New Year’s resolution: Enjoy and appreciate old movies
If you’re around 40 or older, then you may recall the days when watching a favorite old movie on television was a small event.
If you grew up with standard-brand network television (in those days, ABC, NBC, and CBS) plus a handful of local and PBS channels, the search for favorite movies often started by combing the listings in the weekly TV magazine that came with the Sunday newspaper.
Certain movies, such as The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music, appeared only once a year, often around holidays, which made them special occasions for family TV gatherings.
In the age before VCRs, DVDs, and DVR service, we assumed and accepted the fact that we’d be watching edited versions of these movies with commercial interruptions. If we couldn’t view them when they were being aired, then we’d simply have to wait for the next time.
If you knew that a favorite movie was going to be on TV and you could be home to watch it, then you could look forward to that with eager anticipation. (At the risk of sounding like an economist, scarcity can make something feel a lot more appealing!)
“Family Classics” and “Creature Features” on WGN-Chicago
Two weekly movie series from WGN Television in Chicago, especially popular during the 60s and 70s, captured for me that wonderful sense of anticipation. They may resonate with friends and family who grew up in the Chicagoland region.
The first is “Family Classics,” hosted by Frazier Thomas, a weekly selection of movies suitable for family viewing. Thomas personally selected and introduced the films, most of which were adaptations of popular novels and non-fiction books. At times, Thomas edited out portions that he deemed a little too risqué or otherwise inappropriate for a family audience. But make no mistake, he did not come across as a holy roller, just an old fashioned guy who loved good movies.
Here’s a Frazier Thomas intro of the movie version of the Jules Verne classic, Mysterious Island:
If you liked that one, then go here for his intro of Shenandoah, a story set in the Civil War, starring James Stewart.
Wikipedia has a lengthy entry on “Family Classics,” including Thomas’s curated list of films.
The second is “Creature Features,” which launched in the early 1970s and featured screenings of old horror movies on late Saturday nights. “Creature Features” was my introduction to 30s and 40s classics such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, and The Wolfman. I remember fortifying myself with popcorn and a beverage, while covered in a quilt just in case I had to hide under it!
Here’s the wonderfully evocative intro for “Creature Features”:
Today, of course, we’re rich in movie-watching options, and many are accessible on all but the tightest of budgets. Public libraries now have DVD collections, and free movies abound online as well. Netflix subscriptions are relatively affordable, and a handful of video stores are still around. While cable remains very expensive by comparison, even the economy packages offer an array of stations that televise movies.
It’s also possible to assemble a pretty good personal library of DVDs at decent prices, especially if you’re a resourceful shopper. The typical Barnes & Noble store features a ton of discounted DVDs and regular sales, and online vendors offer plenty of new and second-hand offerings too. As DVDs slowly give way to streaming options, they’ll continue to drop in price.
Taking it for granted
But all of these options may have had a predictable effect: It’s easy to take this bounty of riches for granted. At least I do.
It makes watching a great old movie less of an event. We scroll through the On Demand listings, check out streaming choices online, or pop in a DVD, and bingo, it’s instant gratification. There’s no need to say I can’t wait to watch that movie, because basically, we rarely have to wait.
With so many great offerings at my disposal, among my 2015 resolutions is to enjoy and appreciate old movies.
Now, when I say “old,” I’m giving myself wide berth. Anything produced over five or so years ago counts for me. And I may even include a mini-series or two. That said, I’m going to emphasize classic movies made during the last century.
I’m shooting for my own personal “Movie of the Week.” With some good snacks or maybe a pizza to make it a bit of an event, I want to make this something I can look forward to as a welcomed part of my week.
I’ll be writing about some of these movies here, so stay tuned. And while you’re at it, you might make up your own list of movies to enjoy.
Papercuts JP: A new indie bookstore in my ‘hood!
It’s always a boost for popular culture when a new brick & mortar bookstore appears on the scene, especially when it’s an interesting independent one. Here in my Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, I’m delighted that a new indie bookshop called Papercuts JP is now open for business. It’s a cozy little store that manages to stuff several thousand carefully selected titles into its 500 square feet.
Boston Magazine blogged about Papercuts and its owner, Kate Layte, upon the store’s opening last month:
“I figured, if I didn’t take the leap now, I’d just get more scared as time goes on.”
That was the risk Kate Layte took when she decided to open her very own indie bookstore in Jamaica Plain. Now, after two years of planning, learning, fundraising, and prep, the Central Mass. native will finally open up her new shop, Papercuts JP, to the public November 29, a.k.a. Small Business Saturday.
…Layte, who says she is anti-genre, has already stocked the shelves with all sorts of gems. Starting out with about 3,500 titles, Papercuts has fiction, nonfiction, science and nature, art and design, humor, cookbooks, graphic novels, kids’ books, local books, poetry, biography and autobiography, and more.
Although JP is home to a lot of writers, artists, and avid readers, it has been without a dedicated bookshop for several years. That’s among the reasons why Papercuts is such a welcomed arrival. It’s a grassroots effort all the way: Earlier this year, Layte did a crowdfunding campaign to raise seed money for the store. I was pleased to be among the sponsors, but I must admit, it was an act of faith. However, now that I’ve paid my first visit, I’m in awe of what they’ve packed into this little storefront.
Although Papercuts may be swimming upstream against the bigger brick & mortar stores and the online sellers, it is the latest candidate to become part of an indie bookstore revival. Earlier this year, Zachary Karabell wrote a piece for Slate suggesting that the independents are staging a modest comeback:
In the words of Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “The indie bookselling amalgam of knowledge, innovation, passion, and business sophistication has created a unique shopping experience.” Teicher is hardly a neutral observer, but the revival of independents can’t be statistically denied. Not only have numbers of stores increased, but sales at indies have grown about 8 percent a year over the past three years, which exceeds the growth of book sales in general.
In sum, Papercuts has bonafide potential to become a lasting, enriching addition to the local business and cultural scene. I know that I’m looking forward to future visits!
Papercuts is located at 5 Green Street, right off Centre Street in the heart of JP. You can check out their Facebook page here.
Throwback TUESDAY: My last camping trip (1984)
The other day, my long-time friend and law school classmate Patrick sent me a couple of photographs taken thirty years ago, from a camping trip at the start of our third and last year at NYU law school. It was the beginning of the fall semester, and the onset of classes had triggered a bout of cabin fever so intense that five of us piled into Patrick’s car and headed for the Catskills.
This may sound like an odd thing for a law professor to be saying, but my reaction to the start of classes was so acutely resistant that even I — a budding city dweller in the making — was willing to forgo the niceties of the law school dorm in order to escape the world of casebooks and classes.
You see, unlike my outdoorsy law school friends, I was not a regular camper. Actually, I wasn’t a camper, period, and I haven’t been since then. It’s not that I’m a high maintenance traveler. In fact, between summer storm chase tours and countless trips to New York, I’ve stayed in places that won’t be listed in any premium travel guidebooks. But when it comes to accommodations away from home, I do strongly prefer (1) a bed to sleep in; and (2) indoor plumbing.
I don’t remember a lot about the trip itself, though I know that we all got along together just fine. I also seem to recall a couple of loud guys camping in an adjacent plot who had too much to drink on multiple nights, but maybe that’s just a ritual memory of every camping trip, whether it actually happened or not.
Anyway, after a few days in the wilderness, we folded our tents and returned to the urban jungle. Soon I got back into the law school swing of things, and it would prove to be a good and meaningful year, with some fun and laughter mixed in with the work.
Wow, it has been thirty years since my last year of law school. I’m sure the muse of nostalgia will cause me to write more about that time during the months to come.
My mortifying slip-and-fall near Stonehenge and the stoking of curiosity
I can thank a British sheep or two from 1981 for stoking my interest in this story:
In a piece for the Huffington Post, science writer Macrina Cooper-White reports on a potentially significant discovery near Stonehenge in Britain:
Archaeologists studying Stonehenge and its environs say they’ve unearthed the remnants of an untouched, ancient encampment that dates back 6,000 years–a find that could rewrite British prehistory.
“This is the most important discovery at Stonehenge in over 60 years,” Professor Tim Darvill, a Bournemouth University archaeologist and a Stonehenge expert who was not involved in the new discovery, told the Telegraph. And as he told The Huffington Post in an email, the discovery overturns previous theories that “Stonehenge was built in a landscape that was not heavily used before about 3000 B.C.”
It’s pretty cool stuff, yes? But I might’ve passed on the story had Stonehenge not made its own indelible mark on my life decades ago.
During my 1981 semester abroad in England via Valparaiso University, one of our weekend group trips included a visit to Stonehenge. (As the photograph above indicates, we were ultra-serious about these mini-sojourns, giving new meaning to the term “visiting scholars.”)
You see the comely lass waving to me in the photo below? That’s my long-time friend Hilda, now an English teacher and novelist in Northwest Indiana. You can visit her book sites here (Kingdom of the Birds) and here (Plank Road Stories).
Anyway, if memory serves me well, just a few minutes after snapping that picture of Hilda, I would take a short slide down a hill. Although it was damp and cold that day, it wasn’t precipitation that precipitated my fall. No, I had slipped and scooted down on a big pile of sheep droppings.
Yup, really, really gross. And kind of mortifying.
I won’t dwell too much on the odoriferous aftermath, but suffice it to say (1) thank God our bags were packed in the bus nearby, so I could change; and (2) although my wardrobe was sparse — most of us did our best to pack light for our semester abroad — I removed those trousers and quickly threw them away.
Now, you rightly may be asking yourself what the heck this has to do with a potentially significant archeological discovery near Stonehenge, and I agree the connection seems weak.
But here’s one thing I’ve learned about travel and education: Simply being there plants a lot of seeds. (No jokes about fertilizer, please.) I was not anything close to being an Anglophile when I opted to spend my final undergraduate semester abroad. But I got sooo much out of that experience, despite my remarkable immaturity at the time. In fact, I’ve returned to England at least a half dozen times since that collegiate semester, and each visit has been rewarding.
So when I read about this exciting discovery near Stonehenge, I thought to myself, cool, I’ve been there!, and then checked out the article with great interest.
Of course, it’s not necessary to have visited a country in order to appreciate it. I’m fascinated by ancient Greece, for example, but have never visited there. In my case, however, it does help to have walked around a place.
And who knows, maybe that location is close to where I did my slide down the hill!? Talk about deep-seated connections….
Ho ho, eh….I’m not exactly in a festive, holiday mood, but that’s ok!
I know it’s the holiday season and all, and I’m supposed to be radiating Christmas cheer. I even devoted my last post to my favorite childhood Christmas specials on TV, and I watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” the other night. But I’m just not quite feelin’ it right now. Nothing bad, mind you, but the word “festive” isn’t registering with me.
Perhaps my inner contrarian is at play, rebelling against the expectation to feel a certain way as a given holiday approaches. But more likely is that during this stretch of the holiday season, my introvert side has won the wrestling match with my extrovert side. That could change, but currently I’m in a good steady state, wanting to use this time to work on some projects, catch up with friends, and do some serious and not-so-serious reading.
That said, in the holiday spirit, I’m happy to share one of my favorite snapshots, a photograph I took four years ago when I spent Christmas week in New York City, enjoying the company of family and friends. (This is my third recent blog post centered around NYC, but aside from the fact that I love visiting the city, it’s more coincidence than anything else.) The region was hit by a major blizzard the day after Christmas, and I took this photo as I was walking over to meet up with my cousins. Pretty cool shot, huh?!
Gen Jones favorites: Animated holiday TV specials
If asked to identify an iconic animated holiday special for members of Generation Jones (born 1954 to 1965), my first choice would be “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Rudolph made his first TV appearance 50 years ago, which places him right in the heart of our childhoods.
The story has rented permanent space in some of our minds. If you’ve used the term “misfit toys” in everyday conversations, or mention of the “Abominable Snowman” strikes fear in your six-year-old heart, or you still can hear Clarice singing “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true” to a saddened Rudolph, then you know what I mean.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” comes in a close second on my list; its mere mention starts the theme music running through my head, replete with the kids skating on the ice pond! Interestingly, though, the program seems more thoughtful to me as an adult. That’s one of the compelling qualities of the world of Charles Schultz and the Peanuts gang.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman” are honorable mentions on my list.
For those of us who grew up in the Greater Chicagoland area, there also was a black & white animated short, “Hardrock, Coco and Joe,” shown during the holiday season on a kids’ TV show. However, the animation looks a little creepy to me today:
An educator’s (minor) dilemma: What’s a calendar year?
With 2014 winding down to a close, a lot of folks are making end-of-year plans, assessing life events big and small during the past 12 months, and looking ahead to what may be on the horizon. Some may be engaging this process more formally: I recently wrote a piece for my professional blog on how writer and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau suggests doing a personal, self-generated annual review.
As an academician and a lawyer, the idea of year-end, annual planning & evaluation has an inherent appeal to me. But here’s my minor dilemma: I’m not sure when my year ends!
At some point during law school, it dawned upon me that I should keep a schedule book. I was, after all, becoming a “professional,” and professionals have meetings and appointments. If I didn’t write them down, I risked forgetting them. So I went to the university bookstore and bought an academic year planner.
I’ve been using printed academic year planning books ever since, even during the six years I spent in full-time legal practice. Now that I’m in my 24th year of teaching, I’ve internalized the idea of a calendar year that runs roughly from July through June rather than January through December. Every May, I go to my favorite stationery store and pick up a weekly planner for the upcoming academic year.
So while much of the rest of the world is looking at December 31 as the end of their year, I feel like I’m right in the middle of mine.
As I said, it’s a minor dilemma.
But this does overlap with another more significant question, and that is how we frame and process spans of time in our lives. Some do it by the calendar, others by major life chapters, still others applying a mix of the two. It reflects how we order, sort, and package the notion of time in our lives.
For what it’s worth, I’m breaking my long-held pattern by doing a bit more reflecting and planning during this month and early January. Maybe I’m inspired by the periodicals and news sites doing their 2014 retrospectives, or by the ways in which the normal hurly-burly tends to slow down around the holidays. Regardless, during the weeks to come, I’m eager to devote some quality time to looking back and ahead.