20 December 2014

On presents and the wisdom of the ancients...

Even in the UK, it appears that practically every day after Thanksgiving (not our holiday) to Christmas has a label. Apparently today was panic Saturday (I heard someone on the radio christen [appositely?] next Monday, "Manic Monday"). What a countdown.

I last got excited about Christmas in 1957. I remember "Last Train to San Fernando" as a hit at that time, and I looked it up... Don't bother.

Son and grand-daughter (11) called round today. They had tried to go shopping, but town was a maelstrom, and so they were wondering what to do for the afternoon which did not involve crowds. They checked out the cinema, but while son was really up for going to see Paddington, grand-daughter thought it childish. And she is clearly embarking on a campaign for a TV in her room (to add to the iPad and...)

So it goes. They did settle on getting a DVD to watch. For some reason my suggestions about a walk—it was cold but bright and still—were not well received.

My presents for birthday and Christmas always include (or may consist entirely of) books. But it did strike me this afternoon that the books son, his partner, and her daughter will receive will be for individual consumption. Grand-daughter is beyond the age of the bedtime story (one of the great downside losses of children growing up), and her iPad fixation and desire for a TV in her room—they are all about doing things on her own (or with peers, probably virtually).

I've never been one for packaged video; I owned just one VHS video (Educating Rita—to use clips for teaching purposes). A few years ago, I started to receive boxed sets as presents; despite my admiration for the series, I only ever watched one episode of the West Wing on DVD—the very first one, which I missed on first showing. But I have to admit that a family can watch and enjoy them together.

So, what about making presents of them?

But. Given that son and family are apparently regular buyers, how to avoid duplicating their collection? The line plugged by the distributors is of course to get the latest releases.

But I have an advantage. I remember Last Train to San Fernando. Like all other artefacts and history in general, they grow. And however dodgy, our senescent but not senile memories are still the best access to choice—if trivial—gems from the past. I am totally ignorant about current cinema, but I was a keen follower until the mid-70s, and there is a treasure-house of not merely vintage but currently entertaining material, readily available as never before...

With some reluctance, because I am far from a fan of the fluvial behemoth, I went online. What might all three of them enjoy, but not know they had missed? Bringing up Baby. And that's bundled with... and other buyers bought...

But it took my seed knowledge to get this search going. As Daisy Christodolou argues (she's not the first, of course, but probably the most accessible today. This is a recursive argument!) it takes a foundation of sheer knowledge to build connotations and context and connections and ...

In other words: how would I have started to build a list of potentially enjoyable old movies without an initial exemplar? (First- or second-hand?)

Actually, I would have set out the conditions and run the search and then reviewed the results in search of... an instance which could act as an exemplar. Clumsy.

Even so: I may well have got it all wrong.

Why do we bother?

At the risk of getting (non-doctrinally, equal opportunity shame/guilt/non-specific miserable) pious it's the effort which matters.

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