaining anyway, that it doesn’t really matter if you remember the solution or not.
Blog: Down These Mean Streets
It’s hard to say exactly when, how and why I became a classic film fan. Neither my parents nor my grandparents were interested so I discovered them myself. I was probably around five and I assume some classic film came on TV and I was hooked. I loved history (still do) and somehow old movies were like a history lesson, a window into another world. Something just clicked. I wish I could remember what the first movie was that really left an impression on me, but I really can’t.
I’m so jealous of the people who had friends and family who also like classic films.
Unfortunately I had nobody I could share my love of classic films with. My friends weren’t interested either, everybody was just shaking their heads about my obsession.
Well thankfully nowadays we have the internet and yes, there are other people like me out there. I’m not a freak! Good to know. 🙂
Blog: The Old Hollywood Garden
I created The Old Hollywood Garden because I wanted to express my love for the classics. I wanted to make people want to watch them, and I wanted to share my undying fascination with Hollywood’s Golden Age with the world.
I became a classic movie buff after viewing my very first classic movie which was Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946). All the way back in 2007 when I was fifteen years old. I was flipping through the channels, and I stumbled upon it on an retrospective type of channel which shows old films and TV shows. Its black and white cinematography caught my attention straight-away and I put the remote down and watched it. I had no doubt in my mind this would be the start of something great for me and I couldn’t wait for it. I was barely half way through it and I already knew that I wanted to consume as many of these wonderful movies as possible. I was mesmerized by Rita Hayworth – who isn’t? – and I loved the love-hate relationship between Gilda and Johnny (Glenn Ford). It was hot. It was exciting. It was a masterclass in screen chemistry. Years later, I still think it’s the sexiest movie ever made.
I was drawn in by them mostly, but right from the start, I thought Gilda was so fascinating. Johnny’s voice-over narration in the beginning (‘To me, a dollar was a dollar in any language…’) was everything I’d imagined these things to be. Great lines, no non-sense attitude; straight-up cool. The plot was interesting enough – small-time gambler Johnny is hired by Ballin Mundson (George Macready) to work in his casino, not knowing Ballin’s wife is his ex-lover Gilda – and the performances were fantastic. Especially Rita Hayworth’s. Her most iconic role was also her greatest. A flawed character, multi-layered and yet mysterious. Confident and yet vulnerable. A sort of anti-heroine that no doubt paved the way for many female characters that followed it. It is still one of my favourite performances of all time and the reason I couldn’t take my eyes off Gilda the first time I saw it. A ‘femme fatale’, I later read. I was transfixed by this. Film noir was intriguing.
Years later, of course, I realised that Gilda isn’t quite a film noir (noir melodrama?) and Gilda isn’t really a femme fatale. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Looking back, Gilda was ahead of her time, in many ways. But back then, I just knew that this was endlessly fascinating. I had to watch more of these. So many more. I had to watch more stuff with Rita Hayworth in it. And Glenn Ford. I had to watch all of these films noirs. And the screwballs and the Pre-Codes. And the musicals! I had to watch all the Golden Age of Hollywood had to offer. Needless to say, I’ve been doing just that for twelve years and it has been absolutely blissful.
It’s been an absolute honour to share the memories and feelings that classic film fans have about the films that matter to them and the experience of discovering classic film. The beauty is that those feelings do not go away but grow and flourish, as the journey continues and as we all discover and re-discover the films we have come to love. But it is also a wonderful thing to connect with classic film fans from around the world and share those experiences.
It has been an honour to share these contributions and my personal thanks to all who have contributed.