I was talking movies with some friends, a few nights back, and one of them asked how come it looks like I have seen every movie out there, twice. And so I had to explain that, first, I am cursed with this memory, that works 110% when it comes to remember movies or other useless things, and really sucks at everything really important (like faces, phone numbers, passwords etc.). And that second, I was born fifteen years before he did, and so I grew up in a different world.
When I was a kid, we only had two TV channels on the telly, and they started broadcasting at 5 pm. In black and white.
Which sort of sucks, by today’s standards, but we were lucky because we had a lot of cheap cinemas – the parish where I grew up had a small cinema, because the padres had realized that to attract kids to Sunday school, they had to offer either a football field (and they had a semi-professional field behind the church), or the movies. And so I grew up a heathen, maybe, but saw a lot of adventure movies and old movie series – Tarzan, Zorro, Godzilla, you name it. I usually surprise my friends telling them I first saw Matango, Attack of the Mushroom People in church.
In the mid-to-late ’70s local TV stations started broadcasting, and they had a program that included mostly old TV series and Japanese cartoons (the latter, often imported illegally and dubbed in a very creative way). This is how I saw all of The Wild Wild West, and more anime that I can list here.
Meanwhile, on state TV, I caught a complete cycle of Fred Astaire movies, the whole Thin Man series, and a lot of British TV series: The Avengers, The Persuaders, The Prisoner, most of Gerry Anderson’s productions.
We did not have internet, so we went to the movies, or watched movies at home. We were a generation marinated in moving images.
Then, in the mid-80s, the real madness began – there were now six national channels, three operated by state television RAI, and three by private combine Mediaset. And up to the mid-90s, when they discovered talk shows and reality shows, a lot of what they did was movies.
We had a high-profile movie every Monday night, special movie cycles introduced by solid movie critics (stuff like a complete cycle of noir movies, of Hammer horrors, of westerns, of war movies, and retrospectives about Fritz Lang, Roger Corman, Elia Kazan…)
One of the Mediaset channels would broadcast 5 movies between 2 pm and 2 am, anything from the vaults, from old Sword & Sandals to rom-coms to westerns to Biblical melodramas. We had Horror Night during summer, and every night after hours the RAI3 channel featured some incredible stuff in a program called “Fuori Orario – Cose Mai Viste” (“After Ours – Things Unseen”).
So, when you do a little calculations, a guy from my generation, let’s say someone with my general look and body type, could have watched easily about 500 movies per year, for about ten to twelve years.
And sure, some of them would pop-up again and again, but still it was a staggering volume of films. And one could maybe start and listen to the critics introducing the movies, and maybe read a few books about cinema.
This way I saw Duel in the Pacific and Kagemusha, Karel Zeman’s Baron of Munchausen and the remake of The Cat and the Canary, John Wayne and Bruce Lee, The Bandwagon and The Rains of Ranchipur, Tokyo Joe and Solaris…
When I was not reading, or out to school, I was watching movies.
Glorious results of a misspent youth.
I’ve been following an online movie course by Werner Herzog, recently, and he says that to learn to make movies you need to watch movies, and read books. I can relate to that.
But then my friend asked me why one should waste two hours watching an old black and white film, and I just started crying in my pizza.