Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Home Movies

Last night B and I sat down in front of the TV with some bicolor corn on the cob, some beer, and the DVDs of B's family's home movies, which had just arrived in the mail.

All these movies date from the 1950s and 1960s. It was B's mom (not his dad) who owned and operated the camera. She was ahead of her time, for sure. She did a pretty good job. Things were usually in focus and they seemed a lot less choppy and fraught than the footage my dad took. There's a famous shot in my own family's home movies of my dad's slippers tromping down the hall. Apparently, he'd forgotten to turn the camera off and was on his way to the bathroom or the bedroom. Hilarious (to my family anyway).

So like most home movies, there is a lot of footage of Christmases, birthdays, New Year's Eve Parties, and vacations to Florida (and Cleveland). Home movies are one of those things that people either find deadly boring or fascinating. I am in the latter category. It's a window into the past, esp. since most of these were made before I was born. There's even some footage of B's great-grandparents. He FF'd through a lot of it, but we got the gist of it.

What struck me the most, perhaps, was the surfeit of toys B and his brother got when they were practically still in diapers. Christmas 1964 went something like this:

  • Rock'em Sock'em Robots
  • Casper the Ghost jack-in-the-box
  • Machine gun and assorted other guns
  • Remote control tank
  • Printing press (!)
  • Inflatable punching clown
  • Magnetized car thing
  • Train set
  • Army uniforms complete complete with name tags
  • Mechanical monkey that begs for coins
  • Colorful building logs
  • Mechanical man
  • Remote control dog
  • Rocket launcher
  • Cannon
OK. I might be merging a few Christmases together, but you get the idea. These kids got a lot of toys. According to B, there was some sort of rivalry between some aunts or grandparents of some kind and they engaged in some oneupsmanship when it came to gift giving. B and his brother didn't complain.

Note the warlike nature of many of these toys. Also the family must have constantly had to replenish its D battery supply.

Those Army uniforms appeared in quite a few home movies. B really liked to wear his it seems and since he was sort of a sickly, scrawny kid, he didn't outgrow it for a long time. At one point B and his brother are sitting in an Army jeep because the Army Reserve fiance of some relative was trying to get in good with the family. B and his brother are wearing their uniforms and so is the fiance. The guy bought the kids the uniforms or maybe he got them for free? It isn't that much of a stretch of the imagination to think that the Army might have supplied free mini uniforms to kids at that time. It's kind of cute, but it's also kind of scary and shows how the attitude toward the military has changed. This was pre-Vietnam War.

Like all home movies, there is some stuff that seems practically universal to white, middle-class America. Like the obligatory shot of a new car. One of the segments was entitled "Benson New Car," and "B's Arrival." Guess which gets more footage? The car. It's not even his parents' car, it's his grandparents' car. It's red with fins and pretty cool, I have to admit, but still. Cut to B. It's just sort of a cursory pan of B as a newborn being carried out of the hospital bundled in blankets. He's being carried by a harried looking nurse for some reason. Maybe because his dad has a broken arm. Anyway, no close-ups of the new baby's face or anything. He's put in the car and then it shows him being brought into the house. End of scene!

B was quite annoyed. That's what happens when you're the second-born kid. The novelty has worn off. I'm basing this on personal experience. I was the first-born and there's way more home movie footage of my first years than there is of Mary's or John's.

Odd stuff: There's a New Year's Party where the adults are playing some sort of game that involves--if you're a woman--threading something on a string down the front of your dress and retrieving it from the bottom of your skirt (hopefully revealing a bit of petticoat in the process). The men actually put the thing down the front of their trousers! Too fucking weird! No one seemed to thinks so at the time. Even older ladies are happily dropping this thing down the front of their dress. What on earth could be the object of such a game? Is it just an icebreaker?

I also enjoyed seeing some footage from Santa's Village--a very rinky dink Christmas-themed amusement park that I thought was great when I was, like, 7 years old. We'd drive by it in later years and it was clear to me that the place was falling apart and that the rides were probably not safe. I remember that there were these aluminum or plastic Xmas trees lining the perimeter of the place and that the "ornaments," which were kind of like bubbles protruding from the tree, were all "popped," kind of like you'd pop bubble wrap but on a larger scale. I can't believe it hasn't gone out of business. It was still there in 2000 when we drove by it on our way to the hospital when Dad was having heart surgery.

Anyway, I got the chance to time travel back to Santa's Village in the early 1960s. Boy, were the rides cheap. There's a little kids' Ferris wheel in which the only thing preventing the kids from falling out of the cars and plunging seven feet to certain death is one of those slide fasteners like you see on garden gates. Sheesh!

B pointed out that his dad was wearing a suit (at an amusement park in summer). It didn't seem out of place for that era, though. Another thing that wouldn't be seen today--at least I hope it wouldn't--was a cart filled with kids being pulled by reindeer (or maybe regular deer). PETA would be all over that.


Post a Comment

<< Home