Looking back on twenty years of looking back

December 24, 2019

In December 1999 the world was looking forward to a new millennium, and I made a screeching 180' turn in the opposite direction, feet planted firmly in the 20th century. As everyone scrambled to prepare for Y2K I confronted the more pressing concern that my local video store wasn't stocking nearly enough Jimmy Stewart movies on VHS. Who needs The Backstreet Boys' Millennium when December 1963 was what a night!

I was in eighth grade and home from school on Christmas vacation when my mom turned on AMC and I became completely and totally enraptured by How to Steal a Million. Peter O'Toole's crystal blue eyes and Audrey Hepburn's aura of chic captured me heart, body, and soul. Nothing in my life had ever hit me like this. It was love, unconditional love. It's not unreasonable to say that movies have been there for me for my entire adult life. They've wrapped me up in their warm embrace, provided comfort whenever I needed it, and whispered to me that I'm not alone. They're a constant, as ever-present as my heartbeat, the thought that always sits on the edge of a reverie-- "now would be a good time to watch a movie."

How to Steal a Million sparked a fanatical interest in Audrey Hepburn. I rented all of her movies that I could get my hands on, pored over her biographies at the library, and immediately signed up to volunteer with UNICEF. Audrey Hepburn turned me into a teenage tornado of compassion and altruism. I became the local volunteer representative for my area and attended the UNICEF annual gala in Washington, DC. I spoke in front of my school board, joined (and became president of) our town's Youth Advisory Committee, and interned at the Mayor's Office. I painted faces for charity, gave talks to elementary school students, and got my school to put Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF boxes in classrooms. I started an annual dance for senior citizens hosted by teenagers, and launched a poster contest for kindergarteners. I owe every single one of those acts to Audrey Hepburn and the ways in which her kindness and good-heartedness inspired me to harness those qualities in myself.

Every school project from December 1999 onwards was about classic movies. I printed out photos of my favorite movie stars and affixed them to my folders and notepads, a different star for each subject. Rudolph Valentino - History. Charles Boyer - French. Robert Montgomery - English. In high school I had to write a big paper for GT and I chose to write about film restoration. To this day, it is one of the highlights of my entire life that I got to interview Robert Osborne for my paper. The kind TCM employee (his first name was Shane, I don't remember his last, but he was to me as much an angel as Clarance is to George Bailey) sent me oodles of TCM paraphernalia including a pen, a watch, a set of magnets, and -- still one of my most cherished possessions -- a signed copy of Robert Osborne's book. I will never forget his kindness in helping to make a nerdy, fledgling classic film fan's dreams come true. It is insane to me now that I have a friend who works at TCM (*waves hello to Diana, who is LIVING THE DREAM!*) and that maybe she'll be able to work her Clarence magic for some other young film fans, too.

Ten years into my classic movie obsession, I started this blog. (If you're counting, that means this blog has been kicking for ten whole years. Three more years and it'll be the same age that I was when I first stared into Peter O'Toole's baby blues!) I don't blog as often as I did that first year, but I'm so glad that I've kept it up. Earlier this year I renamed my blog from "Silents and Talkies" to "The Films in My Life: a personal journal of cinema" and I feel like it's a much more accurate reflection of the content. This is my film diary. I love to write when a movie really moves me, and tack photos to these digital pages in the same way that Robert Montgomery was plastered all over my English notebooks. I wish that the internet had existed in its current form when I was 13, starstruck by old movies, and totally alone. Sometimes I'm seized by an unhealthy jealousy when I see young classic film fans interacting on twitter, recalling the days in the early aughts when my schoolmates bullied me for liking dead actors and my only respite was... more dead actors. Nobody my age "got it" and until I started this blog in 2009 I legitimately believed I was the only person in the world under the age of 80 who knew who Guy Kibbee was.

The classic film community is so much larger than I ever could have dreamed as a teenager, demographically much younger, and so inclusive. But I always feel like I'm on the outside looking in -- I just don't have whatever tools are necessary to build lasting friendships (with a few exceptions) or to ease my way into a conversation without feeling like I'm butting in. I feel like that might be why blogging initially came more easily to me than social media has. This blog was like my own little club house, and when people would leave comments it was like they climbed up the ladder and knocked to come in. Social media is more like a playground game where everyone is tossing the ball to each other and I don't have the nerve to join in. (Does my brain relate everything in my life back to school? Unfortunately, yes.) Anyway, this incoherent paragraph is all to say -- I was so wrong when I thought I was alone in this particular interest. There are so many people around my age (and, now that I'm the ripe old age of 33, much younger than me) consumed by their love of classic film, and even if I have a hard time interacting with those people, my little universe is all the better for their presence in it. One time at the TCM Classic Film Festival a friend and I were discussing our favorite James Gleason movies. I've thought of that moment often, pausing to reflect on it as a gift to my lonely teenage self. I never imagined a world in which another person my age knew who Cary Grant was, let alone James Gleason.

There are just so many (too many!) things that I want to cram into this post that I think I have no other recourse but to break up my thoughts into a few different posts. I want to write about all of my classic film obsessions - ALL OF THEM - from the first moment I laid eyes on Frank Sinatra in February of 2000 to the moment that Chad Everett walked onto my projector screen this past April and Zing! went the strings of my heart, and all of the Robert Montgomerys, Alain Delons, and Ronald Colmans along the way. I want to write about my all time favorite go-to ride-or-die movies, the ones that I know by heart. I want to write about which movies recall certain memories or times in my life. About the phase I went through when I started my art "career" in which I named every single painting after the movie I was watching while I painted it. I want to write about TCM schedule memories -- the year that Summer Under the Stars featured Dirk Bogarde and I just about lost my mind over him, or the year that Shelley Winters died and her tribute preempted a day of Robert Montgomery movies and I held it against her for a LONG time. I want to write about actors that I've come around to after disliking them for years (cough, Glenn Ford, cough) and movies that, after two decades of consuming classic movies like they were air or water, I still have not watched yet (cough, The Sound of Music, cough.) And I want to write about the movies that have been the most personal to me, ones that I see myself in, or ones that reflect my own life in a way that makes me feel okay about who I am or where I am (or, more accurately, where I'm not.)

I said once in a blog post that movies are my boyfriend, and I still feel that way. Someone recently asked me why I've never dated and my reply boiled down to "I have Chad Everett and Alain Delon, I'm good!" While some romance films can obviously make a single person feel somewhat lacking, movies have always made me feel whole. Everything you could say about a significant other can be said about my love for movies. They complete me. They're THE ONE. In a world full of thousands and thousands of things to love, we found each other. And we're celebrating our twentieth anniversary this month. I think that's pretty great.


DKoren said...

Merry Christmas, Kate!!

I love this post. I love hearing the how/when/whys of how you came to be a classic movie fan, and how it affected you then and now. I relate to so much of this. I remember writing a letter to my best friend at time about how Richard Burton and Richard Harris had affected me in "The Wild Geese" (not exactly classic era, but still...) and getting back a letter that said "what is it with you and the Richards?" Exact quote. And I remember sighing and feeling all alone.

Please do write more on all these things. I love reading your thoughts on your journey here.

Thinking of you this holiday season!

rockfish said...

Thanks for being you, & sharing your insights and passion for our old films! Looking forward to reading the next decade! -An old Canadian (glad to hear our Glenn Ford has made inroads onto your likes list) movie fan

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

This is so very much like my life. I remember one time I went to a friend's sleepover when I was a teen, and I knew they were planning to watch an R-rated horror movie, but I wasn't allowed to watch R-rated movies and didn't like horror movies (still don't), so I took along my copy of The Complete Films of John Wayne and spent two merry hours alone with the Duke in another room while they watched The Silence of the Lambs without me. And I'm still convinced I had a better time than they did.

It wasn't until I went to college that I made friends with people outside my family who loved old movies. It was wonderful. And THEN I discovered blogs and blogging and... the rest is history :-)

Merry Christmas!

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

(PS The Complete Films of John Wayne is a book. Not a collection of his movies on VHS. That would be an insane thing to pack in an overnight bag.
Especially since quite a few of his movies never got released to VHS.)

Sadie said...

I loved reading this about your journey, I'm a long time reader of your other blog (Scathingly Brilliant) too and have always admired how eloquently you write about personal topics. I relate to so much of this, particularly your thoughts on blogging vs social media, which is something I've always greatly struggled with. I always think of blogging as for introverts, whereas social media is more extroverts. I definitely think movies are better than a boyfriend too!