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I WAS A TEENAGE FILM CRITIC

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: A 30-year-old ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column I stumbled upon recently, written when I was the full-time film critic at the Deseret News, is more autobiographical than most as it leads up to praising the latest technological craze, the VCR. Hey, it was three decades ago! TV Guides were the size of a Reader’s Digest and were resting on living-room coffee tables all across America, VCRs were hot-selling items, video-rental stores were on every street corner, and DVDs and DVRs were science fiction. Things change, of course, and nowadays technology has indeed, to quote the column below, ‘ … made critics of us all.’ Anyway, throwing modesty to the wind, here it is, originally published Nov. 19, 1989, under the headline, ‘VCRs make finest, and trashiest, movies accessible.’

If there had been VCRs in the ’50s and ’60s I might never have managed any semblance of a well-rounded life — and certainly little education. Every moment out of school would have probably been spent watching movies around the clock, catching up on the thousands of pictures made before my birth.

As it was I still managed to see a good many of them and became a dyed-in-the-wool movie buff during my “Wonder Years,” growing up in Southern California among kerjillions of movie theaters and TV channels.

My mother thought it was some kind of disease. My father wasn’t sure what to think.

The TV Guide was almost unreadable with my scribblings around scheduled movies I wanted to see — the after-school showing of an Astaire-Rogers musical, the after–dinner Bogie thriller, the Friday night Karloff-Lugosi horror show, the Saturday morning Marx Brothers picture. …

In addition, there were all the offerings at local movie theaters — from Saturday matinee showings of old Abbott & Costello comedies and 15-chapter serials to the newest Hitchcock film in the evening (my parents occasionally had to come down and drag me from the theater after an especially long movie binge).

And it didn’t matter whether the movie was a drama, comedy, horror, musical, science fiction, foreign language, documentary … I wanted to see them all.

(Lest you think I never picked up a book, let me assure you I was also an avid reader. After all, you have to do something during intermissions.)

     

By the time puberty hit I was already something of a junior league film critic; my parents’ friends, knowing I saw just about everything, would ask me about a specific film and I’d offer a little mini-review on the spot. (And if I hadn’t seen the film, I’d quote from reviews about it.)

All of this no doubt drove my parents nuts, especially when an “important” film was showing at an odd time or in a distant theater.

After years of reading about “Citizen Kane,” which critics called the greatest film of all time, it was exciting to at last come across it in the TV Guide. Unfortunately it was on at 1 a.m. on a weeknight. Dad wasn’t crazy about the idea but he let me nap after school so I could stay up for it.

Not that my choices were always so discerning — I also stayed up late on a weeknight to catch “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

But these days there is the VCR. And thousands of movies available on video.

You can rent “Citizen Kane” or “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” and watch them at any time that’s convenient. An instead of staying up until 1 a.m. to catch something not available on video, it can be taped by simply setting the VCR timer.

The result is more accessibility to classic movies than ever before. But, of course, greater access to the best films also means greater access to the worst.

Most video rental stores stock few classics but have dozens of copies of the latest hit — “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Pet Sematary” — because that’s what young video watchers rent 10 or 20 times each. And young people rent the most videos.

The result is that while the VCR has made movie buffs — and critics — of us all, it has also become an object of misuse.

     

Who’s renting the relatively few golden oldies available? Their parents. And they watch them on an evening when their children are out.

One of the things people often say to me is that they can’t get their kids to sit down and watch a black-and-white movie. My response is that they’ve never made them sit down and watch a good black-and-white movie.

Once they get into the story, audiences tend to forget whether a movie is black and white. (Someone told me he was surprised when “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was colorized — in his memory he thought the film was already in color.)

Whether a movie is black and white or color doesn’t matter. What matters is whether it’s good. If it is, audiences — including young people — will respond.

My oldest daughter and I have a running joke about old movies I recommend to her. If she’s hesitant, she’ll say, “Is this one of those movies that I don’t think I want to see but once I sit down and get into it I’ll really like it and come back and thank you later?”

I just nod and hand her the tape.

So it would be nice if parents occasionally took “Batman” out of the VCR and made the kids watch a respected classic with them. My children — including the younger ones — have loved such diverse pictures as “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “City Lights,” “North by Northwest,” “Casablanca,” “Ben-Hur,” “Duck Soup” and many, many more.

There’s nothing wrong with watching “Bill and Ted,” but a steady diet of popcorn needs to be offset by a hearty meal once in awhile.

Even movie buffs need to be well rounded.