Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My love affair with Old Movies

Its no secret that I am a huge fan of classic film. If you're a regular reader (which I'm sure there are maybe three of you), you'll remember my love letters to "Pre-Code" Hollywood and to the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck.

But this begs the question: Lauren, why on earth is someone your age obsessed with these crappy old movies?

First of all, if any of you ever have the word "crappy" and "old movies" in the same sentence I will cut you.
Secondly, this is a question that is not simply a "just because they're awesome" sort of answer. Don't worry, I won't make this a long drawn out least I'll try.

As with many of those who love old movies, my first one was The Wizard of Oz. I remember lusting after Dorthy's red slippers, and being more scared of those damn monkeys than the Wicked Witch. Following that was (and still is) one of my all time favourite horse movies: National Velvet. From there, my love of old movies sort of faded out for a while. If it wasn't Disney, then I most likely didn't watch it...sometimes that's still the case but I digress.
After my mom died I was seeking anything to help me escape, that need for escaping became more prevalent after I was molested. I yearned for some sort of way to get away...but without leaving my house. Books helped enormously but sometimes I needed more. I needed to see something; even my minds eye allowing myself to become so immersed within the pages of a novel that I could see, smell and feel what the character was feeling wasn't enough sometimes. I needed to be able to see the character's faces without closing my eyes. To see their plight and accompany them on this journey that they've chosen or are obligated to go on.

It started with Audrey, and ends with Stanwyck.

I first saw Breakfast at Tiffany's when I was about sixteen years old; I'll admit the only thing I found really awesome about it at the time was the fabulous wardrobe...I've been a fan of Hubert de Givenchy ever since. Around a year or so later...I pull out Tiffany's again and watch it with renewed appreciation. I see it through a very different set of eyes: I see a girl much like myself...someone I can identify with (minus being a call girl); I see Holly's pain, her longing to be loved but so terrified of it that she's convinced herself that she doesn't need it. A desire for wealth that is nearly insatiable because she grew up with nothing, and was most likely forced to marry a man much older than her so she could survive. Survive. Wasn't that what I felt like I was doing? I had what Oprah calls an "Aha" moment, a moment when you realize that this could be what you've been looking for: a means of escape. I set out on a quest to own every single Audrey Hepburn movie in existence.

Well maybe not EVERY single one...some of them are hella expensive because they're rare and hard to get so the people that have them feel justified in charging $49.99 for a DVD that probably cost about $15 to make. But I digress.

My renewed affection for Audrey expanded from Tiffany's to Tara. Yes boys and girls I"m talking of Gone with the Wind, now I know she'd kill me if I didn't credit my friend Lydia for introducing me to this wonderful movie; though I must admit...when I saw that it was in three VHS tapes I was a little bit unnerved to say the least. I hardly recognized the run time once the movie started, and it truly is a spectacular film.
From Tara we proceed to Princess Grace, that same week I was with Lydia she also made me...I mean suggested that we watch...Rear Window. To this day I firmly believe that next to Alan Arkin jumping out at Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark, the scene where Lisa goes into the murderers apartment is by far one of the scariest scenes ever. That movie introduced me to the beauty and elegance that is Grace Kelly and opened so many more doors on my journey through the many vaults of classic cinema. I began to discover many other wonderful figures of classic film: Gregory Peck, Greer Garson, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Peter O'Toole, Deborah Kerr, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Paul Newman, Norma Shearer, John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rita Hayworth.
Perhaps the film that really opened my eyes, and engraved the love and appreciation of classic film into my being was Rita Hayworth's best known film Gilda.

The movie itself is a little complicated for some, but not for me. I was sucked in from the moment Glenn Ford spoke his opening line to the very last scene. The tension and eroticism in this film is spectacular, they truly don't make them like they used to anymore. I mean if you just watch, every single movement that Rita Hayworth makes oozes with sexuality and everything that is essential to a femme fatale; Glenn Ford is brilliant as the masochistic and tormented Johnny Ferral...I just love everything about this movie. It is everything that a Noir should be. Don't worry, I'll be defining Film Noir in a later post...I know, y'all are just so excited.

From Rita, came other notable femme fatales: Bette Davis, Gene Tierney, Ava Gardner, and, my film icon, Barbara Stanwyck.

I discovered Hitchcock, Capra, Wyler, Ford, and Wilder; I fell even deeper into obsession with Judy and Barbra after seeing them in their most beloved films. I developed an insatiable thirst for knowledge about the films and their stars, and the time periods in which they were made.
I went so far as to see which actors had offspring that were still alive and if their offspring had offspring who happened to be male so I could marry them and be a part of Hollywood royalty and my offspring would have amazing genetics. To answer your question, no I'm not seeking help on this matter. We all have our dreams.

This thirst for knowledge made me the top partner at "Scene It?" parties and trivial pursuit. I also faced some criticism and eye rolling from those who didn't understand why I loved these films so much. I don't care, I know why I love them and now I'm sharing that with you.

I won't go into another shpeel on Missy as I've already posted an entire column on her, but I will reveal why she is one of the reasons my love for classic film will stay with me for...well forever.

Many of you know my first Stany movie was The Lady Eve, those of you who haven't seen it or have only heard me talk about it must see it if we are to remain friends. It's an absolutely charming, funny and romantic movie; I can't think of any reason why anyone who likes going to movies wouldn't enjoy this film. It's a wonderful feel-good film, the kind you put in after a bad day and need a laugh or a warm fuzzy feeling. Barbara Stanwyck's performance in her work was never anything less than perfection. I don't think I can say that about any other actress from the past or today, not even the one's I respect. She gave everything she had to every character she played, and every movie I've seen her in I've always been enthralled by her performance even if the movie itself completely sucked. Barbara Stanwyck brings life to a character and vitality to any movie she was ever in.

In a nutshell, I suppose the short answer to why I love old movies so much is because they transport me to a time where things were just a little more elegant: the men were a tad more chivalrous, the women were classy (even if we didn't have many rights, we still looked damn good), and the movies were all about storytelling and less about special effects. The film focused on the story, its characters and the environment in which it was set; the results were very human stories with very human emotions. There were no flying blue things, or mechanical robots that shoot lazers and transformed into a turbo jet; it was just good, honest film making where the director worked with what he had and the actors had good worth ethic.

These films take me away for a while, they, much like the theatre, allow me to escape my world and everything in it; for two, three even four hours I can go on a journey and forget for a little while. I think we all could use a vacation from our lives once and a while, and its much easier to do than you think: All that's required is a DVD, maybe some popcorn, comfy clothes, and your imagination.

My request of you dear reader is if you've never seen a film like the one's I've mentioned, is to just give it a chance. I can almost guarantee that there is at least one that you will treasure and love for years to come. If you can't think of any or are unsure as to what you may like, well I'm more than willing to offer suggestions.