My Creative Circle
I’m a creative guy; always have been. No brag. Just fact. A creative person needs a circle of creative friends. Usually these are people who understand the roller coaster ride of the creative life. Since the great pandemic of 2020, my circle has collapsed to brave few. Both orchestras I play in haven’t rehearsed or performed since this all began. My select congregation whom I had the joy of leading in worship went online without me.
Thank God for my wife, Freeda, one of the most creative people I know. One of her great joys is decorating for Christmas. Me? I love re-telling the story and arranging and conducting the music but the lights and decorations are not my primary means of celebrating the seasons. Freeda more than makes up for this.
Yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving, she rested a while and then told me to help her get the tree. I am happy to do this because it makes her so happy and because when the tree is delivered to the living room, my job is done. Happy Holidays!
She finished up later in the evening and I visited the exhibit. It was beautiful and tasteful, of course, and full of significant artifacts of our 46+ years of life and ministry together. While I was enjoying her craftsmanship, I noticed the setting. As can be seen in the photo above, Freeda’s lovely tree stands significantly in the corner of the room in front of the ceiling-high bookcase our son-in-law had built for his prodigious book collection. When Matt and Nicole moved up north, I loaded those bookcases with my collection of classic films on DVD.
Before the pandemic, I had lost touch with my film collection. I was too busy for relaxing and reading a classic film or two.
During these tenuous times, my love of and enjoyment of classic films has returned. You must understand, this is not nostalgia to me. I barely remember the 1950’s and the 1930’s and 1940’s not at all. Growing up Pentecostal, I didn’t go to movies until I got to college; that was the late 1960’s. I watched old movies on TV and learned to love them. My Mother did too, and my Dad used to stay up late with me on Friday nights to watch whatever was The Late Show on Channel 3 in Memphis. Old movies were plentiful on TV in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Channel 3 also showed a movie at 3:30 every afternoon and in the summer Channel 13 showed a film a day at 9:00AM. Saturday afternoons saw several film series like the MGM Tarzan movies, the big gorilla movies (King Kong, Son of Kong, Mighty Joe Young) and Fantastic Features in the early evening ran science-fiction and horror films hosted by a local personality named “Sivad,” dressed as a vampire. His real name was Davis—Sivad spelled backwards. As a bonus, we lived for many of those years next door to the Drive In Theatre. “Holiness” prohibited me from actually going to the Drive In to see a film, but, with just a drainage ditch between us, it was easy to visit the concession stand. They served tasty food and huge “whole show,” 32oz. cokes. I was given to asking Mom if I could go over to the Drive In and “get a coke.” Sometimes it would take me 3 or 4 hours to get that coke. They were kind enough to supply lawn chairs around the concession stand.
I know this confession could be seen as evidence of nostalgia and I will admit there might be an element of that in my affection for classic films. But there is so much more.
My affection for these works of commercial art is sourced in two things that I hold dear, two things that I have identified as evidence of the image of God in human beings. Those two things are these: 1) craftsmanship and 2) creativity. These films are routinely excellent and dependably creative. There is still more—in sound films we have the definitive record of the invention and perfection of an art form. Before the beginning of the 20th Century there was only photography and theatre. By the late 1920’s a whole new art form and a whole new industry had been invented. As each decade unfolded the movies progressed in craftsmanship and creativity as well. Commercial filmmaking has always been a dynamic confluence of technology and artistry, each dependent on and contributing to the other. The story of film is as fascinating as the films themselves. Each decade produced differing themes as public tastes changed and as the science and artistry of filmmaking changed. Film is unique in that we can each own the artifacts of this history and find in them revealing time capsules of everyday life in each decade.
Now, back to Freeda’s tree in front of my collection. As I studied this congruence, I realized that the people who lived this history are now my creative circle. At first it was just the actors and actresses like James Stewart, Ronald Colman, Greer Garson and Bette Davis who brought the characters to life. Gradually, beginning with Frank Capra, I became aware of the directors like John Ford, William Wyler, and George Stevens, then the studio heads and the factories they ran and finally craftsmen like Ray Harryhausen and writers like Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges and Paddy Chayefsky. My awareness of film genres and the rules of their production, the codes of the public tastes, and their creative methods of defeating those codes. Since filmmaking was a business the public tastes shaped the industry even as the industry returned the favor.
So, my creative friends in this circle continue to inspire me:
- The great writers, the modern prophets, clever comedians, bold visionaries, and passionate historians,
- The brave producer-directors who went their own way, never submitting to the studio system,
- The versatile studio directors who took whatever film was assigned to them and made it work,
- The character actors who played in film after film, making the stories real,
- The actors, leading men and second fiddles and their menacing, antagonists,
- The actresses, romantic leads, their moms and sisters, temptresses, and those dangerous femme fatales,
- The technicians and craftsmen who were nameless then and largely remain so,
- The producers and studio heads who made the decisions and found the talent and the money required by their studios to ensure their expected output of 50 films every year.
Today these amazing creative people form my circle of friends. I am blessed to have friends like these writers, directors, actors and technicians to inspire me to create something every day.
© 2020 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
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