I was reminded that I need to be more grateful about these innovations by Colson Whitehead's wonderful autobiographical essay about his "Psychotronic Childhood" in The New Yorker. He basically uses film criticism as a form of autobiography, and explores the way his early obsession with weird cult movies shaped his life as a writer. Growing up in the 1970s, Whitehead had none of the aforementioned luxuries we take for granted. I thought his perspective beautifully evokes what it was like to be movie crazy in this earlier era:
"I dwelled in a backward age, full of darkness, before the VCR boom, before streaming and on-demand, before DVRs roamed the cable channels at night, scavenging content. Either a movie was on or it wasn’t... Fate was cruel and withholding, and then suddenly surprised me with a TV announcer’s tantalizing words: 'Stay tuned for ‘The Flesh Eaters’ '; or 'Don’t go away! We’ll be right back with ‘Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.’' I couldn’t look the title up on the Web, couldn’t know anything beyond what its luridness conjured, and there was the frightening possibility that I might never have the chance to see the movie again. Who knew when this low-budget comet would return to this corner of the galaxy? Its appearance was a cosmic accident, one that might never be repeated. Weeks before, some bored drone at the TV station had decided to dump it into this time slot, and today I happened to be home from school with bronchitis. Did I have time to grab some baloney or a bowl of Lucky Charms before the opening credits ended?"
I'm a child of the '80s; I can't remember a time before my parents had a VCR and our house was full of movies taped off HBO that my brother and I could watch over and over. Those days now seem downright paleozoic compared to today's modern technological wonders, but Whitehead's piece reminds me how good I had it back then, and how different my tastes might be if they had been shaped largely by the whims of the scheduling department at WPIX. There is something exciting about the radom discovery of a movie found while flipping through the channels, but it can't compare with the freedom of choice.
Read more of "A Psychotronic Childhood."