I grew up in the 80s and 90s, but my media education was heavy on the 50s and 60s. Sure, we managed to get a little contemporary Magnum P.I. and Family Ties in here and there, but I was just as familiar with Cary Grant’s high-waisted pants as I was with Tom Selleck’s high-thighed shorts. Many idyllic summer days were filled with episodes of Flipper and The Rockford Files. Saturday nights were spent watching movies that were heavy on Audrey Hepburn and light on the Kim Basinger.
Unfortunately, there was a one hour/day TV limit during summers in the Bell (Himmler) home, and our mom was pretty diligent in enforcing this rule. This rule still applied when my mom went to Ogden every Wednesday to be with my sick grandma, and we didn’t technically break it by watching more than an hour of TV on those days. We just sort of hung out in the family room with the TV on all day. Like playing with an old, talkative friend, which we were allowed to do. No harm in that.
Now, we all know that as an adult it’s considered hip in some circles to subtly make it known that you like old movies—even better if you call them “films”. It’s like saying you “dig” Russian literature. But when you’re a kid, telling your friends that you can’t go see Total Recall because your dad rented Roman Holiday for you to watch with your parents and little sister is a real conversation stopper. Admissions like these invite an endless stream of great jokes about your family being Amish, pioneers, Amish pioneers, or the Von Trapps (actually, your friends didn’t know the Von Trapps by name, but referred to them as the “gay family in that singing movie”). Cool kids weren’t into any movie that was black and white, had subtitles, or didn’t have a character whose visage could be seen on a Burger King soda cup
I expected this would change for me when I got married, but when I told my wife I liked old movies and TV, she asked, “Like from the 80s?” Then when she told her younger brother that I like old movies—in the same tone you would tell a person that another person collects Japanese Star Trek stamps—he queried, “Like Bladerunner?” And you know what? I have to admit that there were times when even my faith was shaken. Upon first glance, The Elephant Man just didn’t seem to have the sex appeal of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And any additional glances yielded the same conclusion. Forgive me, Mother.
But now that we’re all older, I can talk about how much I still love these old flicks. I love the storied old actors, I love the over-the-top-romantic orchestra music, and I love the strange, highly unnatural kissing. That kind of kissing would break the necks of these soft womenfolk we have today. You need to understand, this older generation of women were from the farm and coal mines, and they were built to survive those collide-and-hold kissing scenes, and recover fairly quickly afterward. Granted, their underthings were also made of protective whalebone and pig-iron, but the point is, they held up under it all.
A lot has changed in the last fifty years of cinema. These days actors don’t do those weird, long, dramatic pauses (watch To Catch a Thief or Streetcar Named Desire). And actresses don’t whisper everything they say (see any Grace Kelly or Marylin Monroe movie). Nor do they always look as if they are on the verge of dying or melting out of fragility and the intense admiration they feel for their man (although we could use a bit more of that around this house).
So, yes, much is different. But much is the same. You might say Pitt is the new Redford, Johansson the new West, Buscemi the new Elam, and Cage the new Knotts.
So here’s to the good old days. Here’s to the time when men were men and women knew it.