Posted by Greg Ferrara on August 19, 2016
Today is Ruby Keeler’s day here on TCM and fellow Morlock Suzi Doll did a fine write-up of her on Monday (read it here), talking about how many bygone stars there are out there that many of us know very little about. Even many movie lovers, she states, probably wouldn’t know more than a handful of titles from Keeler’s catalog. It made me think about something I had already been turning over in my head for years and was sparked again in my mind in the comments of a post of mine a week ago when I saw Logan’s Run mentioned in the comments. Specifically, what I was thinking about was just how many movies I have seen over the course of my life and, more importantly, how many I’ve forgotten. Even the good ones. Hell, even the favorites.
When I looked at the schedule today I saw Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, and, of course, 42nd Street, and I thought about how I had seen all three of those, oh, I’d say around thirty or more years ago. As a result, I don’t remember anything about them. I’ve seen individual numbers from them many times on sites like YouTube, like the final number from 42nd Street, but actually the whole movies have not been viewed by me in years. As a result, I remember almost nothing about them. That’s happened with many movies with me: I know I’ve seen them but I remember nothing about them. Sometimes I yearn to return to them, other times not. What it hinges on is the memory of the feeling I got from the movie but, I have learned, that’s a memory that is often unreliable.
Years ago, back when VCRs were first becoming a thing and, combined with cable stations like TBS, the Turner precursor to TCM, you could see movies at your leisure, I determined to see as many big name movies as I possibly could. If it showed up in a movie book, on a greatest of all time list, or just won Best Picture, I made it a point to see it. And see them I did, at the rate of several a day for years and years and years. Taking them in, barely digesting anything, moving on to the next. I can think back on some of the Best Picture winners from the thirties and forties, like Cavalcade or Going My Way and remember my feelings about them but not the movies themselves. I remember being bored with Cavalcade and being happy to mark it off the list. I remember enjoying Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby both in Going My Way but, honestly, I cannot remember anything else at all from it. I have no desire to revisit Cavalcade. Going My Way, on the other hand, I kind of do. I often use it as an example of a weak Best Picture winner and I think a part of that has to do with the perception that I don’t remember it because it wasn’t impactful. Maybe. Maybe not.
Other movies I remember absolutely loving even if I can’t remember the movie. Sometimes, upon revisiting them, I discover I don’t like them so much anymore. Movies I grew up with and relate to my adolescence never hold up as well as the memory. Older movies, though, generally do. Lost Horizon was a movie I saw as a kid and by my thirties could remember nothing about it. Nothing except that I remembered loving it. I saw it again, finally, on PBS sometime in the late nineties and realized it was better than I’d remembered. I’ve seen it multiple times since and have a collector’s edition DVD of it. I love it. The memory held up.
I mentioned Logan’s Run at the top of this post and it’s another movie that I relate to my adolescence. I loved it when I saw it in 1976 and when I saw it again on tv and cable a few years later. Then, I didn’t see it for a couple of decades. Sometime in the early 2000′s I purchased the DVD and gave it another look. It was noticeably cheaper looking than I remembered, despite being a big budgeted MGM production, and winner of the Best Visual Effects Oscar, but I still enjoyed it very much.
This is nothing new. We all have memories of movies that are either confirmed upon rewatching or dashed. And we all have movies that we know aren’t as good as we remember them being but still love them anyway. But the question I always ask myself is how many of those bad memory movies I should give another try? And since there are so many movies I still haven’t seen that I want to see, numbering in the thousands upon thousands, should I bother rewatching any of them or just content myself with the fact that I saw them? Like any good cinephile, I’ve seen most of the classics of European cinema of the fifties and sixties but because I crammed them all into my teen years and early twenties, I don’t much remember them. Should I focus on seeing all the great films made since then that I still haven’t seen or watch Stolen Kisses again because while I can confidently say I’ve seen it, I can remember nothing about it as it’s viewing took place when I was a teenager and was most likely wedged somewhere in the middle of a five or six movie day?
We can’t watch every movie ever made, nor can we see every movie we want to. We choose to watch some movies twenty times while never seeing twenty other movies even once. There was a time when I felt obliged to see every possible movie I could. Later, I narrowed that down to an obligation to see all the notable or historically significant ones. Gradually that morphed into an idea that maybe I should watch whatever I want and rewatch some of the forgotten big ones. Now, I think the question of what to watch again and how often is getting easier and easier to answer. I can’t keep every movie in my head like a computer nor do I ever want the cinema to be that cold and data-centric an experience. No, I think I’m content to let the memories stand on their own at this point. Yes, I’ve seen many of the big notable films of cinematic history. No, I can’t remember them all. But I have memories of how I felt at the time and for now, that’s good enough for me.
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