I’ve been watching old movies lately. I’m not sure why, but I am sure the "why" part of it doesn't really matter all that much. My guess is it's simply because I've now seen pretty much every post-1970 movie made - at least the ones stocked on the Plaza Library bookshelves. My "no-TV" rule has given way to a substitute visual fix –the DVD, both movies and television series. Still, watching television was one thing. Popping a DVD into my laptop is another. At least with a DVD, it’s a more finite process; a beginning and an ending. With TV, it was a perpetual kind of thing. It was on in my apartment in the city - all the time. My breaking point? As much as I love following politics and government affairs, I simply grew weary of the screaming and constant ranting. To me, that's not a productive approach to inducing change. It's not very, how can it put it? Enrolling. As much as I liked watching Chris Matthews and The McLaughlin Group, it was time to close down the shop.
So with my more modern day movie supply exhausted, it was time to enter a new phase: the black and white era.
One example, "Adam's Rib" - I just watched it last night; a cute flick with Tracy and Hepburn. The more I see those two together in films, the more I love them.
A few weeks ago, I watched a film called "Advise & Consent" - starring Henry Fonda, Don Murray, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Walter Pigeon, Jean Tierney and quite the performance by Charles Laughton. This was a great film.
Sticking with the Fonda theme, when I saw both the old and new versions of "12 Angry Men," on the shelf, I knew immediately which one my hand would reach for. That original cast (Can you name all those actors in this photo?) ... I think this might be one of my all-time favorite films, right along side "To Kill A Mockingbird." Well ... for me, that movie has a unique place in my heart and I'm saving it for a special day. I often see it on the shelf, but haven't acted on the urge yet.
Again, with Henry Fonda - "The Grapes of Wrath." You know, with all of the folks I've been interviewing, and all the stories they share about the Great Depression - when I watched this film again, it was like a whole new experience for me. Back in April, 2007, I interviewed a woman named Hazel McCrary, from Stillwater, Oklahoma. Hazel told me all kinds of stories about the Dust Bowl and how her family lived through that period.
"Well, we just existed, literally existed on, you know ... very little. We had some cattle, we had cows so we had milk. And we had chickens. We all worked as much as we could. My daddy sold his wheat for 5¢ a bushel, haulin’ it to Canadian, Texas (smiling), sellin’ it for 5¢ a bushel. You know, so you just didn’t make any money and then the dust blew in (motioning with arms) til’ the fence rose. It’d just cover over it, it’d be just like a little ridge. You’d just go up, you wouldn’t even know there’s a fence there because the tumbleweeds would gather on that fence and then that would start blocking the sand. And the dust just built up, built up (raising hands far above her head, showing me). It was unbelievable … "
Hazel talked with me about the dust and hardship and how the concept of scarcity has stuck with her all of her life, even to this day. We sat together in the hallway of the yoga studio and as I listened, I couldn't help but think about the John Steinbeck novel and the images he described. I mentioned the book to Hazel and she told me "It was like that. Pretty accurate, yes." So when I took out the movie a few weeks back, my brain already loaded up with these stories from people who lived the experience first-hand ... Talk about a different way to watch a movie.
TV-Lite: For now - just two words. "Perry Mason." For those of you who remember the show, close your eyes for a second. Think about the opening; those first few theme song notes. Now, I ask you, is there anything more stirring than that instrumental opening? That steady piano line; the heavy brass. Okay, so some of the episodes were funny to me and watching the court procedure was also … well … I smiled, sometimes even laughed out loud at some of the things unfolding on my screen. Being a lawyer and having seen a number of trials in my life, I have to say, I have yet to see a witness break down on the stand like they do in a Perry Mason courtroom ... on every single show!! I understand it was a formula for the times and, it clearly worked. And then, Raymond Burr – talk about one-of-a-kind. Add some Della Street (Barbara Hale) and Paul Drake (William Hopper), the white haired, playboy-like PI who always seemed to be wearing some kind of white suit, like the "Man from Glad" ... Of course, there was good ole' reliable Hamilton Burger, Mason’s prosecutor nemesis. Two things about Mr. Burger: (1) Did he ever get a conviction in his fictional life? And (2) Was his name the product of some kind of writing-session practical joke? (Ham – Burger?)
The good news: There are tons of titles, especially old TV shows, I have yet to see again, so the horizon is vast on that front. I think it may be time for some more lighthearted stuff, to soothe the soul at bedtime. Shows like "Dick Van Dyke" and "I Dream of Jeannie" will work just fine, I'm sure. I see those particular DVD boxes on the shelves and, if I listen carefully, I think I hear them calling out my name. The bad news: Well, it's not actually bad news. The fact is I simply have to curb the urge. "Everything in moderation. Everything in moderation. What applies to food, applies to DVD's. That's the ticket.