Silent films, early sound films, wartime films, action films, foreign-language films, mysteries and thrillers, sci-fi and horror, comedies, soap operas, and yes, even westerns.
Today, as adults, they all still have a fondness for the golden oldies. Black and white? No problem. Doesn’t fill up the widescreen TV? So what? Takes its time building a story and defining characters? Well, isn’t that the idea?
But they’ve all had a bit more trouble getting their own children to sit still for older films. If it’s not in color or widescreen and doesn’t have some kind of action every 10 seconds, they tend to wander off to another room to enjoy a faster-paced video game.
That’s understandable, of course. Our hyper modern entertainment doesn’t really allow rising generations to take a breath. In older movies, for example, you might see someone drive up to a curb in front of a building, exit the car, shut the car door, walk around to the sidewalk, saunter up the steps, open the door to the building and walk in, then the camera angle would switch to inside the building as the door is opened.
Today that scene would play out with a car pulling up to the curb and then quickly cut to the inside of the building as the door opens.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But every now and then it’s nice to take your time the way it happens in real time in real life.
When people ask me how they can get their kids to watch older movies I always tell them to start off with comedies. If they’re laughing, they’ll forget that the film is in black and white and just go with it. And if they are shown a really good drama, one that is involving from the get-go, they’ll soon forget that it’s in that square-ishframe instead of widescreen.
It’s all about the story and the characters. The more engaging they are, the less complaining will come from the viewer. And they may even come to enjoy a film the way it was seen when it debuted in movie theaters in the1920s or ’30s or ’40s, etc.
On one occasion when my kids were small I wanted to show them the classic Laurel & Hardy Oscar-winning short “The Music Box,” which has Stan and Ollie delivering a crated upright piano to a posh home perched atop a huge flight of narrow stairs. They had seen Laurel & Hardy movies before but I could never find this particular short, and when it did come out on VHS it was colorized. After a time I gave up on the idea of showing it to them in the original black and white and rented it anyway.
When showtime arrived I popped it into the VCR, explained to them why it was in color, and then, while they were watching (and laughing), I stepped out of the room to answer the phone. When I returned the movie was in black and white. When it was over I asked my oldest son how that happened, and he explained that he used a knob on the back of the TV to turn the color down, adding, “Laurel and Hardy just don’t look right in color.”
Who says you can’t teach a new dog old tricks?