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Internet provides an instant theater

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Charlie Bowen Charlie Bowen

Charlie Bowen is a writer, teacher and web designer. He lives in Huntington.

Until recently, I had a fairly large gap in my cultural literacy when it came to movies, especially those made in the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. 

Those were the years I worked in newspaper newsrooms. The schedule I worked as a reporter and later as a city editor often was not conducive to taking in the latest films when they appeared in our local theaters. Newsrooms taught me many things — including some rather earthy words and phrases we bandied about as deadlines neared, language I learned to suppress when I was with my mom or other polite company — but in terms of significant films, all I compiled during those years was a list of movies I hoped to see someday. 

"Someday" came this year in the form of a New Year's resolution. 

Six weeks before the beginning of the New Year, I broke my ankle in a fall on our front walk. As a result, I watched most of the winter of 2013-14 from a recliner in front of the TV. I'm told it was miserable for those of you who were out in it, but for me it was, frankly, a boring, repetitious story: ice, snow, thaw; ice, snow, thaw. Quickly, I realized I needed something else to occupy my eyes during what the doctor warned would be months of recovery from surgery. 

My choice for that "something else" came to me suddenly on the day I was half-listening to an interview — on television, of course, TV now being my constant companion — in which the interviewee made his point by pulling off a painfully exaggerated Marlon Brando imitation: 

"I could'a been a contender," he mugged. "I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." 

Like most viewers, I suspect, I instantly recognized the man's reference. It is, of course, the most famous line in 1954's "On the Waterfront." But in the same instant, I realized that I had never actually seen the film. I'd seen the scene, of course. Who's hasn't? But I had never seen it in context. 

Then I starting thinking of other film lines I know because of our shared movie culture even though I've not seen the full film. Many of them are classics, not only from the '60s, '70s and '80s, but also from the 1930s and '40s.


  • "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" Jimmy Cagney. "White Heat." 1949. Never seen it.
  • "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." Bette Davis. "All About Eve." 1950. Ditto.
  • "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?" Mae West. "She Done Him Wrong." 1933. Nope.
  • "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." Lauren Bacall, "To Have and Have Not." 1944. Nuh-uh.
  • "Go ahead. Make my day." Clint Eastwood. "Sudden Impact." 1983. Seriously? Seriously, I had never seen the actual film.


It was right then I decided to devote part of my months of living danger-less-ly to filling up this gaping void in my cinematic background. Using the technology at hand — computers and television — I would see how many of the great films I could view from my home confinement. 

First, I needed a road map. I searched the Internet for a list of great movies and quickly landed on the American Film Institute's list of 400 films nominated for the AFI's ultimate goal: the 100 greatest movies of all times. Checking the list, I discovered I had already seen perhaps half of the 400 over the years, but there were some surprising big misses. 

Among them were: "The French Connection." "Chinatown." "Midnight Cowboy." "Goodfellas" and a slew of lesser-knowns. I then turned to Netflix ( We've been Netflixers for years, originally using it to rent DVDs by mail. Now, though, I would use it mostly for streaming directly to the TV. A goodly number of the classic films on my hit list were available through Netflix. But not all. 

Hulu Plus ( and Amazon Prime ( filled some slots. While those services still seem mostly interested in streaming current and classic television, they both have a respectable collection of films, including some of the greats that I was hunting. 

An advantage in watching through these services is that they are multi-platform. You can start watching on the TV, take a break, then resume watching on your smartphone or tablet. The system remembers where you left off. 

When I had exhausted the classic movie sections of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, I turned next to Apple's iTunes Store and got a bit of a surprise. I thought my only option would be to buy films online, and at $15 to $25 a pop, that was beyond my budget. But it turns out that most of the films in the iStore — which has extensive offerings — can be rented for $3 or $4. Rent it online for streaming, then view it any time within the next month or so. 

Finally, a favorite guide during my months of movies was the Internet Movie Database ( Before I started a new film, I always checked IMDb's "Did you know?" section for curious tidbits. There was always interesting trivia to enhance my viewing, such as:


  • While he was making "Citizen Kane," Orson Welles privately watched John Ford's "Stagecoach" about 40 times for inspiration.
  • In the filming of "Blue Velvet," Dennis Hopper was not aware that Isabella Rossellini was naked under that robe until the cameras were rolling. We don't see what Dennis sees when she opens her robe, but we do see what director David Lynch wants us to see: Hopper's surprise.
  • James Stewart's father was so offended by his son's "Anatomy of a Murder" that he took out an ad in his local newspaper telling people not to see that "dirty picture."


Looking at the world of films, playwright Tennessee Williams wrote in "The Glass Menagerie," "People go to the movies instead of moving." That line, written 70 years ago this year, is truer than ever. In fact, we don't even have to "go" anymore. The movies come to us.

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