As young girls, my little sister Louise and I could often be found sitting in front of our big console TV, just as we are in this photo. In those days, there were few channels to watch, but on weekends at least one station gave the whole afternoon over to old movies. Many cold winter days when our mother couldn’t send us out to play, we fed on popcorn and classic films.
Rapt, we soaked in stories and images that became inextricably mixed with our real life experiences. Of course some themes of the many movies we saw went way over our young heads, but even so, movies made an imprint. Fred and Ginger, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and other Hollywood stars were our teachers. We learned about greed from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, evil from the Night of the Hunter, honor from Casablanca, religious zeal and hypocrisy from Elmer Gantry, and romantic love from scads of films.
We didn’t take movies all that seriously at the time. We didn’t feel their stories seeping into our bones in ways that would affect how we grappled with life’s big questions as we matured. Movies merely enthralled us. Little did we know that they were artfully drawing us into thinking, feeling, and synthesizing a world well beyond the limited one our small town, little house, and distant parents could offer us.
And that’s the value of art, storytelling, the movies. They prod us to explore ideas, emotions, and meaning that our own physical experiences may not encourage. They invite us to create deeper relationships with the world, with others, and with ourselves. They open us up to possibility.
Hours and hours of movie-watching probably warped us in some ways. Perhaps I believe a little too much in love conquering all and tough guys with mushy hearts. Perhaps I am a little too naive about the power of good over evil, and much too disappointed adult life doesn’t hold more occasions for evening gowns, tuxedos, and art deco settings. In the real world, most endings aren’t happy. In the real world, people don’t break out into song on sweeping staircases.
Except when they do.
Once, in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, I heard a woman, high above the rush hour bustle, break into song on the marble staircase. Her operatic voice filled the cavernous space and brought commuters on the main concourse to a standstill. It was just the sort of magic moment that you might think could only happen in the movies.
A version of this post appeared originally on Eric Maisel’s Creativity Central