Scenes from a Misspent Youth

Halloween, way too long ago
My dressing up as an alien monster days are far behind me.

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted, and I probably owe an apology or maybe an explanation. Short answer: health, politics, and depression cornered me in an alley, beat me up, and took my lunch money. Crawling my way out now. Thanks for sticking around.

Now, on to the Feature Presentation.

Occasionally one of those bullshit nostalgia meme-factories craps out a “Share if you remember X” things on Facebook that doesn’t automatically make me want to kick the entire world in the soft bits. That happened earlier today, and it triggered something.

Not so much for the thing they were hoping, but tangentially. It triggered a wave of nostalgia, a bit of reflection, a bit of discussion, and, ultimately this unexpected blog post.

When I was a wee lad, in my “dressing up as a monster period,” let’s say, I developed something of a ritual. See, for most kids, Saturday morning television ended at 11, when the cartoons ground to an end. But for me, growing up in a rustic little tourist town in the southwest corner of Colorado, I learned to turn that dial to the magic of Denver’s Channel 2. An independent station, it provided alternative programming, meaning a lot of syndicated content, some original shows like the kid’s show Blinky’s Fun Club featuring Denver’s favorite clown (before John Elway, that is), and movies. Lots of movies. Let’s face it: they had a lot of hours to fill, even with being able to shut down broadcasts for the night around midnight or so. (Remember those days? If so, remember to take your meds before heading out for the Early Bird dinner at Denny’s!)

So at 11 on Saturday morning, they would broadcast the Wild Wild West, the weird western spy show that was, at that time, maybe a decade old. Then, assuming I wasn’t exiled to the “Outside” by a mother concerned about my Vitamin D, I would settle in for their Matinee Double Feature. And that, my friends, was my bread and butter.

They liked to mix it up a bit, but to my recollection, there was always one comedy followed by one more action-oriented film. These were often sci-fi or westerns, and while I could always roll with the sci-fi, the westerns were hit or miss. But it was a good mix. A little light, a little more dark.

Now, since this was an independent network with not inexhaustible funds, they weren’t exactly springing for top run movies. But in the days before AMC, shit, before cable, really, there was a vast catalog of old films shown on the limited number of television stations at any given time. And it was that or go play with sticks in the dirt or something. I mean, why do that when you can immerse yourself in classic Hollywood?

By the time I hit age 12, I’d seen Abbot and Costello Go to Mars three times. Made in 1953, sixteen years before I was born, it’s still my favorite film of theirs. I like to think I was the only kid in 6th grade who had seen (of his own free will) and enjoyed such classics as Bell Book and Candle (1958), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), The Mouse that Roared (1959), Inspector General (1949), Bells are Ringing (1960), The Caddy (1953), Cinderfella (1960), Operation Petticoat (1959), The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! (1966), Balls of Fire (1941) and it’s musical remake with Danny Kaye, A Song is Born (1948). There are so many more I can’t even name.

And that’s just the comedies.

I know, as a geek, it’s not uncommon for my people to dig through the old genre classics and watch them. So while I had a healthy appreciation for all things Ray Harryhausen (Valley of Gwangi from 1969 being my favorite), and Day of the Triffids, and Twenty Million Miles to Earth, and others, I guess I don’t find it too unusual that I’ve seen them. Sci-fi geeks seek that shit out. It’s what we do. Same with horror and western geeks. The fact that I saw so many of them at an early age might be a bit strange, but it feels almost secondary.

But the comedies? I didn’t think that was too strange until late in my life when I realized good friends of mine had never seen a Danny Kaye movie. The thought was bizarre to me. I mean, I had his obituary tacked up to my cork board when he died. In fact, I venture that I still have it, tucked away in a box somewhere. That’s the kind of impact he made on me. That’s the kind of impact those movies had on me.

See, when I say I love film, I say it having consumed a crazy amount of film, pretty much indiscriminately from an early age. I love the medium. I love the spectacle. The magic. Because that’s what it is. Magic, conducted one frozen frame at a time, replayed so fast your brain thinks you’re seeing motion.

It’s shaped who I am in ways I’m still figuring out now.

Honestly, I sometimes to wonder why my parents let me spend that 5 hour block in front of the TV on Saturdays as frequently as I did. For my mom’s part, I think she might have just been asleep at the switch, glad I was out of her hair. But for my dad, who, when I was 5 or so, introduced me Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and the Little Rascals, I think he saw it as me embracing something that he once loved. I honestly don’t know.

I can’t help but think about how much we’ve lost. Not just in terms of those films being lost to time in some cases. Sweet Jesus, don’t get me started on lost films… But those movies were ubiquitous. Sure, you couldn’t really control what was being shown or when. You were at the mercy of the Channel 9. But you could kind of trust them to curate your experience. You could sit down at a specified time, in a specified place and receive the gospel of celluloid. And if I didn’t like the movie being shown, I could turn off the TV, go outside and play.

Which I did sometimes. Even I have limits.

But beyond those films being hard to find, the culture of a la carte movies has killed the ritual somewhat, too. The idea of looking back, of just wallowing in movies from a previous generation, it’s not something I see available to the kids growing up today.

I know, I know, I know. I’m dangerously close to “Get off my damn lawn!” and “Back in MY day!” I turn 50 in a few years, so I’m entitled to a bit of grumpy nostalgia. And it’s not even that I’m angry. At least some of the better of those movies have been preserved and are available for those with the inclination. And Gods bless AMC, especially when they’re showing the old stuff.

I like to think there’s an 8 year old right now on their Kindle Fire, watching Abbot and Costello Go to Mars right now, laughing at a couple of idiots in New Orleans at Mardi Gras thinking they’re on another planet.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling the urge to try and track down some old Martin & Lewis movies for tonight.

See you at the movies!

2 thoughts on “Scenes from a Misspent Youth

  1. I did not have your endurance for watching those old movies, but I remember occasions watching them at home with my family or just alone when the parents were at work. Reading this post reminds me that there is so much of classic cinema that I’ve yet to watch and yet realize that I will likely now never get to them. I’m still trying to find the time to watch The Questor Tapes, an old sci-fi I remember little of except that my father forced me to go to bed before I could finish it.

  2. Love the picture! Who’s the Red guy in the background? Kidding aside, here in the Northeast we had Sunday afternoons that were filled with those old classics. I remember some sweltering summer days hunkered down in front of the huge window air conditioner watching A&C Go to Mars and some old Busby Berkeley (Flying Down to Rio?) I really did feel transported. This post is pitch perfect nostalgia ~ thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s