It all started with "My Fair Lady," when Eliza Doolittle walked down the grand staircase in that breath-taking, glittering gown, her hair piled high, her back straight and her eyes clear and determined. The music swelled behind her and the photography, though grainy and dull on the tv screen was still vibrant, the colors nearly palpable. I'd never seen a woman look so regal and so in command of a screen before. It was then that I discovered my love for classic movies.
When talking movies with people I often feel left in the cold. On the one hand you have the movie dictators; these are the people who are the self-described experts on all things film who tell you what to watch, why to watch it and why not watching it makes you less intellectual than they are. You have the "you're not black if you don't watch/you're not a woman if you don't enjoy," movie people who think that because I'm black I must know every "Friday," "Menace II Society" and "Set It Off" reference, or I must feel some kind of way about Bella and Edward in "Twilight," or know the depths of love felt in "The Notebook" and cry during the final scene in "Titanic." No, I don't watch movies because the cast and I share a race, and no, I'm not a romantic/drama movie sort of girl (plus Titanic was overly long. Seriously, it took the ship how long to sink? Not the three hours I had to sit through the movie, I'll tell you that...).
I've come to realize and accept that some people's perception of "classic" and my own will never ever match up. And I'm completely okay with that...we're just not going to be seeing movies together that often.
Over the years, I've been asked what movies I love, which are my favorites. "My Fair Lady," "The Sound of Music," and Lord knows, "Gone With The Wind," are at the very top because those are the ones I saw early on in life, but I still love others like "All About Eve," "Imitation of Life," and "The King and I." It's not just the attention to detail placed in every frame, every line of script and swell of strings, but the depictions of women as capable, smart, witty and different, and the fact that despite all that, some wonderful, albeit flawed man loves them anyway. The idea that these women were different for their times, Eliza Doolittle, the street urchin turned lady, Maria Von Trapp, the mischievous ex-nun turned wife, mother and singer, or Scarlett, an oddly attractive, bratty, abrasive woman who made the South bend to her will, but still were able to find love, in themselves as well as with others, was astounding to me.
As I got older my collection has expanded. I recently watched "Gigi" starring Leslie Caron for the first time and got the same breathless, exciting feeling as the first time I watched "The King and I," or even "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Gigi, a young girl being taught the ways of a courtesan falls in love with a childhood friend a few years her senior and a few social rungs up the ladder. Instead of becoming his mistress however, by speaking her mind and being herself, clumsy, crass and sassy as she was, she became his wife. The message with this one, as with the rest, remains true: being yourself is a beautiful treasure that you should love and appreciate.
I think that's why I have more movies made prior to the 1960s than any other type. Maybe that's why I watch them on days when I feel down. Maybe, these beautiful, timeless movies remind me of those same characteristics in myself that I feel aren't diluted with time and aren't easily or readily acceptable or accessible. Maybe I love them because they remind me to persevere, always as myself.