They’re not exactly the latest thing in movies. Then again, that’s sort of the point. These films show where modern movies came from.
And they show what movies used to be.
That’s part of the reason Hylda Wilson comes to the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta to watch the movies shown through its Classics Film Club.
“I like old movies,” she said. “They’re different. I don’t like the new movies. They’re not fairy tales.”
Wilson’s 86 and says she’s been watching movies since 1937 or so. She lives in Sandy Springs now, but remembers going to see “picture shows – they weren’t called movies then” in small-town theaters when she was young.
She was born in Atmore, Ala., a small town where her family ran a general store. The family moved to the larger nearby community of Valdosta, Ga., when she was a young girl and when they left, she said with a laugh, the Jewish population of Atmore dropped to zero. Movies were a big deal then. “I used to go to movies all the time when I was young,” Wilson said. “All we had to do was go to the movies.”
But movies changed. She remembers seeing “Midnight Cowboy,” a 1969 classic about New York street hustlers, and being turned off. And that was just the beginning. “I don’t like bare butts and bare bosoms,” she said. “I don’t need to see ’em.”
But she still like those old movies. She watches some on TV. And last year, she discovered the MJCCA’s Classics Film Club shows. The club started showing classic films in the fall of 2017 and now draws small groups of film buffs to its monthly Sunday afternoon gatherings.
Andrew Hibbs puts the shows together. He usually works in the Marcus Center’s membership office, but when he heard that center staff members were thinking about showing classic films as part of the programming for people aged 60 or older, he volunteered to run the series. He’s a big movie fan.
He started out wanting to be an actor. He did some acting, he said, “but the life of an actor is pretty tough.” In college, he started looking at movies more deeply, more like a director, he said, and got a deeper understanding of the artform. “Now, I’m more interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff,” he said.
He picks the films the club shows and then researches them. He makes a short presentation on each film or on things going on in the industry at the time it was made. After the showing, he leads a discussion on the film.
Last year, the club showed serious dramatic films, so this season, he decided to change things up a bit. “I wanted to do comedies,” he said. “I wanted to do something light and fun after having people sit through ‘Wild Strawberries’ and ‘The Bicycle Thief.’”
For this round, he scheduled Buster Keaton’s “The General” for August; “Gold Diggers of 1933,” with song-and-dance numbers directed by Busby Berkeley, for September; the Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera” for October; and director Howard Hawks’ “His Girl Friday,” staring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, for December.
One recent Sunday, about a half-dozen people, including Wilson and Hibbs’ dad, Stan, got together in the Marcus Center’s computer room for the screening of “Gold Diggers of 1933.” Hibbs used a computer to project the black-and-white film on a screen set against the wall.
Although it’s included in the National Film Registry and was a hit in its day, “Gold Diggers of 1933” may be less well known now than the other titles in the Classic Film Club series.
The film stars Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. It included lots of snappy repartee and stuffy rich men being outwitted by worldly, if impoverished, chorus girls. It ends with a song called “The Forgotten Man” set against images of marching World War I veterans being reduced to living on the streets and eating from soup kitchens.
“That last piece,” Stan Hibbs said, “was really…”
“Dark?” Andrew Hibbs said.
“Yeah, dark,” Stan Hibbs agreed.
“It was hard times and a lot of films weren’t talking about it,” Andrew said.
That’s part of the reason the younger Hibbs chose the film for the program. It speaks of and for its time. And it still has lots of dancing girls covered with coins and singing “We’re In the Money.”
“It’s one of those things that a lot of people who love film really love,” he said. “It’s kind of a ‘guilty pleasure’ movie. It does have some interesting things to say… about the Depression. It’s also very specific to its time, to the Busby Berkeley era. You don’t see movies like that anymore.”
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org