One of the things that saddens me is seeing people refusing to watch a film on the simple basis of its age. After all, wine gets better with age. Cannot certain movies be the same way? What does it matter if something is dated? Why should that be a detriment when it can be part of its charm? Why is it that some people, starting at an early age, refuse to give older films a chance?
I never was like that. I got lucky.
Back in 1998, we’d just moved out of Biloxi and to a little town called Dayton Ohio. It was our first year out of the south and back in the snow. Things were a little stressful for me then, so one night my mother decided to surprise me. She said she was going to show me something that would make me laugh. It was a group of men called the Marx Brothers, and she was going to let me watch some of their movies.
The first one was called Duck Soup. Grandma and Grandpa came to join us, the lights went down and the movie began. Then I started laughing and never stopped. Not for almost 20 years. It introduced me to a kind of comedy I had not seen before, killed my initial aversion to black and white films, and became a favorite to show curious friends.
This film remains my favorite comedy to this day, and I first watched it at the tender age of 10 before I knew anything about film as an art for or a cultural phenomenon. A 10 year old boy fell in love with a movie from the 1930s. How does that happen? Well, I’ll tell you how.
Many have had that conversation where you try to show something to a friend that you know they’ll love, but they refuse to watch it because it’s black and white, or it’s from a self applied cut off age. I even met one guy who refused to watch movies that weren’t shot on digital. Me? I always looked forward to those nights in front of the television, wondering what images would grace it next. It never bothered me that some of the movies seemed different.
Now, Duck Soup was not the first so called ‘old movie’ I’d seen. My mother was busy trying to take care of two kids by herself, so she couldn’t take us out to the theater as much as most kids. So instead of seeing new movies, we would spend our evenings in front of the TV watching films from the 60s, 70s and 80s, sometimes on AMC, sometimes on the Disney Channel.
They were fun social events of popcorn and bad microwave TV dinners, but always interesting movies. Interesting because something was just, well, different about them.
All the movies just sort of looked different, each had their own special character, and some seemed to be part of the same family. At the time it didn’t occur to me that these things had to be made or that they came from specific eras that all had a certain aesthetic. Seeing one of those unique looks on a film didn’t turn me off, however. Rather, I knew about what to expect from it.
I was exposed to these films at an early age, and with regularity. If any of you want to give your kids a chance to enjoy these kids of films, that’s the way to do it. Start with something that can grab them, a good monster movie like Creature From the Black Lagoon, or an action film like Gunga Din, or a fast paced comedy like the aforementioned Duck Soup. Above all else, don’t be cynical. Aversion to so called dated material is a learned behavior, and it’s learned when someone is told it doesn’t matter.
You need not say it with words. Not showing them sends the message loud and clear. Film, like any other art form, needs to be seen to be appreciated, so if these films are confined to vaults to forever remained unwatched, a proud legacy of art will be lost. This will inevitably happen to film. In due time, perhaps in a few centuries, another art form will take its place and soon some of our favorites will be adapted into a new kind of art, much like how books were first adapted into films.
Though this is inevitable, we shouldn’t be in any great hurry.
Exposing children to many different types of films is like exposing children to other languages. It’s earlier for the developing brain to learn complex languages, and film has a language all its own. With early experience, they can become fluent. I was blessed to learn there really is no such thing as an old movie, book or video game, just a movie you haven’t seen, a book you haven’t read, and a game you never played.