Shamus had a nice post the other day about childhood moviewatching experiences, which sent my mind reeling back to a similar setting: not Shakey's but a Michigan (and perhaps national, for all I know) establishment called "The Ground Round," which used to have a big room with a large screen at one end, on which they'd project old silent comedies, shorts (Laurel and Hardy especially), Betty Boop cartoons, etc. I think the idea was to evoke a certain nostalgia and create a party atmosphere (there were constantly refilled popcorn baskets on the tables, and one was encouraged to drop the popcorn on the floor-- is part of nostalgia a sticky walking surface?).

All of which reminded me of an ongoing conversation with a friend about contexts of film viewings. In an age of Netflix (and DVD more broadly), the fetish seems to be for clean prints, loaded with extras and uninterrupted. And I share that fetish, too, but also have a secret nostalgia for movies-on-TV; I am almost certain my current fascination with film is due in part to a WGN program called Family Classics, that ran on Sunday afternoons, after church, and played decent-not-great prints of old films like the Andy Hardy series, and annually ran The Adventures of Robin Hood (which quickly became one of my favorite films).

After the opening in the library above, the show would display an old, leather-bound volume with the film's title on the cover, which would open to a page that functioned as our transition into the film (it's been more than 20 years, but I think it dissolved from page to the film's opening image). This worked especially well for Errol Flynn movies, which were already so bound (to pardon the pun) to adventure books and exciting tales of yesteryear: as a child, I remember the thrill of entering into a whole universe inside that volume, a space at once magical and mysterious, its frame further enhancing the otherworldly qualities Classic Hollywood movies possessed for me (they were strange and comforting at the same time). Had I seen the film on DVD as a child, I might have still loved it, but it wouldn't have had the uncanny quality of which Christian Keathley writes, wouldn't have been connected to nearly so many memories of family gatherings around the TV, the relaxed atmosphere of a post-church, pre-dinner Sunday, the odd feeling that you were part of an ongoing tradition (the library setting as signifier). I even love the dated qualities of this video clip, the lines that run across the screen, the seemingly off-color yellows and garish blues of the image: for me, it's a kind of televisual madeline, a sensual marker that unlocks my past. A professor of mine used to quote Brian Eno: "Digital dissolves quickly, analog dissolves slowly." Framed by markers of "the literary," shot on 80s video, which preserves 40s film, and which is in turn preserved digitally on YouTube: where does the aura break down, and where does it start to regather, amidst all these frames?


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