Sunday, August 8, 2010

Classic Inspiration... and Junior Mints

One of my favorite movie memories is going to see a special screening of "Arsenic and Old Lace" at a local historic theater. I was a kid seeing Cary Grant on the big screen for the first time, and I ate up every second of it, nearly ending up on the floor when Cary Grant's "brother" pops through the window. (Haven't seen it yet? Watch it and see how you react when it happens!) It has since become one of my all time favorites, and there's a very clear reason why: It's a fantastic story brought to life by fantastic actors.

Aside from that early trip to the theater, I grew up on these films at home. Whatever I could catch on television as a kid, I watched. Mostly that meant monster movies or Jerry Lewis comedies, but it didn't matter. I loved them. I remember being balled up on the couch watching "The Invisible Man", scared to death that somebody could be sitting on the couch next to me without me being able to see him. I jumped like a cricket during a 3D "Creature from the Black Lagoon", staring at the television through paper 3D glasses we picked up at 7-Eleven. Most of all, I couldn't wait until the Easter time showing of "The Wizard of Oz". I swear that movie is the reason I'm so fascinated by weather - that tornado still stands in my book as the best film depiction of a twister. And then when we got a VCR (Yes, I remember a day without being able to pop in any ol' movie any ol' time!), I picked up every classic movie I could find that I hadn't seen yet. I reveled in the golden age of film and watched my favorites over and over again.

So it's a thrill for me to have found a local theater that shows classic films every weekend. There's nothing like seeing these stories in a larger than life fashion while munching a handful of Junior Mints and sharing the experience with an audience that laughs, jumps and gasps right along with you. It just goes to reaffirm how memorable these films were. A little melodramatic? Maybe. But those screenwriters and directors knew how to put on a show that would stick in a movie goer's mind long after they'd left the theater.

That's what real stories do - they draw you in time after time. I'm not talking special effects, risque scenes and childish dirty jokes... I mean real stories. Once upon a time, those good old films brought charm, genuine witty humor, class and - above all - a good reason for making the film in the first place. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of clunkers back in the good ol' days, too. But think about the films that everyone's heard of: "Gone with the Wind", "On the Waterfront", "Casablanca". Those stories stick in our minds, the lines are repeated in our conversations. We mimic Brando's "Stella!" in "Streetcar Named Desire", and "Badges? I don't have to show you no stinkin' badges!" from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre".

Strong writing takes root in our culture, and I for one appreciate that back in the day the roots they laid down had meaning to them. They were cast into immortality with classy, intelligent skill. That's my goal as a writer, to put words down on paper that stick and stand the test of time... for all the right reasons.

If you're feeling uninspired in your writing, check out some of those famous classics. Watch how the story is crafted, how the characters come alive. Pay attention to the crispness of the dialogue. You can't help but learn some lessons and get some ideas.

Those stories have stood the test of time because they're timeless.


Tabitha said...

I was just saying the other day to someone that most of the movies coming out this year are 3D and they have such weak plots. The last movie I saw in the theater that had a good story/characters was "Amazing Grace." That movie had me thinking and feeling inspired for weeks.

Jennifer Valent said...

I loved Amazing Grace. It had such a fantastic way of communicating faith realistically. We need more films like it!