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Monday, December 21, 2020

All Aboard For Trips Backward


Nostalgia --- Theirs and Ours

Heritage Auctions does a publication called “Intelligent Collector,” which may by its name be a misnomer, for how intelligent is it to OCG (Obsessive-Compulsive-Gather) when heirs will fertilize auctions or yard sales with what we leave behind? I call Heritage the intelligent ones, for depending on how long they stay in business, a same “rare” and “sought-after” lobby card for The Maltese Falcon will freshly sell one generation after another as respective owners pass. Perceptive hoarders say we are mere custodians of treasure, that all of it scatters again eventually. I’ll not belabor collecting today, have done so previous to numbing effect, but will point up an article in the latest Heritage issue titled “Sweet, Sweet Nostalgia,” premise of which reads, “Collectibles give us some degree of comfort in an otherwise topsy-turvy world.” Settled is the world being topsy-turvy, flocks taking daily refuge in the past. Call it a nostalgia pandemic if your humor leans dark. I find myself lately startled by old movies where people shake hands and hug and have parties. A lot of us are drawn to classics because they show life as it was and will not be again. Never has that been more the case than now. I always flattered myself that interest in antique film was studied as opposed to superficial, not an escape, but a serious embrace of things past, nothing so lightweight as “nostalgia.” Given present circumstance, however, it has become for me, and many … an escape.

Nostalgia is, always was, ingrained in us. Maybe not so much 150 years ago when life from start to finish was mere struggle to stay alive. Oh, to relive magic childhood digging for turnips, then dying young because a rabid dog bit you. So when did nostalgia get hold? Surely not before the Civil War. Soon as creators could express themselves on film, they did so in terms of nostalgia. Think again of One Sunday Afternoon, The Happy Years, a list gone on and on. Literature was there long before movies. Mark Twain used Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer to detail his own past. There are two kinds of nostalgia, then … theirs and ours. Sometimes theirs becomes ours. Like with old time radio that celebrants don’t remember first-hand, but celebrate anyway. Or me sat in at age twenty with old men reliving cowboys and serials, them all gone now. As mentioned before, their nostalgia became my nostalgia. Still is, for why else do I watch Spy Smasher? Walt Disney concocted oceans of nostalgia for us, but also for himself. Pollyanna in 1960 was an intensely personal project, being set in an era when Walt grew up. It fairly oozes memory, his, not ours. First edit ran 134 minutes, but Disney would not let director David Swift trim a frame … too precious a scrapbook was this. We sat restless as result, and Pollyanna did less than was hoped, a “their” that would not translate to “our.” But then 1961 brought The Parent Trap, ultimate “ours” among cheeriest of live action experiences to come from Disney. Scenes still play in my head. Latter-day saw remakes and sequels to exploit nostalgia for The Parent Trap that peaked in the 80’s, sustained through the 90’s, strung even to a 2020 reunion short for 1998’s one-of-numerous reboots.

Old enough favorites must give way to new, or at least newer. The first Parent Trap blows out 60 candles soon, enough finally being enough. Time we headed for the barn and let the ’98 cast reminisce. Sixty years after all … that’s like doing a 1925 Phantom Of The Opera reunion in 1985, Mary Philbin all alone to take bows. Who survives of Parent Trap ’61 other than Hayley? More instance of theirs becoming ours: American Graffiti and Animal House. Graffiti came out (1973) amidst thrust of 40’s swing to middle-agers, TV crowded with Time-Life album sets pitched by couples old (to me at the time), but not so old as to be pathetic. And I sure respected their music. Beside it, Graffiti stuff sounded punk. I was old enough to remember ’62, but young enough not to get misty over it. Levels of nostalgia for American Graffiti would multiply to become a precious artifact of 1962 and 1973. There may even be one or two more Graffiti cast reunions before tides go forever out. Pop/rock band Chicago did a 1975 hit, Old Days, their lament for 50’s past conveyed by fairly aching lyrics, “darkened dreams of good times gone away.” I bought the single, being a fan (Old Days reached #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100). Here were emblems of anything-go 60/70’s wanting nothing more than to go back to their innocence. The 70’s was a crest for rear-viewing, as though everyone at once realized they were older and needed to take stock. Fun times of yore were best liked, evidence Graffiti, then close cousin Animal House, a harder dose (R-rated) we were ready for by SNL-saturated 1978. House took place in the early 60’s, seemed current but for relic cars and poodle skirts, plus inevitably, the music track, old tunes by now embedded as best tunes, many agreed that anything was preferable to bane-of-late 70's disco. Older folk who remembered and younger ones who disdained current fads found common ground with Animal House.

Animal House
was another to wax nostalgic, then usher waves of nostalgia for itself. Could modern crowds be roused as in 1978-79? Oops, used the word “crowd,” a term now quaint as “audience,” or “theatres.” I guessed when it was new that Animal House would become a sort of ultimate campus movie, booked for weekends to kingdom come. That prospect folded on 3/5/82 when John Belushi died, nostalgia hard put to bear reality so harsh. Surrender to a preferred past won’t stand clutter. Speaking of ado over music, its overtake of movies a given, is there anything so unexpected as vinyl outselling CD’s? 62% of all physical music revenue, they say. That must mean young people are buying, but why? To co-op my youth? Talk about living in someone else’s past. I want a demonstration of records sounding better than discs. Can’t return the favor, however, by showing 16mm (or even 35) capacity to beat digital, cause for me, it just ain’t so. Theirs/Ours again, brooms forever sweeping way. So where are model railroads, an ultimate “theirs,” or so I assumed. New-minted collectors, like for vinyl, may Christmas shop at the sole “directly owned” Lionel Train retailer in the United States, located in Concord, NC (will withhold double exclamation mark within these parentheses). A part of me would drive there (88 miles), observe buyers, and ask, Whose nostalgia is this anyway? There must be more devotees than I figured, even if but a few more. Do pilgrims now come to Concord like miracle seekers to Lourdes or the Vatican?

Theirs: Star Trek, the original series, and passed. Star Wars, the first three, passing fast, may-be past too. Certain movies that obsess, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for random example, unending fuss as to owners muffing one transfer after another, to which I would ask, is it principle of the G.B.&U thing, or do fans really intend to keep watching those three hours right to their own showdown with eternity? I await delivery of Warner Archive’s fresh The Curse of Frankenstein, looking better than ever they say. It will please because I never had illusion of Curse being other than cursed visually, first drive-in exposure in 1968 a fast-faded one. Not the memory, the print itself. Anything upward of that will be vast improvement. Theirs/Ours/Mine: Cartoons, Our Gang, Universal horror. How many who saw these first-run grew up to bask further in them, collect them? I’ve suspected it was mostly, if not overwhelmingly, a 1950's-1970’s group. Television accomplished that, a non-stop feed. Try reviving Our Gang today, or cartoons, at least ones I cared about. Great nostalgia while they lasted, for those who recalled them new, theirs becoming ours to spectacular affect. Nothing draws comment at Greenbriar like The Three Stooges or Abbott-Costello, long ago kid show hosts a common thread whenever chat concerns comedy and cartoons. Should TCM use an on-air clown or barker to really bring back Saturday and after-school programming? TCM is featuring Laurel and Hardy this month, me poised with VCR to check transfers, critical of each for nit-pickiest of reasons. Armchair archivism. Focusing on prints rather than performance. I’m calmest watching 8mm, so maybe should stick to those.

Eddie Cantor Contemplates His Personal Gallery of Greats

Was “their” nostalgia richer? Eddie Cantor would have said yes. Twilight years for him were spent saluting greats he had known and worked with. Old songs got reprised by Eddie on the Colgate Comedy Hour. He and wife Ida peruse a scrapbook as Eddie tells again what fabulous entertainers he had the honor to befriend. Among last things Cantor did was As I Remember Them, a book of short chapters dedicated to colleagues who became legends. Eddie’s nostalgia was like nobody’s that ever lived, at least in fields of show business. I also read Ralph Bellamy’s memoir, When The Smoke Hit The Fan. He reminisced about a long career on stage and in films. Bellamy came up slow, went hungry between uncertain jobs, had his own stock company for a while, learned ropes a hardest way. Born in 1904, he experienced acting from all angles, every media. Bellamy’s generation understood the craft by means unique to that period, having worked legit, road companies, movies, radio, television, whatever format emerged through the twentieth century. Ralph Bellamy had pals he invited to share memories, expand on accounts he gave of shared adventures, thus input from James Cagney, Edgar Bergen, George Burns, Lillian Gish, Bob Hope, Walter Kerr, King Vidor, many more. Each recall Good Old Days they knew. For instances: Milburn Stone tells of medicine shows that came to his boyhood town, how they operated, who got fleeced. Dore Schary entertained in the Catskills, wrote skits, performed, tells all about it. Nostalgic icing on Bellamy’s cake. They must have liked Ralph plenty to kick in so eloquently. He was a writing host inviting all and sundry to fill in detail from every field of entertainment. No source captures “their” nostalgia so vividly. These people got the best of a most colorful era in show business. What we are heir to is their precious memories and whatever we can generate for our own. Either way yields a feast, theirs or ours.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Watched the just released blu-ray CURSE OF FRANK last week. It's nice but nothing spectacular.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

It seems to me that nostalgia in something like its present form spread ( like a virus ) with the rise of mechanically mass-produced books and newspapers, way back in the 1830s; itself being like some mutant sub-species of the fables of past chivalry, contained in those novels which were represented as having led Cervantes' Don Quixote astray in the 1500s. Since the mid-nineteenth Century, nostalgia has continued to propagate within and alongside any other mechanically-mass-produced media which has since arisen. Maybe it's built-in and dormant in any recording, electronic or not - maybe nostalgia arose with the development of the written word itself.
Perhaps nostalgia's persistence and renewal is simply a testament as to how easily artists and their promoters can harvest this "low-hanging fruit" of human emotion; they simply cannot let pass any chance to trigger or engage an harmless audience reaction - in these instances, by the relatively simple means of presenting to the public an idealized, sanitized and controlled representation of an imagined past with which the audience can identify.

8:32 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Thanks to your blog a couple of weeks ago, my copy of 'When the Smoke Hits the Fan' arrived Saturday. Looking forward to reading it while TCM runs newer fare. Nostalgia is running rampant in my house. I've set up a couple of old aquariums and even bought bags of toy dinosaurs and cowboys & Indians off Amazon. I'll set up a Gwangi tableaux after teaching myself Jingle Bell Rock on the guitar. I think my wife's on the phone calling the guys in the white coats! Merry Christmas!

9:19 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

In 1963, David Wolper's "Hollywood and the Stars" got my 7 year-old self on the nostalgia train. It was rather strange watching movie clips so old that were yet weirdly familiar to me, even having never seen them before. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I certainly lived in an earlier time. How did I know what Vitaphone was even before reading about it?

There's a five-minute silent piece of film on YouTube, shot from the rear of a car, as it drives down Sunset Boulevard in 1935. It is absolute heaven to me. And I find as I get older, that kind of thing makes me more emotional -- despite having been born in the mid-'50s. Giving up one year of my life for one afternoon like that seems like an awfully good deal. Maybe there's a movie there somewhere.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Often when I bicycle around Toronto posting flyers for my programs I see mountains of stuff sitting by the street awaiting trash pickup. It means someone has died. Their treasures are now trash.

There's gold in that trash as I have found more than twice.

Still I know the day is coming when what I/we treasure will be trash.

I'm looking to find a place where my stuff can be put to use.

Great post.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Nostalgia as an emotion vs. nostalgia as a commodity. Calls to mind the old distinction between a rummage sale and an estate sale. The former is where you find the useless stuff owners no longer want. The latter is where you find the useless stuff deceased owners would never have parted with.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

From a mid-70’s episode of The Mary Tyler Moore show, as the WJM gang is spitballing ideas for a documentary;

Mary Richards: What about the nostalgia craze? You know, we could look back ten years at what the music was, how funny the hair and the clothes look now...

Lou Grant: I hate nostalgia. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.

1:19 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Major Hoople bloviates before skeptical youngsters before returning their baseball:

I'm of an age where it's hard to think of anything less than 40 years old as nostalgia. It's mentally cataloged as recent adult memory, even when it's longingly recalled.

Politics often shape nostalgia. The mythology of the Lost Cause materialized after the Civil War, insisting slaveowners were gracious aristocrats and everybody else lived happily in pastoral poverty. Adults who grew up during the Depression and WWII idealized those years as character-building and noble, especially in contrast to the lives of their pampered boomer babies. And the immediate postwar years are still being held up as When America Was Great, remembered as time when everybody lived in comfortable small towns and suburbs, good local jobs were plentiful for high-school grads, and poor or non-white people were so rare a bit of local charity, law enforcement, or a special Christmas episode of a TV show took care of everything. In Hitler's Germany a genuinely mythological past was invoked to terrible effect. Various of these fanciful pasts are still powerful weapons in public debate.

Long before "Mad Men" the skinny-tie 50s-60s were getting a revival. Hipsters embraced the clothes and cigarettes, lounge music was reissued or baked fresh by postmodern bands, and decor only recently despised as what your parents tried to "gift" you for your first apartment came back into fashion. Flower children and juvenile delinquents weren't included, and had their own faux nostalgias anyway. There finally came a time when parents of sitcom teens would have comical hippie pasts, even if said parents were a generation too young.

I'm not sure what you call a fascination for eras you missed entirely. Nostagia for nostalgia? The ancestors of Star Trek and Star Wars fandom were the devotees of Sherlock Holmes, readers of post-Victorian eras who viewed the detective's world not as a longed-for past but as a playground for mock academia and fan fiction (pastiches to you). I find myself ever intrigued by how old pop culture was experienced back in the day. Yes, I grew up watching vintage reels unspool on TV, but what was it like when cutouts of Chaplin or Mickey Mouse stood on the sidewalk, or when you'd walk to a neighborhood monoplex each Saturday for Stooges, serial, and sagebrush? Now and again I try to recreate an old school program on my TV, ala "Warner Night at the Movies". Mostly I'm persnickety about viewing serials, running an episode or two only before a feature of similar vintage.

I stick mainly to books about collectibles, used and cheap reprints much preferred. I don't so much covet such wonders as the Ben Hur Playset from Marx as I want proof they existed. Lately it's pretty easy to find nice photos on the Internet, so I can see I didn't miss anything by not having the Remco Drive-In Movie Theater (it looked a lot better in the Sears catalog).

When I go, I like to think youthful relations will each find at least a filing box or two of volumes they can enjoy or sell. The rest to surviving used bookstores or even Goodwill, where at least some will prove to be a future fan's Big $2 Score.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Dennis69 said...

You talk about TCM being the place the shows could be back on Saturdays, it’s actually METV. They have the 3 stooges which has high ratings for METV and starting Jan. 1 they are not only bringing classic cartoons back on Saturday, they also have a weekday children’s show every morning like the local kids shows of the 50s and 60s.

6:28 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

A magnificent post.

I think there is hardly anything more under-appreciated or less-understood than the Great Nostalgia Craze of the 1960s-1970s. It was a potent force that shaped the culture.

Luke Slattery once wrote, "There is nothing wan or melancholic about the full-blown nostalgia known to the ancients... it was a source of energy and renewal; a live wire." And, while he wasn't writing about the Nostalgia Craze, I think he hit the mark.

While many (wrongly) think the Nostalgia Craze was merely an appreciation of camp, what it really was, I think, was a response to the tumultuous (and catastrophic) social changes of the 1960s.

This desire to reset the clock was so pervasive, that many grew up in the 1970s, but have 1930s and 40s boyhoods. I grew up reading Doc Savage and Shadow reprints, watching Tom Mix and Flash Gordon on public television, as a great fan of Universal horrors and Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, and treated the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello as if they were new.

When I find myself groping for the touchstones of my boyhood ... I'm really reaching for that of my dad (or, perhaps, even my grand-dad).

There is a Portuguese word for nostalgia for things you've never known personally: saudade. It is a malady I have suffered from all my life.

Sadly, I think that those who mined the gold of nostalgia for camp were the winners of the cultural wars. But it is a pyrrhic victory, for their world will never engender nostalgia, and certainly never, ever saudade.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

It's too early to call winners in the culture wars.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I would not call reading literature or looking at art from the past as nostalgia. Do we call going to an opera as nostalgia? Each generation disdains that closest to it valuing the out of reach. Thus we sell of the comic books, etc., we loved in our teens and pre-teens then, for many, spend fabulous sums buying them back after we hit our thirties only to see the same hit the sidewalk when we pass on to eternity.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

What a massive topic! I don't much like the word nostalgia because it suggests a certain cloying quality of memory. However, I'm a certified nostalgist/pop culture historian who would like a daily trip in a time machine. First stop, oh, Times Square in 1925. Catch ya later. When I grew up in the early '60s, the Abbott & Costello movies were around twenty years old and seemed like new to me, and I still watch them as they approach the 80+ year mark this decade. I was probably the lone grade school student who studied silent movies. So, I take in a vast amount of decades to get "sentimental" about, even if technically I wasn't there. Lately I'm very "nostalgic" about movies I saw in the '60s and '70s, and am appreciating them anew. I just can't get quite as excited with new fare, though I liked The Irishman. But that was mainly about old guys, right? :)

10:30 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I have a good copy of FAMOUS MONSTERS #1 which I had 4SJ sign for me at the 1972 Lunacon in New York City. I had fantasies of vast sums coming my way. But I never got around to listing it anywhere and soon anyone who knows just what it is and what it once meant will be dead.
I'm not feeling so well myself...

10:32 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

From Mike Mazzone via e-mail:

John, concerning you recent post,

Model railroading is a dying hobby, for decades company’s like Lionel sold their sets, mostly around the Holiday as a “father and son” tradition, posters and ads always showed the son (and sometimes daughter) enjoying the trains with their Dad’s which was passed down from generation to generation.

I tried with my son but with so many high tech distractions it never took on, though I must admit, I never tried too hard, we may build a layout together yet.

Star Wars on the other hand was never a big thing for me, even though they came out in the heyday of my lifelong obsession with movies.

My son Taylor, on his own has become a huge fan of all things Star Wars and spinoff’s such as Mandalorian, which is currently in production (and quite good), so Nostalgia in this case has worked in reverse, as he has made ME a fan. And he and I today l watch Star Wars, now 43 years old, as opposed to the Adventures Of Robin Hood being 36 years old when I first discovered it.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

John, the "their nostalgia became my nostalgia" you invoked is shared by every movie buff reading Greenbriar, because what we saw on television between, say, 1956 and 1969 was what our elders saw in theaters between 1929 and 1949. Forget the kiddie matinées at the theater -- my own personal matinées featured Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, The East Side Kids, Charlie Chan, Our Gang, Flicker Flashbacks, Jane Withers, and Edward Everett Horton. I saw any number of arcane Paramounts on the local late show (and I'm glad I was a good student in elementary school, because otherwise I would never have been allowed to watch these circa-1930 features at one in the morning). I caught up with serials and B musicals later, thanks to 16mm collectors in the area. I guess maybe we had a better grade of nostalgia in the 1960s, while these oldies were still in circulation!

11:08 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Just saw a recorded copy of IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE from TCM. Wonderful Xmas movie. But the company board was just old, bald white men. The only black person was the millionaire's driver. Ah, the power of popular culture to normalize.

10:36 AM  

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