Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Birth of a Classic Film Fan

I've been hinting at sharing my Classic Film Enthusiast origin story and I've decided to actually go for it.  It might be lengthy, so here's your fair warning, but I will try to add fun pictures along the way to keep it engaging.  Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy post. :)

My origin story is actually two-fold, but together they make a great deal of sense.  Ultimately, for me it's a story of wanting to be a complete-ist and being slightly obsessive.  One night, while I was in middle school, I couldn't fall asleep and I decided to flip through the channels.  During my channel surfing I found a movie on WPIX (Old school Channel 11 in NY, before it became the WB/CW).  The movie was Dogfight, starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor.

I was in awe, amazed, hooked.  I didn't know a movie could be like that and I didn't know actors could be like River Phoenix.  I decided then that I had to know everything about him and see every movie he had been in.  Thus, my Actor Phases were born.  Initially, I was dismayed to find that River Phoenix had passed away and so young! I couldn't believe that such a talent could have been gone already and that I had only just discovered him. But, I decided to dive right in.

I tried to find the oldest logo, but did not succeed
At that time IMDb was still in it's infancy, there was no Netflix, no online streaming.  I actually went to IMDb and printed out the list of his movies.  I would then take that list to Blockbuster or the Library and try to work my way through all of the movies.  I would also order VHS tapes (yes, you read that right VHS!) online or buy them at Sam Goody if they had it, if I had trouble renting the movies.  I did a great deal of "blind-buys" during various Actor Phases, some good choices, some not so good.  For better or for worse though, I did get a very diverse movie education thanks to River Phoenix.  I was introduced to Stand by Me, Running on Empty, Peter Bogdonavich's A Thing Called Love and so much more.

After exploring the life and work of River Phoenix, I decided to check out some other Actors and see what they had to offer.  This turned into a binder filled with IMDb print-outs of various Actor's filmographys.  Romney may have his binders filled with women, but in the mid to late 90s I already had my binders full of actors.  I would tirelessly hunt for these movies and soak in as much film history as I could.  At the time though most of my motivation was how cute the actor was, which would explain my Ryan Phillippe, Devon Sawa, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Keanu Reeves phases (not my proudest moments, but I was young and foolish).  But, I did also gravitate towards actors like Harrison Ford, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp (before Pirates of the Carribbean) and Ewan McGregor.  And in later years I also started to tackle the filmographies of George C. Scott, Albert Brooks and Dustin Hoffman, so I feel like it balances it out (a little).

On one of my recent trips homes I found and went through my binder and lucky for you, I took some pictures, it looks like my dad didn't appreciate me using all of the white paper so I was probably asked to use all the neon paper we had.  It also looks like I printed out articles and pictures that I liked too, but maybe it was gently suggested to me that I stop doing that after my River Phoenix phase:

I inadvertently got a film education, I was exposed to many films that weren't mainstream and I wouldn't have seen otherwise.  I was also honing my skills as a researcher and a completest.  But, I still wasn't exploring much of anything before the 70s or 80s.  The classic film bug hadn't bitten me yet.  I still didn't become a fan, even during college when I took various film courses where we had screenings of movies like, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Executive Suite, Giant, and  Somebody Up There Likes Me.  I certainly didn't hate the movies or dismiss them, since they were stellar films, but there still wasn't that desire to care (as much as I do now).  Don't get me wrong though, I did always have an interest in older movies, I watched The Wizard of Oz endlessly as a child and I have always been a huge fan of Disney movies, but there wasn't the love that I have now.  That didn't happen until 2 fortuitous events.

First, was a recommendation from my cousin, he is an assistant director, second unit director and screenwriter for a handful of TV shows and who I browbeat into attending part of the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival.  He was in LA for some work meetings in the summer of 2006 and we met for dinner.  We talked briefly about movies and I can't remember what movies I had been watching around that time, but he recommended that I immediately Netflick (that's my verb for renting a movie through Netflix) The Thin Man and The Thin Man series.  I heeded his advice and Netflicked it in the summer of 2006 and LOVED it.  It was so clever and funny.  I was smitten.  I promptly watched the 5 sequels in quick succession.

About 3 months later I was introduced to the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die, I don't exactly recall how the list came to me, but once I found it I was super cocky and thought, 'Oh, I've always watched lots of movies, I'm sure I've seen most of these.'  I actually just found an email conversation between me and a friend of mine in October of 2006 in which I boldly claim, "I've probably seen about half of the movies in there." But I was very much schooled by the list and on my first go through I had only seen about 200 of the movies.  I also shared the list with my friends and wanted to see how I fared with my peers.  It turned out one of my friends had seen more movies than me and then uttered the phrase that has fueled me for the last 8 years.  He said to me, "You will never defeat me."  Gauntlet thrown, my friend, gauntlet throw.  (I can be a little competitive sometimes).

These 2 events and my obsessive nature put me on the path to become a very passionate classic film fan.  I was determined to work my way through the 1001 list and I also wanted to see other great movies, like the Thin Man.  At first I used the 1001 list as a spring board to see the movies that I had always kind of wanted to see, but hadn't.  So I would pick and chose from various movies, with no real direction.  Eventually, I decided to work through the list chronologically, starting with A Trip to the Moon.  As I worked through the book I would take little breaks from the list to see more movies by a particular director (Hitchcock, Wilder, Powell and Pressburger) or movies with a particular actor (Buster Keaton, Cary Grant, Tracy and Hepburn).  I would also take time to read various biographies about actors and directors.  I sometimes like to think of this journey as an independent study of film and the history of film.

I've been working on the list, on and off, for about 8 years now.  The book has been modified or updated 3 or 4 times over the years and my grand total of movies seen, as of today, is 783 titles.  This has been thanks to Netflix, TCM, the now unfortunately closed RocketVideo, Cinefile and my local libraries.  It's been such a fun challenge to track down these movies throughout the years.  And really interesting to see certain movies that were inaccessible 7 or 8 years ago, now be available through streaming services or places like WarnerArchive.  I've tried to maintain a spreadsheet and I even had a blog for a short while to track my progress, indicate where and how I was able to see the movie, and keep a little journal so I would remember some of the movies, but as you may have noticed I don't update things as well as I should. 

Oh, and since we're on the subject and clearly this post isn't long enough I guess I should also share my first experience with the amazing channel/network TCM.  It was on a plane, I was on a Jetblue flight flying back to LA from NY and I was flipping through the channels and came across the channel TCM.  At that time I don't even know if I had heard of the channel, but I was drawn to it because there was a special on, it was the Private Screenings episode of Child Stars.  The episode included Robert Osborne (obviously) and Daryl Hickman, Dickie Moore, Jane Withers and Margaret O'Brien.
Here's a tee-tiny picture of them found at
I watched these former stars discuss their lives and their work and found it really interesting and then of course thanks to TCM, a few years later I had the pleasure of seeing Darryl Hickman in person at the first TCM Classic Film Festival, meet and speak to Margaret O'Brien at this year's Film Festival, and be in the same room as Dickie Moore at a screening in NYC.  Later on in the flight I flipped back to TCM and ended up watching Rafter Romance, starring Ginger Rogers. We landed before the movie ended, so I don't actually know if there was a long lasting romance.  I'm gonna go out on a limb and say there probably was.

Well, that's the long and short of, mostly long, how I became the huge classic film fan that I am today.  It's been a wonderful journey and has introduced me to so many wonderful people, experiences, and of course movies over the years.  After going back over all of these experiences it seems like it was just the right mixture of things at the right time.  And I'm very glad they all happened.

So there's my Classic Film Fan origin story.  What's yours?  How were you introduced to classic film and when did it become an overwhelming passion?


  1. I just learned about your blog and really enjoyed reading how you got connected with classic films. That's a really impressive number from the 1001 movies book. I haven't made a serious effort to do it, but I'm only at 468 (if my icheckmovies total is right). I feel like I've seen a lot, but I have a really long way to go.

  2. Hi Dan,
    Thank you so much for the comment and I'm glad you found my blog. 468 is nothing to sneeze at, great job and good luck. Thanks again!