Book Trailer For Madam President

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Do We Watch Those Old Christmas Movies?

Bing and Fred dancing around on the screen with beautiful women in long gowns while other people sit around in tuxedos and laugh it up. Could anything be further from our world now? But of course around Christmas those old movies sneak out and suddenly we are watching Holiday Inn, White Christmas, It's A Wonderful Life, The Bishops Wife, Christmas in Connecticut. And those people from the forties come out in their black and white persona's and give us a glimpse of a time gone by. The question is why do we watch these old grainy films from sixty years ago?

Comfort. Continuity. Ritual. A curiosity about what people called happiness over half a century ago. Maybe it is all of these or maybe it is because in our own world we have no sense of time anymore and it seemed those people from the forties and fifties had all the time in the world. No cellphones. No texts. No Internet. They were squarely in the moment and even though they rushed around there seemed to be more symmetry to their lives. Even if it was all a fantasy.

And we cannot discount nostalgia. Very powerful emotion. A yearning for times that were simpler and in many ways better. A lot of these movies took place during World War II. Could the time have been any clearer? We were the good guys and everyone else was the bad guys. American culture was at it's zenith squarely in the American century. True there were no minorities but that is part of the American fantasy also, everyone just looks like us and acts like us.

And then there is the one thing about these movies that is probably the strongest reason we watch these black and white shadow plays. They go back to when we were children. These movies played out when we waited for Santa. They played when our uncles fell asleep in their chairs and snoozed the day away. They played when we came in from a snowball fight and drank hot chocolate. They played when we were young.

And that is what Christmas is all about really. The ghosts of the past come back once a year and dance around before we pack it all back up again. And so Bing and Fred and Cary Grant and Babara Stanwyck all come alive again and they are young again too. Just like we were.

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Books by William Hazelgrove