Like millions of Americans, I watch A Christmas Story once a year. But it wasnʼt until today that I realized that when Ralph fantasizes about being Red Ryder, heʼs defending his home from a gang of mimes.
I donʼt think I could ever date a movie starlet. Movie stars are people who make their living pretending to be things they are not. How could you ever really trust someone who is a professional liar?
Not that I was ever in danger of being wooed by an actress. Still, lying seems endemic to the entire social, moral, and monetary economy of Hollywood. Take, for instance, this movie poster for the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon.
It features a pair of disembodied Bogart hands, each paw with a pistol, furiously filling imaginary bad guys with lead. The testosterone-tantalizing tag line reads, “A story as explosive as his blazing automatics!”
Except, that at no time in the movie does Bogart shoot any bad guys. The closest he gets to violence is backhanding a dandy half his size. His character even makes a point of it in the movie:
So why did the movie studio so conspicuously add non-existent gun battles to this movie? After viewing many dozens of 1940ʼs and 1950ʼs movies and their associated posters, my inexpert opinion is that it was to get men to agree to take their female companions to see the pictures.
Bogartʼs lady fans were more than ready to consume whatever tale he told on celluloid, no matter what the actual story. But getting the men to go along required a little extra push. You can also see this in the titles and artwork of other films of the era that use cheesecake imagery and vaguely-naughty titles that have little to do with the actual content of the films.
Itʼs for this reason that when presented with an old movie, itʼs important not to judge the film by its poster. The two may be only distantly related.
The louder Hollywood features get, the more explosions movie makers cram into two hours, the more over-saturated and contrast-y they become, the more I find myself watching old black-and-white movies.
I have little affinity for the current line of major motion pictures. I think itʼs because everything is handed to the viewer on a platter. Did this character have a bad childhood? Yes, hereʼs a flashback tinted blue and out of focus. Did this character get hurt? Yes, hereʼs pictures of the sucking chest wound. Did these characters have sex? Yes, here they are getting it on.
It seems like all of the budget in big budget films is spent on big budget special effects. I know that as a movie-goer, Iʼm supposed to invoke my “willful suspension of disbelief.” But even the James Bond films have gotten so over-the-top unrealistic that Iʼve stopped watching.
I think part of the draw of the lo-fi cinema is similar to the draw of books.
Books, almost universally, are better than the films that they give birth to. The focus in books, naturally, is the writing. Your mind is engaged to fill in the vividness of the scenes, the sounds of the voices, and the smells of the environment.
Likewise, though to a lesser degree, black-and-white films call upon your mind to fill in the missing color. And because of the era in which they were created, the special effects are minimal to none, the locations are largely interiors rather than exotic, and the sex is implied rather than broadcast.
Engaging a personʼs brain to bridge gaps in content is something that brains seem to enjoy. Itʼs the basis of such elemental human experiences as faith, hope, and the lottery. There would be no doomscrolling of social media if it wasnʼt for the human brain yearning for a little something more. A little more engagement with the content flickering by underthumb. A little hope that the next finger flick might bring joy.
Like books, old films focus on the writing, because they live and die by the dialogue, and not the explosions. It wasnʼt until giant grasshoppers eating Chicago became a regular occurrence that film-makers figured out that they could replace expensive writing with cheap special effects. The normalization of money-over-quality is how we got to the hyper-optimized theater-going experiences we have today. Just like de-valuing writing is how we ended up with reality television.
I didnʼt used to like black-and-white movies. And I used to refuse to watch anything with subtitles. But as Iʼve found that the Hollywood of today isnʼt interested in customers like me, Iʼm learning that the Hollywood of yesterday was. Fortunately, I can explore what the old Hollywood created without pouring any of my money into today's trough of gluttony. Itʼs all available for free at the public library, or on free over-the-air television.
Today’s coffee is Frankenbones from Bones Coffee in Florida.
From the label, one would assume that this is some kind of mint-flavored coffee. Don’t let all that green in the label fool you. We’re back to chocolate and filberts again.
It’s OK. The flavors are a little muted, but at least the coffee, itself, is low-acid. I’m a big flavored coffee guy, so it’s a little underpowered for me. But then I like my coffee the way I like my women: tall and fruity. If you’re someone who likes an occasional dash of flavor, or if you’re used to Dunkin’ Donuts, this might be a good choice.
It does bring an interesting thought to mind: Why do we associate the color green with Frankenstein’s monster? The film was in black-and-white. The movie posters of the era were either black-and-white, or he was tinted yellow or red. It wasn’t until the re-release in the 1950’s that he took on a greenish tint, and that was pretty subtle. I suspect there’s something about decay that we automatically associate with the color green, though in my memory, I can’t think of anything I’ve ever seen that was both rotting and green. Maybe lettuce.
I watch a lot of old cowboy movies. What Iʼve learned is that the most important part of being a cowboy is to put your hands over your head when you fall off of your horse so that nobody can see that youʼre a stunt man.
Never Say Never Again is not only the worst James Bond film of all time, it may be one of the worst films of the 80ʼs. If it didnʼt have Kim Basinger and Sean Connery, you would think itʼs some kind of low budget knockoff.
Now I know why Sean Connery never made another Bond flick.
Now I know why Netflix has zero copies and the library has five.
Now I know why I never replaced this video when I ditched my Betamax machine.