Monday, 1 February 2016

Welcome to Recap Retro!

The story of me and It Happened One Night is the story of a little girl with no money, limited access to public libraries, and no cable TV.

What I did have, and what ignited my imagination the most, was a nightly radio show that broadcasted “stories from the Golden Age.” Crucially, it was as free as entertainment can be; we already had the radio, even if it was purchased twenty years before and had no FM option, and it was just a matter of tuning in. The show was called Network Replay, and you could only hear it from midnight to three in the morning, and I was seven or eight years old when I first found it, so I only listened on Fridays and Saturdays like a good kid. (That is a lie. I listened all the time.)

Anyone who knows their OTR knows where this is going: Lux Radio Theater. For those of you who are less familiar with classic radio, Lux Radio Theater was this insane show where the entire casts of major motion pictures would recreate the film as a one-hour radio broadcast. You’ve got Errol Flynn showing up to perform his role in Perfect Specimen, Gary Cooper doing Pride of the Yankees, and all of their co-stars recreating an audio mini-film, and the whole thing was hosted by Cecil B. DeMille. Insane.

I ended up hearing about 40% of my favourite movies before I saw them. The Ex Mrs Bradford, Ruggles of Red Gap, Hands Across the Table, Five Graves to Cairo, A Man to Remember, Algiers, the aforementioned Pride of the Yankees, and the list goes on and on.

So, Lux comes on one night, and I’m stoked. It was, in the beginning, my favourite radio show, and it was always a surprise. Sometimes it was a drama, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a romance, William Powell could be on it, I loved it. Snuggling in my blankets and ready at a moment’s notice to turn the volume down to zero and pretend to be sleeping, I eagerly waited to hear what the deal would be. Fingers crossed it would be Gregory Peck. (Gregory Peck had been on an episode of Suspense I’d heard the week before, and I was in love with him.)

The regal bugles that started the show sounded, and the clipped tones of the announcer declared:

“From Hollywood, California, the Lux Radio Theater presents Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night!”

I didn’t have cable, but I did have PBS, and I’d watched Gone with the Wind somewhat defiantly not long before all of this despite being told it was horrible. That’s a story for another day, but the end result was that I knew who Clark Gable was, and I was neither in pre-teen awe of him, nor did I hate him the way some people do. I was just like: “Meh. Clark Gable. Okay.” At the time, I didn’t know who Claudette Colbert was, but that was about to change, and I was only eight, and it was the late 90’s, so I deserve some slack on that. She wasn’t exactly a topic of playground discussion. I think everyone was big on Kate Winslet that year, and I want to say that the Spice Girls were happening?

I listened to the whole thing and, being as yet unjaded about romantic comedies from lack of exposure, thought it was genius. I loved it. At the time, I didn’t realize that my weird cultural bubble (caused for a variety of reasons) had put me in the same position that a whole lot of people had been in circa 1934. The culture back then had not lived through a saturation of rom-coms or episodes of Friends and so found the idea of a down-on-his-luck newspaper reporter and an escapee heiress in reverse Cinderella very fresh.

Years passed, I finally saw the movie with my eyeballs as Frank Capra had intended me to do. By then, things had settled, I was a teenager, we had Turner Classic Movies for a free three-month preview, everything was good. And, more importantly, the film was good. A couple of times with Lux, my radio imagination version turned better than the actual movie – Alexander’s Ragtime Band went down like that – but it didn’t happen here. I also got to see the Bugs Bunny carrot, the hitchhiking leg, that kind of hideous striped sweater Claudette wears the whole time, and a whole bunch of other little details that made the film win Best Picture.

I realized that this one story had originated so much. Things that, in the eighty years since, have been done to death again and again.

To someone who’s seen all the imitators that have come since, it’s riddled with clichĂ©s and about as surprising as a cake on a birthday – delightful, but not exactly revolutionary. Sometimes I wonder if I would have liked it at all if I’d seen Sleepless in Seattle first, or was older and had watched Sex in the City recreate and undermine so many of the film’s signature moments. I know a lot of film fans my own age who hate it to bits because they’ve seen so much of it so many times before. That’s not the movie’s fault, and it’s not their fault, it’s just a twist of fate, a quirk in the order that they came to certain stories.

It Happened One Night works for me because it’s a good movie, and I had a good time hearing it on the radio, and a good time watching it come to life on a tiny TV. But I don’t begrudge or refuse to understand people who don’t like it, everyone’s entitled to their opinions. And, more importantly, I understand why they don’t like it.

So here, on this brand new blog, there are going to be stories about stories and a lot of talk of movies and television shows from a long time ago. But it’s not because they’re the best, it’s because they’re my favourites. I hope you have fun, and join in, and don’t mind disagreeing, and that I can bring something to the massive discussion about classic TV that you find worthwhile, and that you forgive me for swearing sometimes because I’m a really sweary person in real life, even though I try to cool it in my writing.

Welcome! I’m glad you’re here!

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