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A (FILM BUFF’S) CHRISTMAS STORY

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This 17-year-old column is, in part, about a gift I received one Christmas when I was a child, so it seems appropriate fare for Christmas Day 2020. This stab at nostalgia would probably seem quaint to today’s youth, a generation that has grown up during the digital/electronic age, and some of references (video rentals?) may seem to them like the horse-and-buggy era seemed to me at their age. Sheesh, I’m old. (Which you can tell by my usage of ‘sheesh.’) This one was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 26, 2003, under the headline: ‘Home video is a film freak’s idea of heaven.’

 

Though video rentals have been with us for 25 years or so, there's still something quite amazing about having a movie on your shelf at home, as if it were a book or recorded music.

For a movie buff like me, it's a real treat to be able to pull down a favorite film from the shelf or rent it at the local video store.

Those of us who are of a certain age can remember when it was difficult, if not impossible, to catch the movie of your choice once it left a local theater.

And when a particular film did come to television, it was usually for just a single showing — which you either caught or you didn't.

Back in my day (geez, I sound more like my grandfather all the time), the closest thing to videotapes were short 8mm silent movies, distributed by Castle Films, which were run through a small 8mm projector.

One Christmas, Santa left one of those little projectors under the tree for me, along with a couple of Abbott & Costello movies. Later in the day, I was very excited to close the curtains in my bedroom and project those little films on the wall.

 

Actually, they were action scenes from old Abbott & Costello features — retitled silent snippets: "Have Badge, Will Chase" was the chase-scene finale from "Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops," and "Rocket and Roll" was from "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars."

I wore those little films out over the next few years, as I collected a couple dozen more, mostly silent sequences from old Universal horror movies — "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," "The Mummy," etc. — and some Laurel & Hardy films.

To see the real deal, however, was more difficult. Occasionally, theaters near our home in Southern California would show "kiddie matinees" on Saturdays, but mostly you had to watch for them to come on TV.

By the time I hit 13 or 14, I was a dyed-in-the-wool film freak, spending hours in the local library researching books on film and going through old newspapers and magazines in the periodical files. And I remember nagging my parents to let me stay up and watch older movies that seemed to play only after midnight — and only during the week, when I had school the next day.

Two that I remember struggling to stay awake for — but in both cases falling asleep before they were over — were "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (which I had read was Bud & Lou's best film) and "Citizen Kane" (which I had read was the best motion picture of all time).

        

I didn't see the complete films for several years — the former at a more reasonable hour on television and the latter at a revival theater.

These days, however, they are both on my shelf. On round, shiny discs. Unedited. With sound.

I can watch them anytime I want. And, if I wish, I can listen to film historians talk about each one as it shows on my television.

Even after all these years of home video I still marvel at the concept.

Now, here we are in the 21st century, and dozens of new DVDs are released every week. And not just in video stores, but in variety stores and grocery stores. I saw "The Lion King" for sale in a discount shoe store a couple of weeks ago!

It's hard to keep up.

Yet, there are still so many older films that remain unavailable.

If you're like me, you're ever on the lookout for your favorites. And it's a bit frustrating that so many are not attainable.

But maybe that's a future column.