Howdy folks! Have you ever been captivated with the idea of attending an event, but unable to attend – because of time, money, conflicts, or all of the above? Well, the TCM Classic Film Festival is one of those for me. It has been on my bucket list since it started over a decade ago, and this year, it’s going to happen! I feel like a young ‘un who’s been hearing about how great the circus is from all the other kids but has never been able to go herself…but now I’ll be able to get up close and maybe even meet a few of the trapeze artists!
My friends, classic movies are in my DNA. My Dad introduced me to so many wonderful old movies and sparked an enduring love for many of the genres: musicals, screwball comedies, classics and even WWII movies. The conversations we had about the meaning of the films helped to form my values and view of the world.
Imagine a little girl watching the seldom-shown To Kill a Mockingbird and talking about the history of prejudice in the South – with her father, who grew up in Sweetwater, Texas, in the 1950s, where there was plenty of flat land with red dirt and racial prejudice to go around.
To Kill a Mockingbird, released in 1962, is my favorite movie. (It’s also my favorite book.) The Atticus Finch character reminds me of my father, the wisest and kindest human I have ever known. After we watched the movie together when I was about 10, my Dad told me the story of the time a black family pulled into the gas station where he worked in high school. His Dad owned the station, and this family just wanted a fill-up.
Dad didn’t know what to do. This hadn’t happened before, and he was just a teenager without any world experience. He asked his Dad if he should serve them – an ignorant and insulting question from today’s perspective, of course – and his Dad, a very wise man, simply said, “Well son, I guess their money’s as good as anyone’s, isn’t it?”
This made a huge impression on my Dad. It sounds like a crass commercial comment, but that’s not at all what was intended. Dad’s father, Thomas Ezra Harvell, meant that people were equal to him and should be treated as such at his station. According to Dad, his father wasn’t an activist, just a person who held quiet and firm beliefs.
I heard that story because we watched a movie together. There were many other stories, and many other movies.
Another movie in the same vein (dealing with racial prejudice) was Showboat (both the 1936 and 1951 versions). There were a lot of great tunes in those musicals that we sang along with (OMG, could Dad sing the heck out of Old Man River with his booming bass voice!), but the underlying message about the ridiculousness of miscegenation rules was what we talked about.
Another movie that highlighted the idiocy of prejudice was 1947’s Gentleman’s Agreement which drove a stake through the heart of lame defenses of anti-semitism. Dad and I watched that too, and had another great conversation.
A movie that has just been added to the program for this year’s festival is Spartacus from 1960, a creation that takes a tight grip on your heart and plants a days-long lump in your throat. Slavery, equality and basic humanity are explored, in rich and painful detail. TCM added it to the lineup in honor of Kirk Douglas, who just died. I didn’t see this movie with Dad, but I can imagine the conversations and truths we would’ve discussed, if we had viewed it together.
I started on this post because I have the TCM Classic Film Festival 2020 on my list of things to share with you, but it turned into something different than I had planned.
Blog posts are often that way, changing by the moment like the weather in Texas.
You can probably tell, though, why I’ve been itching to go to the festival. Classic movies are in my DNA, and part of my family history, the oral tradition of making sense of life through the performing and visual arts.
There are many more things to share with you about this festival! But that will be another post (or two). Suffice it to say (for now) that we will be in Los Angeles from April 16 – 19, happily taking in all of the classic movies. Wanna join us?