Growing up, I was not allowed to watch much TV, as my parents were convinced the Devil had penetrated most TV (and movies) and were I to watch such heathen nonsense, then I would turn out to be one of His monsters. The irony was that I was so busy trying to survive the monsters that were my parents, I didn’t have any time for the Devil.
I wasn’t too interested in most of what played on TV when I grew up, so I wasn’t terribly distraught that I wasn’t allowed to watch TV. If I had a book, I was fine. I didn’t see too many movies growing up, either. My mother did take me to see Bambi when I was five and I still remember how hard I cried when Bambi’s mom was killed. It didn’t help that my mother laughed at me while I sobbed. The memory of that day remains vivid, right down to the baby-blue dress with white polka dots that I wore with white shoes and lacy white socks. I felt terribly grown up when the day started.
The only other movies I saw growing up were The Ten Commandments and Gone With the Wind. The religious cult my parents belonged to gave approval to these two movies, so I got dragged to them. While I was grateful to get out of the house, I found The Ten Commandments to be too religious for my taste and I hated everything about Gone with the Wind, except for the character of Melanie. I didn’t get to see too many movies until I was 13 and CBS began showing MGM movies on late-night television that had never before been shown outside a movie theatre. Later, CBS aired classic movies that had already run on TV and soon, also showed popular series, like Barnaby Jones and Kojak.
Sleep and I have never been on good terms, so when I was young, I’d sneak out of bed after my family had gone to sleep and I’d stay up late watching whatever CBS had to offer. I didn’t love every movie or TV show proffered, but I did fall in love with classic films. My daughter teases me because I constantly fill up our DVR with movies from TCM. But, I find some comfort in these old films. Now granted, there are plenty of moments when I cringe, like seeing Judy Garland in blackface in Everybody Sing. And it’s hard to watch Black actors playing subordinate roles in which they’re always depicted as silly and dumb.
Although, I must give lots of credit to all these Black actors as they found a way to steal so many scenes and paved the way for today’s great Black actors. I just recently found out that Butterfly McQueen, who played Hattie in Mildred Pierce (and, in my opinion, was the star of every scene she was in), was never credited for this role. It’s never easy watching the misogyny, racism, and queerphobia that can be found in many classic films. What’s sadder is that we still have to deal with these ills in the twenty-first century. Still, I find a lot of comfort in these old films, cringes aside.
TCM includes a fan club called Backlot. For a monthly fee, fans get free swag, get to vote on programming, get the opportunity to tour the TCM studios, appear on TCM, and more. I’ve not yet joined (too many bills), but when I watch TCM, I’m always pleasantly surprised to see more than a few Black members talking about how much they love being in TCM’s fan club. To TCM’s credit, they do show classic Black films, and one night, I happened to catch the station saluting queer people in film.
The other day I was talking to my daughter about my love of classic films and I told her I wasn’t sure what I find so magical about them, but it might have something to do with the mysterious feel that the black-and-white production offers. I’m not nearly as big of a fan as the classic movies that are shown in color; although, I do have a soft spot for Meet Me in St. Louis. I might love these classic films because good always triumphs over evil and love wipes away all horrors. How often does that happen in real life? So, whether or not it’s cool, I’m always down for a class film, like the great noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice, or the feminist-before-its time, Mildred Pierce, or the star-crossed lovers in Roman Holiday, or so many others. What do you think of classic films?