“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne, and this is Turner Classic Movies.”
Such was the beginning of many of an adventure I embarked on as a teenager when I began my transformative foray into the world of classic film. After an introduction from Osborne, I traveled to Casablanca where I first met Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman , Claude Rains and Peter Lorre, and was given a taste of the sacrifices that were made by the WWII generation who brought an end to the evil of Hitler and Nazi Germany. With Osborne as my guide, my virtual Virgil if you will(Dante’s Inferno readers will get this), I plumbed the devilish depths of film noir and the creative genius of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. On a lighter note, I got the scoop behind Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like it Hot”(“she kissed like Hitler,” Curtis had said of Monroe). Actors who passed on years before I was born, such as Lillian Gish, Rudolph Valentino, Bogart, Rains, Orson Welles, Gene Tierney, Rita Hayworth and many, many more quickly made their entrance to the forefront of my cinematic imagination, and they’ve never left.
Although I had been fascinated by classic movies since I was a child, it was TCM’s erudite and dapper Osborne who instilled a deep and abiding love for the silver screen in my heart. By the time I was a college student, I simply couldn’t watch a classic film without Osborne setting up the story for me, and concluding it with a pithy behind-the-scenes observation that I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere. It eventually progressed to the point where I felt I was being cheated if I watched a classic film without Osborne to impart the knowledge and insight I felt I needed to get everything I could get out of what I was watching. A few years ago, when I went with my mom to see Gone with the Wind on the big screen for the first time (a big moment for me!), I felt like a teenager at a rock concert when the screen lit up and Osborne appeared to introduce the film.
“Mom, that’s Robert Osborne!” I cried, a little too loud and a little too giddily.
“Who?” she asked.
“Never mind. He’s the guy from TCM who knows everything about movies.”
And it was true. Osborne was, for all intents and purposes, the world’s most famous film appreciation teacher. Sure, there are other film critics and presenters whose knowledge is as prolific as his (although I doubt there are too many), but Osborne was mainstream. Through his work at TCM, he was given the ability to touch young and old alike. Osborne carried himself with a class that embodied the glory days of Hollywood itself, and combined with the efforts of TCM, he introduced the great film classics to a new generation that has been all too willing to eschew movies that are black-and-white in favor of more CGI-laden fare. Osborne, who had worked in the film industry and thus, was personally acquainted with many of its biggest stars, had a way of bringing them back to life for us, a way of resurrecting a time that is rapidly receding from our collective memory. Osborne allowed me to imagine a world where my great-grandparents donned their best clothing, took off in their Model T or Model A, paid a dime or a quarter(whatever the going rate was at that time) to see the latest Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton flicks in the movie theatre that once existed in their little town. I mourn that lost world as I mourn him. Although Osborne and his connection to that bygone world are irreplaceable, it’s now up to my generation to pick up the torch where he left it and show the world that classic films are not simply relics of the past, but are a vastly important piece of our cultural heritage with themes that still provide a mirror to our nature as humans; themes of love, hatred, anger, and fear that are melded into tales that can still speak to us if we are willing to listen. By tuning into a movie that was made 50 years before we were born, one may discover that the film’s lack of color and technological sophistication is more than redeemed by its artistry and the depth of its characters and plot, and although the actors may dress and talk a tad differently than we do, in the areas that count, they are very much like ourselves.
Thank you, Robert Osborne, for teaching this young GenXer (old Millennial?) the value of films that were made long before I was born. It is a gift I’ll carry with me always. Rest in peace.
While many readers will habitually gravitate toward novels with happy endings, the darker and more morose among us(myself included) harbor an uncanny, compelling attraction to venture into the most tragic of stories. Here are the top ten novels that may require copious amounts of your favorite adult beverage to recover from.
1.)Tess of the d’Urbervilles-Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, without dispute, wrote some of the most depressing stories in all literature. The heroine of this particular story is a young, beautiful and incredibly unfortunate girl named Tess Durbeyfield, who, through the course of the novel, is the victim of so many emotional disasters that it almost beggars belief that any human being could suffer such an accursed fate.
2.) The House of Mirth-Edith Wharton
The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, chronicles the life of Lily Bart, a Manhattan socialite who was truly born before her time and suffers the consequent fate that usually befalls such women in literature. Lily is born into New York high society and, like most women of her class is expected to marry a rich man to support her. Lily fails to do so, and the novel depicts her subsequent plunge through the various social strata of polite society. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of the novel is the “what could have been?” nature of her relationship with Lawrence Seldon, which culminates in the heartwrenching last scene of the novel.
3.) Ethan Frome-Edith Wharton
Ahhh….Ethan Frome and the pain of unrequited love. This is the only book where death would have resulted in a happier ending. Read it and you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Poor Ethan Frome is an isolated farmer residing in the one of the bleakest of settings-a cold, desolate New England winter. Life isn’t much warmer on the inside of Ethan’s home as he finds himself trapped with his frigid, shrewish wife Zeena. On the positive side, Ethan does get to experience an ephemeral glimmer of true love, but that’s all that Wharton plans to allow him in her apparent quest to unseat Thomas Hardy as literature’s great purveyor of doom.
4.) A Thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns was a book that haunted me for days after I read it. It’s one thing to know and understand the desperate plight of many women in the Middle East through statistics and media depictions; it’s quite another to feel that plight through the characters of Mariam and Laila, two very different women who come from disparate backgrounds, but whose lives are entwined in their mutual struggles in a repressive society. The ending is devasting and poignant in equal measure.
5.) Nineteen Eighty-Four-George Orwell
“Big Brother is watching you!” “Newspeak.” “Thought police.” Et cetera. Et cetera. George Orwell’s nightmare vision of the totalitarian state has provided some of the most iconic catchphrases in the modern political vocabulary, but its most depressing life lesson is that one man cannot overcome the power of the state.
6.) The Wings of the Dove-Henry James
The Wings of the Dove was written by Henry James in the beginning half of the 20th century, and it depicts the tragically brief life of young American heiress Milly Theale and the effect her life has on a young couple who seek to use her for money before she succumbs to her illness. There is something so very touching about the character of Milly, but by the end of the novel, you’ll not only feel sorry for her but for the two other main characters whom James portrays in all their raw vulnerability and moral weakness.
7.) The Painted Veil-W. Somerset Maugham
Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil tells the story of idealistic, yet selfish and spoiled Kitty Fane, who finds herself trapped in a marriage with a socially awkward, but brilliant scientist who is completely her opposite. Unsurprisingly, Kitty ultimately embarks on an adulterous affair. Out of hurt and revenge, her husband, Walter Fane, drags her along with him into the middle of a cholera epidemic that he has been assigned to research and treat in colonial China. At the heart of the story is a failure to communicate, as Kitty is unable to see and appreciate the extraordinary character of her husband, and Walter is unable what motivates his wife and her decisions. The 2004 movie adaptation starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts provides a mutual catharsis and redemptive quality to the ultimately heartbreaking ending, but Maugham’s novel is nothing but brutal, unmitigated suffering for the characters until the very last chapter.
8.) Where the Red Fern Grows-Wilson Rawls
Where the Red Fern Grows is the story of Billy and his coonhounds who are on a quest to capture the coveted and elusive raccoon. The ending is quite bittersweet—but,wait, who am I kidding? Reading it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my sixth-grade year :(. I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered…
9.) Jude the Obscure-Thomas Hardy
Published in 1895, Jude the Obscure was the last book written by Thomas Hardy, as it proved so scandalous among the Victorian reading public that Hardy finally threw down his pen in frustration and retired from the writing life. The plot follows the life of bright, ambitious Jude Fawley and his attempt to succeed against the forces of society and fate in his ambition to learn and love. I was actually a little afraid to read this book due its daunting reputation as the most depressing book in English literature, and although I came out of the experience relatively unscathed, I have to say that there is one scene in the book that is so devastating that it actually made me feel physically ill.
10.) Night-Eli Weisel
Night by Elie Wiesel is truly in a class by itself. In contrast to the other books on this list, it’s steeped in the reality and horror of the Holocaust. Wiesel is unabashedly candid about life in the Nazi death camps as he seeks to ensure that the world never forgets the inherent horror and tragedy that arises from man’s inhumanity to man. If you can only find time to read one book on this list, this is the one to read, because you won’t walk away the same person you were before you read it.
Unfortunately, I’ve been remiss in my blogging lately, but I have recently ventured into the world of video making. Here is my first attempt at making decent video with a (what else?) period drama theme. Enjoy!