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.