Classic Movies for Beginners
It is Thanksgiving in the United States. Thank you to all new subscribers. This past month I’ve seen an upswing in subscriptions, and it has elevated my spirit something tremendous. I didn’t quite understand it, as a child, even when I had over 20 pen pals – that I must communicate and create, or I am not. Thank you for your comments and insights and most of all, for being here in the less known and less pruned corner of the Substack garden where this cottage (you decide what it looks like) stands. You’re inside this cottage and you’re looking at a mysterious large cabinet door. Dark brown and old, yet strong and durable. The door is taller than you, and you open it and step inside.
You are, in case you forgot, in the Cabinet of Curiosities. This place is a collection of notable objects. Things for you to find and explore. I collect them for us, here, in this Cabinet of Curiosities. Some are real. Some are not real. Some things might interest you, some not as much. You might even find that you enjoy some things that you never expected to enjoy! Aren’t those experiences the most enduring in our memories?
If you, like I, love to explore nature and old attics (real and imagined), read a ton of books (or half of them), watch old movies (from the 1930s and 1940s) and browse articles of all genres (many that you don’t fully understand) and - love looking through old photo albums (of people you don’t know) – you’re going to love being here. You belong here. And I am grateful to have you here.
Did you ever, as a child, experience that infuriating and uncomfortable feeling when forced to wear a very itchy turtleneck sweater? Or tights that were not rolled up high enough that got bunched up around your thighs? Or socks that rolled down in the toes of the shoes and now it was too late because everyone else were too busy to help you and it was raining/snowing outside? Yes, that infuriating feeling of discomfort that only a child can feel and few adults remember. We grown-ups have slowly trained ourselves to temper our fury, but it’s still there if you ever need to revisit it.
Anyway – grab on to your memory of that feeling at its most intense level, and then turn down the magnitude to about 30 %. This is probably what it feels like for most of us when we attempt to watch classic movies. Everything from the endless dialogue to the long scenes pull and tug at our patience until we reach for our phones and begin to scroll. Anything to avoid having to focus. Yup. That’s it. That thing about focusing. It strangles us like the itchy sweater we had to wear in Kindergarten, and we want to free ourselves of – ourselves? Our brains? What? All we know is that it doesn’t feel cozy to have to sit there and concentrate and allow a story to slowly unfold. We want that instant gratification. Like the new movies give us. Loud, colorful and instant gratification that feels for us so we can – not feel. Just receive. Please sir, may I have some more?
Chances are that you binge watch many of the new series or movies of which I can only name a few; White Lotus, The Crown or Yellowstone. I see them mentioned in my social media stream and in a podcast I follow. The only modern show I watch is Oak Island. Love the Lagina brothers! Money pit and top pocket find!
Chances are also, that you’ve seen at least a handful of classic movies such as Tarzan, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, It’s a Wonderful Life, King Kong, Singing in the Rain and Gone with the Wind. So, it is entirely possible to sit through old movies and even enjoy them!
Earlier in November I posted a classic movie recommendation list on Twitter. It gained some attention and sparked good conversation about what movies belong on such a list.
Today I’m sharing a list specifically for you who might be new to classic movies. Movies to help you get used to the cinema style. If you’ve made it this far in this text, and you suddenly began to feel the proverbial tights bunching up underneath your already tight pants – stay with me. This is part of the process. You will not get through to the next step if you give up now. The next step is called patience.
Watching old movies requires only two things: turn the movie on and then watch it. Nothing else. Need to check the phone real quick? No. Look up the actor on IMDB real quick? No. Chat with your partner about the movie? No. Check the football score on the other channel real quick? No. No and no and no. You’re going to sit there and focus on one thing. The movie. But, you say, it’s so boring. Why do you torture me so with boring things?
Yes, it will most likely feel boring at first. In fact, you will fail many times before you succeed in watching an old movie all the way through with full focus. That’s what I call it when I manage to watch a classic movie all the way through without distraction. Full focus. Do I watch movies with full focus 100% of the time? Heck no. I fail miserably and repeatedly. Until I have a victory now and then. And those moments are magic. Pure magic!
You will discover that classic movies are ten times better than modern. That classic movies are more exciting, romantic and witty than modern movies. You will find that we humans haven’t changed much, and that humans of the 1930s were surprisingly like you. You will find hundreds, if not thousands, of fantastic movies and movie stars you had no idea existed. You will fall in love with them and wish they were still alive. Some are still alive, and you wish you had known about them sooner. You will feel calmed and soothed by watching classic movies. You will laugh more heartily or cry more deeply while watching an old movie. You will remember lines and repeat them with your partner as a private joke. You will understand humanity better. You will live better.
So, sit down in that fantastic couch over there and hide your phone and laptop. Do it. No, better yet, give me your phone and laptop so I can hide them for the next two hours!
Now you’re annoyed with me, and you’re going to go to Instagram to look at some pimple popping instead. Fine. But come back after you’ve done your Twitter, Tik Tok and other (more fancy and shiny) Substack rounds. You’ll be back. Yes, you’ll be back when you notice that the rest of us are going to continue without you. See, we’ve got that enthusiastic look in our eyes! We’re on an adventure and about to learn something new. We’ve got lembas bread and small trotting ponies and we’re leaving now…
OK, the rest of us are going to continue deeper into the Cabinet of Curiosities. Past the stack of movies from the 2000s, ‘90s, ‘80s… until we pull aside a velvet curtain and get blinded for a second! There, in front of us, we see a lit-up movie theater marquee with the beautiful message:
Classic Movies for Beginners!
It’s evening in L.A. and you smell a mixture of freshly popped popcorn, tobacco, perfume and creosote. You’re in Hollywood and it’s 1942, and you’re here with someone you love. You walk into the movie theater…
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard greet you and hand you a leather-bound menu. You look befuddled and Gable says:
“No one ever taught you how to read? Hey Ma, whaddaya know, they told me the future would be screwy, but this takes the prize! Look here, Ma – looks like we’re going to have to read the movie menu out loud!”
Clark clears his throat theatrically toward Carole and they both get in position to read the menu out loud. It’s a movie menu! Carole laughs a kind cackle and says:
“Pa, to tell you the truth, I could use a pair of glasses if we're going to do any good with these titles! Here we go – let’s see if we’re in any of them!”
Carole puts on a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, and begins to read…
Now Voyager (Bette Davis)
Casablanca (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman)
Random Harvest (Greer Garson, Ronald Colman)
A Matter of Life and Death (David Niven)
The Razor’s Edge (Tyrone Power)
Sullivan’s Travels (Veronica Lake, dir. Preston Sturges)
My Man Godfrey (Carole Lombard)
It Happened One Night (Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert)
Some Like It Hot (Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon)
The More the Merrier (Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea)
Double Indemnity (Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray)
Laura (Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney)
Nightmare Alley (Tyrone Power)
Gun Crazy (Peggy Cummins)
Sunset Blvd. (William Holden, Gloria Swanson)
Notorious (Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, dir. Hitchcock)
Treasure of Sierra Madre (Humphrey Bogart)
Battleground (Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban)
White Heat (James Cagney, Virginia Mayo)
Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O'Toole, dir. David Lean)
The Searchers (John Wayne)
Stagecoach (John Wayne, Claire Trevor)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne)
Red River (John Wayne, Montgomery Clift)
The Naked Spur (Jimmy Stewart, Janet Leigh)
Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly)
Girl Crazy (Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney)
Moon Over Miami (Betty Grable, Don Ameche)
The Harvey Girls (Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury)
Lady Be Good (Eleanor Powell – her dance number must be seen to be believed)
Footlight Parade (James Cagney)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (Ginger Rogers)
Grand Hotel (Greta Garbo, John Barrymore)
Duck Soup (Marx Brothers)
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Clark Gable says:
“I’m obliged to say that tomorrow this list will look different, as it did yesterday. Today it looks like this. Now pick one, kid, and let’s watch a picture! We don’t have all day, do we Ma?”
A special thank you to my husband who helped assemble this list.
Thanks for being here! What can you do to support me? Well, since you asked, you can buy No End Code, my sci-fi anthology. You can also subscribe to this newsletter and spread the word. Oh, and press the heart button and leave a comment!
Can I just tell you, I LOVE the classics! I raised my kids on many of them. Now Voyager? OMG, I get choked up just thinking about it. The classics are comforting, familiar. Christmas wouldn't have been Christmas without White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life. I need to find a way to check out some of the ones you've recommended that I haven't seen.
I just found “a matter of life and death” on Classix app (after it made the top 100 movies in some list or other - maybe they looked at your list first!) Looking forward to watching it!!