Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Walt sent me.

It's happened again.

On Sunday, I had one of those 4 hour shifts at work, 7 to 11 am. After getting home, I started falling asleep. That seemed preferable to getting all sulky over whatever came to mind. I was feeling kinda pissy that I was probably going to miss the Academy Awards, not that that is a big loss these days, ya know?  The mystique is long gone, that era passed. But it's fun to watch and bitch, dabble in occasional ridicule, try not to fall victim to the stupefy spell, that sort of thing. I'm not invested in it anymore; these last 15 years or so I don't even go to the movies much, it's too costly.  This year, the only movie with a nomination I'd seen was the last Harry Potter.

And then something possessed me. I decided to go to a matinee. Even then it's 6 bucks. But I really wanted to see The Artist. A silent movie. In black and white. That's how my movie obsession started. A silent move. In black and white.

Every now and then, for family birthdays, vacations, Christmas, my father would get out his 8mm Bell and Howell camera and take home movies. After a minute and a half, you had to stop and go into a dark room, open the camera's side door, and turn the film over and expose the other side. You'd send it off to the lab and a few weeks later (after expectantly going to the post office every day hoping for that "you have a package" slip to be in your mailbox) you'd get back a 3 minute home movie. In color.
You'd get out the projector, pull out the screen and watch the family stare or wave at the camera. Indoor scenes were a hoot - you had to have special lights. Ah, I'll go into all that some other time. What's important is that every now and again my father would, after much imploring, get out an old silent movie he had. It was called Gymnasium Jim. It starred a comic named Billy Bevan, and the Keystone Cops were in it. And I loved it. I still have it. There is this one scene, in which Bevan, in need of a car, enters a teeny tiny shed which is attached to a lamppost. The door swings open and he drives out in this -huge- car. I always smile or laugh. It's magic. It's the movies.

My Dad also had a few 16mm silent movies, and an old 16mm silent projector. There were a couple of newsreels, and a couple of Mickey Mouse cartoons: Orphans Benefit, and Mickey's Service Station.

I was hooked. I later found out that both were sound cartoons, and abridged. But that didn't bother me (then). Heck, the first 8mm movie I can remember buying was a 3 minute Castle abridgment of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; as a home movie it was silent. And black and white. Sometimes, the local tv channels would show a Charlie Chaplin short, or run an episode of - was it really called "Fractured Flickers"? A compendium of silent comedies, everything was cut, and the clips had a hokey narration added. I wanted more. I started collecting my own 8mm prints purchased mail order from companies with exotic names like "Blackhawk Films" of Davenport Iowa, wherever that was. I'd found them somehow, probably an ad in the back pages of an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

One day, I spent my savings on a feature film, Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. It was just about the last silent film made (it had a music soundtrack when it was released in theaters). I ordered it from a guy in Argentina who made 8mm prints of silent movies that weren't really legally available in the United States. I'd never seen it. I'd read about it in a book about silent movies written by a guy named Joe Franklin. But I took a chance. It turned out to be truly great, and one of my favorite movies of all time.

There was even a film collector's newspaper, The Big Reel. Then, a  number of 8mm movie and 16mm film collectors, concerned about the lack of film preservation, started a group called the Cinephiles. They began lobbying to save old movies and newsreels. In my memory, the National Film Institute was created as a direct result. 

As the years started adding up, I branched out into 16mm, and started on 35mm. After a decade in bookstores, I ended up working in film distribution for an insanely wonderful and often economically disastrous 20 years or so. And I've been thru Beta, VHS, Laser Disc and DVDs. I still prefer film. After the jobs in distribution faded away, I somehow ended up here, in a small town in Vermont, now working as a supermarket cashier at the age of 61, in an economy where I can't even keep my cable connected. Damned economy. Damned downsizing. Damned movies.

So, anyway, Sunday, feeling fairly burnt out on life, I went to a matinee to see what became this year's Best Movie Oscar winner:

It was silent.
And in black and white.
And, God damn it, I fell in love with the movies again.

1 comment:

Austan said...

That's how love is, it may ebb and even go away altogether. But when it's really love, it comes back. Good for you.