Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Do You Watch All Those Dumb Old Movies?

The question that is the title of this post has been asked of me numerous times. It is usually followed by something like "Aren't you too young to get into that stuff?"

First of all, the idea that age, or economic background, or social status, precludes you from involving yourself in a certain activity is ridiculous. If you think that idea is true, then there's a whole bunch of stuff you're going to be missing out on in life.

Yeah, most of the movies I enjoy were made before I was born. So what? Most of the greatest books ever written were created hundreds of years ago. Does that mean that they cannot be enjoyed by new generations? Same thing with movies.

When I was a wee little kid, in the late 1970s, there wasn't any cable or satellite TV. You had a few local stations, and a couple independent ones that you might be able to pick up. Living in South Bend, Indiana, my family was able to get a few Chicago stations, including WGN and WFLD.

Back in those days, all the TV stations, even the network affiliates, would run old movies. So even as a little kid I was exposed to them. If you got a chance to stay up late at night, about the only thing that was on was--old movies.

One of the South Bend channels, Channel 46, ran Three Stooges, Our Gang, and Laurel & Hardy shorts every afternoon. Because of this I was exposed to classic film comedy at a very early age--and I'm thankful for it. I saw plenty of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd when I was a kid.

Of course WFLD 32 out of Chicago was the home of Svengoolie, where I saw just about every classic horror film for the first time. Channel 32 showed tons of classic films, as did Channel 9. I watched them not because I was supposed to--I watched them because they genuinely interested me. I don't think young people get that type of exposure to classic film today. Yes, there's Turner Classic Movies--but because TCM is branded as "the old movie channel" I have a feeling a lot of people may avoid it.

In today's world, you have cable, satellite, dish, etc. You have hundreds and hundreds of channels--and choices. You also have the internet, YouTube, Redbox, Netflix...if you want to see a certain movie, you are now just about able to access it instantly. And with Amazon and ebay and dozens of other sites, you can order just about any movie you want on home video.

All that stuff is great, especially for a film buff like me. But all these choices makes it easier for someone to miss out on a lot of material. We are now our own network programmers. If you want to sit around and do nothing but watch THE WALKING DEAD 24 hours a day, you can do that. There's nothing wrong with have your own choices in entertainment. But it's kind of like ice cream--wouldn't you get kind of bored eating it every single meal?

One of the cool things about being a kid was those times when you were able to stay up late. It seemed like whenever I did, I was always watching some old movie I had never heard of before. The element of discovery is a wonderful thing. Those nights of staying up and being introduced to a great film, or a great actor or actress--those experiences stay with you forever. That's how I developed my love of classic cinema. It wasn't through a class, or through somebody telling me "Watch this!" I kind of feel jealous when someone mentions that they are going to see a great movie for the first time, because there's no other feeling like it.

I honestly don't know if kids feel the way that I did whenever they watch films. We are so inundated with media that I think most people take entertainment for granted. I think that's one of the reasons why today's entertainment, in my opinion, is so underwhelming. What amazes me the most about all those "old movies" is the fact that so many of them were made under so many restrictions. They couldn't show certain things, they couldn't cover certain subjects, they couldn't use certain language, they couldn't address certain issues--yet those "old movies" are far more meaningful to me than the movies I'm "supposed" to watch.

The makers of classic films were literally put into a box--and yet they made movies which stand the test of time. The makers of today's films can do literally anything--yet their work winds up forgotten just about five minutes after you've watched it. (I'm not advocating censorship, by the way...I'm just making a point.)

So I'm always going to love all those dumb old movies. Am I weird? I've been called that plenty of times, and far worse things as well. One thing I do know....I'm never going to change, not for anyone or anything.


  1. Hi, Dan, I got to your blog via your GAOH link. I can definitely relate to what you are saying, as I am often questioned as to why I am "so wild about black and white movies and dead men."

    I try to explain that because there weren't spectacular special effects, the stars back then had to carry a film with their acting and charisma. People just don't get it, though. They usually say something to the effect of "whatever."

    And I'll admit it, I'm a fan of the "code era." I like the fact that gratuitous sex scenes, nudity, and swearing didn't fill the screen.

  2. Nice blog Dan. I, like you, grew up in the 60s and 70s and it was through local TV channels that I was exposed to so many classic films. My brother and I would stay up late on Friday night and watch our local horror host Mr. Mephisto on Lenny's Inferno. Lenny was the local audio/video superstore owner and Crazy TV Lenny sponsored the show. That's where I was first exposed to the classic Universal horror films and B sci-fi films etc. On Saturday's one of the local TV channels had Mystery theater that showed the Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes films and I still love those to this day. On Sunday's there was Adventure theater where I saw almost every Tarzan film ever made to that point and also all the Jungle Jim films, as well as many Westerns.

    I truly miss those kind of TV stations and have fond memories of lazying around and watching all those old movies. Thankfully many of these films are available for us to watch on DVD but I do miss the crazy antics of the late night horror hosts.


  3. Dan, I'd say you hit the nail on the head.

  4. Ah, the good old days when we saw movies as they were meant to be seen - late at night with commercials. Those of us whose love for classic films was fostered through local television channels are richer for the experience. Insightful post.

  5. We got asked that question all the time too. And ever since my sister and I started our vintage movie photo business whenever we are asked "What do you do for a living?" it winds up with a conversation on classic film. Some think it's fascinating that we like "old" movies, and others just look in wonder. I'm most amazed at the fact that so little people realize just how POPULAR classic films are. Have they never visited a site like Amazon and seen just how many dvds are made of classic films? Hmm....I for one can't live without them! My favorite memories are all indelibly linked with classic films. So hail to another movie buff! Thanks for this spot-on post.