Written by: Jill Blake, CC2K Film Editor
When I was three years old, my mom took me to see my very first movie. It was a re-release of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Although my memory of this is more impression than real detail, I do remember feeling happy when Snow White sang “I’m Wishing” and absolutely terrified whenever the Wicked Queen appeared on the screen. Of course, being three, my favorite characters were the dwarves.
Every March, Wizard of Oz (1939) would air on television. I would watch with my granny. Coincidentally, Granny’s birthday was also in March. Being a kid, I always thought the Wizard of Oz came on for her birthday. This and my theater experience with Snow White are my earliest recollections of “classic film.” Later I would add in our family’s annual Christmas viewing of Miracle on 34th Street (1947), as well as other kid friendly fair like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Mary Poppins (1964).
A few years later, I developed an affinity for classic television, specifically The Andy Griffith Show (a staple for any Southerner), My Three Sons, The Three Stooges, Dennis the Menace, Gilligan’s Island, and I Dream of Jeannie. These shows introduced me to many actors, especially character actors, who I’ve later rediscovered in many of the classic films I love today.
When I was in the 6th grade, my homeroom teacher showed our class two popular classic films: Gone with the Wind (1939) and Ben Hur (1959). What this had to do with any of our coursework, I’ll never know. Not that I’m complaining. Watching these two films on a tiny 25 inch tube TV, wheeled in on a cart from the A/V room, had a profound effect on me. The chariot race in Ben Hur; even on that tiny screen and in pan-and-scan, gave me chills. And seeing Scarlett run home to Rhett in the fog, with tears streaming down her face? Priceless.
Throughout high school and college, I kept adding to my knowledge of classic film. Once we were both done with school, my husband and I relocated to Atlanta. The Great Recession and shriveling job market gave me a perfect opportunity to really accelerate my classic film education (read disenfranchised, unemployed, and stir-crazy as hell). I was determined to dive deep into the seemingly never-ending catalog of hidden gems in the classic film canon. This quest was aided with the help of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) which we didn’t have while living in the great state of Indiana. I was surprised to find that many classic film titles were available on DVD and took advantage of our city and county public library systems whenever I could. With the combination of TCM, a DVR, and DVDs from the library, I soon knew my William Demarests from my Eugene Pallettes and my Una Merkels from my Patsy Kellys.
Once I started down that slippery slope, I couldn’t resist seeking out complete filmographies for certain actors and actresses. For modern actors, this is not necessarily a complicated task. But for the classics, there are many hard-to-find titles, some out-of-print with no known available copies. I would find myself in all night marathons as I devoured the work of Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Fredric March, James Cagney, Katharine Hepburn, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday, William Holden…
Watching the classics made me want to read about the classics which eventually lead me to the surprisingly active classic film blogging community. For several years I’ve maintained some form of an online blog presence, originally starting out in the communal blogging forums. After years of procrastination, I finally launched my own website in 2011, Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence, a site dedicated to anything and everything classic film (a definition that is much broader than you might think).
My goal with this weekly column is to share my passion for classic film. I will also cover special events and screenings, like the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood this coming April. I claim to be no expert, only a humble admirer. And as I’ve learned about where we’ve come from, I’ve discovered an added richness to modern film. I hope to introduce newcomers to this world, and I’m sure I will learn new things along the way as well.
Coming next week- Classic Film Confessions: Part 1