Don’t tell me about how the good old days were better than now. I’m not a subscriber to the notion that our country is going to pot, the world is screwed up because kids have no respect for their elders anymore and they’re not smacked around enough, and everything was better 30 years ago. Food did not taste better, children were not happier, and life was not better with us all sitting on rocking chairs on our front porches on Sunday afternoons because the stores were all closed and the mall wasn’t invented yet. In the “good old days” the divorce rate was lower because people were trapped in crappy marriages, African Americans lived in crappy neighborhoods and their daughters never won the spelling bee, and those groceries that you bought for a few dollars were full of trans-fat and Red Dye #2 that killed you.
And for sure, movies were not better.
I know I’m going to get all kinds of flak for saying that. Humphrey Bogart fans will be screaming bloody murder, claiming they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. No, they don’t. They make them better.
I love to watch old movies, but not because of their cinematic excellence. I watch them because they remind me of the “good old days,” when my mom would forget I was still up and I would sit very quietly and still in front of the TV and watch late movies. This is how I managed to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s before I was equipped to understand what Holly Golightly did for a living. I just found out last year. Holly, you had it all - sexy beehive bubble, stunning figure in those sleeveless dresses, the mod apartment . . . why’d you have to go whore it all up?
I saw Madame X, a movie which burned itself into my brain in such a way that I can remember every breathtaking and tear-jerking scene. I often get it mixed up with real life events and for a long time was convinced that Lana Turner’s boyfriend in real life died by falling down a set of stairs, her scarf on the bannister.
And I saw Backstreet and thought that John Gavin was just about the best looking, most talented actor on the face of the earth. That guy is going places.
When you’re young and the most exciting thing that’s happened to you is that someone got stung by a bee on the playground three weeks ago, those old movies with the women in hats, shoulder pads and platform shoes, smoking cigarettes, having affairs, and accidentally murdering people were just the ultimate.
Because I had nothing better to compare them to, I remember them as really great movies, with great acting and beautiful videography. I stopped re-watching them, because they seem pathetic now. There isn’t an old movie out there that couldn’t be improved upon, if DeNiro or Denzel got a hold of it.
I’ve made a fool of myself gushing about some old movie and how fantastic it was. My kids are wary because they’ve been burned before.
“You guys have to see Psycho,” I told them a few months ago.
“When did you last see it?” They were extremely skeptical.
“Not for a long time, but I’m telling you, it’s a classic. It’s scary and always will be.”
My son wanted to see it because it was filmed in Phoenix and he wanted to see if he could recognize any of the old buildings downtown. So he was in. My daughter had heard me rave about it for so long, plus she had seen some Hitchcock movies and believed that this Psycho thing might just be worth sitting through something in black and white. So she and her boyfriend, my son and I all sat down one night to watch the greatest Hitchcock classic of all time.
“Oh my god, you guys, wait ‘til you see this,” I said. “It’s so scary. Sooooo scary.” I was actually doing a lot of talking, since the first part of the movie is mostly long scenes of people walking from building to building in Phoenix . . . Janet Leigh behind the wheel of her car . . . scenery . . . more walking around . . . more worried driving . . .
My insistence that the movie was so scary was the only thing keeping us awake. When there was some occasional dialogue, the kids made fun of the accents. “Where are they supposed to be from?” someone asked. “Boston? England? Argentina? Where do people say dahling?” In old movies, that’s where.
“Just wait, though, it gets really good,” I kept telling them.
Twenty minutes later: “It seems slow now, but it gets very scary. Believe me. Very scary.”
Ten minutes later: “OK, that there was the scene that I was referring to as the scariest, but wait until you see how the story unfolds. Scary.”
As the credits rolled and the boyfriend headed for the door, my son removed the DVD, and my daughter blinked and rubbed her eyes, no one said anything.
“Okay, I know it didn’t seem that scary, but remember what we had to work with,” I said. “When this movie was made, no one had ever thought of a guy who dresses up like a woman, kills people, and has conversations with his dead mom. We didn’t know anything about mommy issues, mental illness, or cross dressing. This was brilliant!”
Later it was suggested that in the hands of Sean Penn, this could be a blockbuster.
Labels: Alfred Hitchcock, Backstreet, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly, Lana Turner, Madame X, old movies, Psycho