I’ve always loved old movies. Really old movies.
Long before streaming videos, DVD’s, or even VCR’s, I’d wheel the ancient portable TV into my room and stay up late, mesmerized by them. It didn’t even matter that my mom was a throwback who decreed color television a needless invention, because most of the movies were made in black and white anyway. And I didn’t mind.
Although, when my husband first met me and discovered I’d never owned a color TV, he was convinced I’d been seriously deprived. Keep in mind, however, that this is the man who believes that if you have kids and haven’t taken them to Disneyland or Disneyworld or some other Disney experience by the time they’re five, then you need to brush up on your parenting skills. So yes, bright colors loom large in his world.
But I digress. Okay. We’re back in my bedroom and I’m watching those old movies. And movie stars.
These were not the stars of my generation, yet they enchanted me. Cary Grant’s elegance. Bette Davis’ bite. Fred Astaire’s lightness. Jack Lemmon’s quirks. Ingrid Bergman’s class. Gene Kelly’s power. Marilyn Monroe’s fragile, stop-you-in-your-tracks sexuality.
And of course, I can’t forget Jimmy Stewart. That sweet, gentle, Everyman of the movies.
As luck would have it, my quest for more fun and play recently led me directly back to him as I watched his delicious performance in Harvey, for, I don’t know, maybe the tenth time? But who wouldn’t love a character who spouts lines like these:
Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.
I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whoever I’m with.
Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Jimmy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a slightly addled middle-aged man who lives with his sister and niece. His constant companion is Harvey, a six-foot-plus rabbit. Harvey is a magical rabbit, a pooka, a mischievous spirit drawn from Irish folklore. A lucky few can see him; most cannot.
You can probably imagine the commotion that arises as Elwood introduces each person he meets to Harvey. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that after a few close calls, a case of mistaken identity, and visits to a sanatorium, there is a final happy ending.
So, there I was, enjoying another dance with this film. Cradled in a comfy leather chair. Smiling. Giggling. Lost in its world, until the scene where Elwood explains what happens when people sit down with Harvey and him:
They talk to us. They tell us about the great big terrible things they’ve done and the great big wonderful things they’re going to do. Their hopes, their regrets. Their loves, their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar.
Nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. That line took me out of the movie for a minute. And it stayed with me for days afterwards. It even got me ruminating about how we don’t hear or see much that’s small nowadays.
It’s all very BIG.
Big business. Big muscles. Big dreams. Big problems. Big debt. Big special effects. Big goals. Big losses. Big gains. Big lives. Big partisanship. Big boobs. Big houses and cars. (Okay, maybe those are starting to change a bit.)
And I can’t forget to mention how we tend to idolize people who make it big.
Or how we want BIG for ourselves, right here in the virtual world: big bunches of friends on Facebook, big tribes of followers on Twitter, big audiences for our blogs.
Big? It’s everywhere.
Sometimes it throws me a curve, and causes me to step back to consider how we go about finding that sweet spot between big and small. For me, I’ve discovered that watching a small little black and white movie and believing, for a time, in a big magical rabbit, is one meaningful way to do it. An excellent Meaning Monday endeavor.
How about you? How do you discern that sweet spot for yourself? Or, if that’s just too BIG a question to face on a Monday (or whatever day you’re reading this), why not simply tell us about one of your favorite old movies and why you love it.
WHY NOT START NOW?
Patty, a little hello from the foot of Mount Fuji. I enjoyed this post – the idea of small is so unfashionable – we are constantly chided towards the BIG. I always liked “small is beautiful” as a business concept, and we reach the great through a series of small steps. Have you ever found that it is in the wee hours, alone and small, that we often come face to face with the really big questions of our life? My sweet spot is an ever-changing small corner of my mountain garden where I just blend my smallness with the vastness of the life force that surrounds me. Warm greetings to you from Japan – Catrien Ross.
Hi Catrien – Welcome! Lovely that you stopped in from the foot of Mt. Fuji. I like the sounds of that. You know, I like the small is beautiful biz concept too. It requires patience but in the end is very rewarding. And it seems you have the perfect sweet spot where you are. Thanks so much for sharing it.
I chose to not live the city life. I like to see the big horizon, not the big builidings. I feel like it keeps me just the right size.
Mmmm, wonderful, Angela. Such a perfect way to stay “just the right size.” There’s such a sense of certainty in that for you. Love it. Thanks.
Check out this quick read and short video post from the Nature Conservancy. This is why I love the great plains. In a perfect world, I could married it 🙂
Angela, I loved that! I’ve spent some time in the great plains and when he said, “It’s a place where you can’t open your arms wide enough” I said YES. I became mesmerized with it after reading the books of Willa Cather. Have you read them? She captures those earlier days on the plains, before the population explosion. She wrote about prairie dog towns and I was just compelled to get up close and personal with some, which I later did. Thanks so much for the link.
Dear Patty, I just LOVED this. This too is one of my favorite movies. It speaks to me of freedom of the spirit, freedom of expression, freedom of individuality. It requires that the viewer embrace realities beyond the “norm”. It invites them to be more compassionate, to not judge, to embrace love before “differences” and seeming “oddities”. It invites them to live a more magical and mysterious life.
This movies is pure delight. I also LOVE what you wrote about “BIG”. That is some powerful insight and writing. WOW!! It really made me think. You gave me words for something I feel and see everyday, but you expressed it so beautifully and effortlessly.
I think the way I find that balance is by spending time in Nature, or walking. Most days I walk (or walk/jog mix) about four miles. This seems to clear my head and help me to let go of unwanted energies.
Although, I don’t watch movies often, I too am drawn to these old B&W movies for the same reason as you. What is cool about them is since they didn’t have all the flash, special affects, color and so on, the content, acting, and message was often much stronger.
You are such a unique treasure, Patty. And that uniqueness shines through in sooooooooo many delightful ways that I REALLY resonate with.
Thank you for sharing this. It was magical. YOU are magical. Hugging you dear soul. Robin xox
Wow, Robin, you’ve written a spot-on description of what the movie is about at a deep level. So nice to find another “Harvey” kindred spirit. And I agree with you about the walking. I just got back from one, and I do indeed feel my head is clearer. Getting over to the river and seeing it flow makes all the difference. Thanks so much, you’re always so sweet and validating. Hugs right back to you!
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Harvey…I love old B&W movies…Jimmy Stewart always a favorite.
I watched a double does of Star Trek yesterday (yes, admitted Trek Geek) – I started with Wrath of Kahn – and picked out a very interesting line – “People approach death the same way they approach life…”
My husband turned to me and said, “that is so true.”
I nodded my head and replied, “If you’re afraid of death, your afraid of life…If you’re afraid of dying, then you are afraid of living…”
(All that out of a Star Trek movie? Yup!)
For me, my sweet spot is to live a life worth living. Embracing life rather than fearing it. Taking chances instead of always playing it “safe.” Being present. Being “big” in my own life and never shrinking from who I am.
Ooooh, I knew there was something about you, Peggy. I’m a bit of a Star Trek fan myself. And I’m always up for a conversation about death, because I think we all too often shove it aside and pretend it’s not looming for all of us. You’re a very wise soul. Love how you describe your sweet spot. Thanks!
Harvey has always been one of my all time favorites. It has resonated with me all of my life. I love the quotes and the lessons which you gleamed from this jewel of a story. Interesting how size does seem to matter so much in our culture. “Big” can be a trapping of our ego, however there is nothing wrong with big if it simply is the outcome of living from love and spirit. A life lived in love does not concern itself with size rather what we do with what we have. Be it a million dollars we have to give or just a few cents we have to give it is the intent and the love with which it is given. Be it that we live in a small shack or a expansive mansion it matters not if we acquire and live with love. Many a small person drives a big car and lives in a big house and has a big bank account while many a big person live in a small house and takes the bus and has very little in the bank.
Great post, thanks for the lesson.
So true, Mark. I think a lot of the emphasis on BIG all around us is about ego trappings, so it’s a breath of fresh air to think about the other form of bigness that you describe in your comment. Oh, btw, since you speak of love so eloquently, Belinda at the Halfway Point has a post up today all about love that I think you would, simply, love. Thanks for the comment!
As far as old movies go, my favorites don’t date much earlier than the ’70s after the glory of Technicolor was invented. Often times though, my favorites don’t follow the box office winners. In fact a few of my favorites were box office flops, but had great story lines. “Unbreakable” is one example.
Great things do often come in small packages. I have a great one right here next to me wrapped up in a 4 year old little girl. She’s happily working on her own computer and singing songs as she plays.
Ah, beautiful, Eric. And you know, I have a lot of fave old movies that are in color too. I thought Unbreakable was fascinating, and would very much like to see it again. Thanks.
How do I discern that sweet spot for myself? I can be something as simple as taking an afternoon power nap, or making myself a nice cup of coffee and sipping it on my balcony. I generally limit myself to one cup a day, so it’s a nice treat sometimes to have a second one.
I like the old Pink Panther movies. Had to think about that one for a minute.
Hi Davina – I like how you find that sweet spot by pampering yourself a bit. Power naps: good! And you’ve made me remember many happy moments watching those old Pink Panther movies. Wasn’t Peter Sellers great? Thanks!
Ha ha! When I met my husband, I didn’t have a TV. And he’s determined to take our son to Disneyland when he turns 5! However, we both haven’t seen Harvey in its entirety so we’ve just added it on the Netflix queue. Thanks for the recommendation.
I echo your thoughts about BIG. I think for many, choosing it has become a habit(a word I’m not very fond of because I feel it takes me away from being present, but I digress) because it is relentlessly being sold to us in a package designed to make us feel inferior if we don’t buy into it. Personally, BIG isn’t my preference. I get lost in big crowds, big clothes, big meals make me ill and I slide around uncomfortably in big cars. Maybe my aversion for it keeps me in my sweet spot.
Belinda, I’m cracking up! I guess our husbands have a bit in common too. And yes, very wise to point out that BIG is marketed to us and does a number on our self-esteem. I think a lot of us feel lost when we’re in it, just like you. Thanks!
Yes how sad…the BIG BIG stuff we’re all trained to gravitate toward. Meanwhile we miss the sweet spot because it’s never good enough.
10-15 years ago when bigger and better became even bigger and better what were we all thinking? I think the lesson of a lifetime is present today…to go back to being happy with the small, the intimate and the personal… maybe that’s what you’re seeing in those old films.
By the way I never watched them…sorry but there was no time on the farm and then no time as a young mom. Or should I say that’s not what I preferred to do when I had precious time to myself. I was just told to go see Breakfast at Tiffany’s last week. I’ll put more of the ones you suggest on my list.
Yes, indeed, I think I am seeing exactly that in those films, Tess. Good point. I love what you say about what were we all thinking, 10 to 15 years ago. Something shifted then. I’m thinking maybe it even started earlier than that. Don’t know for sure. And oh, there are so many great, classic, old movies, if you decide to catch up with them. I would recommend: It’s a Wonderful Life, All About Eve, Sunset Blvd., Citizen Kane. Ooops, I could go on and on, so I’ll stop. Thanks!
What an inspiring post. I know that sometimes the lure of BIG comes out for me and I feel the need to try and build an empire and change the world. Recently I’ve found more personal peace from keeping things in perspective – you can be small and still have a larger impact. Sometimes it is nice to know that life doesn’t have to be an endless chase for bigger and more complex. I love your approach – finding the joy and pleasure in the simpler things and know I do the same. Ok – off to enjoy the sunshine here in London. Thanks as always for the inspiration.
Oh yes, isn’t that true, Phil? The lure. Such a good word. When that happens to me I begin to doubt what I’m doing and worry it’s not BIG enough. I love that idea of being small yet having a large impact. I think that’s what we’ll all remember at the end of our lives, not our bigness. Thanks so much for the comment.
I love the movie, Harvey:~)I also enjoy older movies. There’s something about the simplicity of the tales…at least the ones I watch. It’s old fashioned good conquering bad. I’m glad you shared the lines from the film.
Regarding your question, when BIG is looming over me, like others have commented,I try to find my center again. Usually, this means finding ways to be in the present. For example, I will sit outside and watch the birds at the feeder. When I do this, BIG and SMALL disappear; they aren’t part of my present at these times:~)
Simplicity. Perfect word to describe it Sara. And for me, I find room to breathe within that simplicity. Sounds beautiful what you say about getting to your center. Love it! Thanks.
Maybe the era of Bigism is over, stifled under its own weight. Perhaps the age of elegance and awakening and simplicity is upon us.
You have a wonderful narrative voice, using disparate sources to show a perspective. It’s a quite gift–keep it up!
Let’s hope so! Your words make me think of it collapsing in on itself. Ah – elegance, awakening, simplicity. Love the sound of that. And thank you for your compliment, Kaushik!
OK, so aside from the fact that your husband sounds like my twin absolutely not. In fact you are living it right here. It is really interesting you are posting on this as I am reading the seminal work that breaks apart the concept of “Big” or “Hits” which is the culture we live in and turned it upside down with the advent of web 2.0, blogging and micro niche marketing. The book is called “The Long Tail” written by Chris Anderson (bestseller about 4-5 years ago). Although it is focused on technology and marketing it describes your point in spades. Here is more on the economic concept that the book is named after: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Tail
Not to heady at all for a Weds evening 🙂
Wow, thanks Mark! I’m gonna check that out. It sounds like it’s right up my alley, so thanks for including the wiki page.
I must confess that I’ve never seen the movie Harvey, though now that you’ve described it I am very anxious to. I can just imagine Jimmy Stewart delivering those lines you quoted. I’m not so good with old movies (though after reading this post, I think I’m missing a lot) but this summer my sister brought “Flower Drum Song” to the beach and we watched it about a million times. Even writing the title down, I’ve suddenly got one of the songs from the movie, “A Hundred Million Miracles” going in my head.
You know, even though I come off as a bit of a fanatic, I do realize they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s very cute though about “Flower Drum Song.” That’s a fun movie! Oh, and if you do watch “Harvey” let me know what you think! Thanks Charlotte.
Don’t start me on old films…
Humphrey Bogart takes some beating.
Most people remember Casablanca “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
But for me, The Maltese Falcon is better.
Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet… giants of the black and white screen.
Best quote from the film…
Joel Cairo: You always have a very smooth explanation…
Sam Spade: What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?
Of course, how could I forget Bogart and the others you mention? So a big welcome to you Keith, and many thanks for that reminder. I adore Maltese Falcon, and could watch it again right this minute. Love that speech at the end when he’s sending Mary Astor to her jailers. Oh, and what about Treasure of the Sierra Madre? That’s brilliant too.
Stop it Patty
I’ll be here all night!
OK Keith. If I must. But, what about the African Queen???
On my school report it said….. “and is easilly lead”.
Unfortunately that is still true.
One of my wife’s favourites – great plot, two great stars and who can forget… the leeches!
Nice post, Patty. I thought I was the only one who thought small any more. Bigger does not automatically equal better in my world. It never has.
Whenever I’m flicking through one of my Peanuts collections, I’m reminded of what a genius Charles Schulz was. He was able to comment on the larger we all live in with small little drawings of children, a dog and a bird. Charlie Brown and his gang lived out their fictional lives on the newspaper page in an endearing little microcosm that was equal parts whimsy and underlying melancholy.
Yup, this is what I read when I want to think small again. 🙂
Oh that’s perfect, Tony. I love that you mention Charles Schulz. What he did with Peanuts was extraordinary, exactly finding the sweet spot I’m talking about. Also, I spend a lot of time in the part of California where he lived, and have heard a lot of stories about him because a friend who is a cartoonist was buddies with him. Such an interesting guy. Thanks so much!
Dearest Patty, I absolutely love the movies of the 30’s and 40’s. The black and white, the texture, the content of the dialog. There is an honesty of the story interpretation and a sleekness and elegance to many of those films. I also enjoy the film noir. The cars and the cloths of the ere are very cool too. I love when you visit Harvey and Street Car Named Desire here on your blog. Like Keith Davis, I also have many Bogart film lines memorized (not on purpose), but I love the written dialog of those films.
What is it that draws some of us to that art form?
Hi Erin – So nice to find another kindred spirit. Love what you say about the honesty. I think the lack of special effects and fancy camera techniques places more emphasis on the story itself. And I too am a fan of film noir. What are your favorites? I’d love to hear! Thanks for the comment.
Erin – you mention “The black and white, the texture.” This was created by the guys who did the lighting. The lighting “technicians” who turned lighting into an art form.
Those dark wet streets with shimmering lighting effects are hard to produce in colour.
Patty – I’ve not seen Avatar but my favourite film buff in the UK has said that it suffers from the lack of a good story, which is very much what you are saying.
Great story backed up with great dialogue is what made the old classics.
The Big Sleep, African Queen, It Happened One Night, The Third Man, Casablanca, My Man Godfrey, Bringing Up Baby, Philadelphia Story, Notorious, The Thin Man (first movie is best), Gilda, Maltese Falcon, Streetcar Named Desire, Mildred Pierce and Key Largo are some of my favorite films.
Every single one of them is a favorite of mine too! Thanks for coming back and sharing those, Erin.
Pingback: Meaning Mondays: A Simple Philosophy Emerges « Why Not Start Now?