Watching a new, ultra high-definition movie in crisp surround sound can be thrilling– so thrilling, in fact, that some people cringe at the prospect of watching an old black-and-white film. When we think of monochrome movies, we think of boredom. Yet viewing a classic movie can be a very rich experience, especially for the student of manners and manliness.
In a newer movie, we get the spirit of the present, often packaged in a familiar way that makes it easy to overlook; but in an older movie, we get the spirit of a different time, packaged in a way that is less familiar. We have to think about it more. Hence, sometimes an older movie provokes more questions about human nature and– more specifically– manhood.
Why is a male character acting a certain way? Why are male and female characters interacting a certain way? Is the behavior realistic, or is it stylized, idealized, exaggerated, or fabricated? Does the behavior seem strange? If so, is that more because of an undue influence of the spirit of that time on the movie or because of the undue influence of my own era on me? Are the characters worthy of imitation? Are the actors worthy of emulation? Do I forget to ask myself these questions when watching more recent movies?
Yes, there are many worthwhile questions that an old movie can trigger, which is why I was pleased to find a website called Big Five Glories, recently. Named for the Big Five movie companies of the Golden Age, the site describes itself as “a ‘jewel case’ to classic movies.”
Big Five Glories is essentially a handsome portal to English-language classic films that are now in the public domain. At the time of writing, the site offers free streaming of nearly 140 movies, most of which are black-and-white and about 20 of which are silent. Movies are available from many genres, and each movie page contains a summary, a rating (in stars), cast information, a link to the relevant page at IMDb, and even a link to memorabilia on Amazon.
Since this website relies on other sites to actually stream the movies, there is variation in the video quality, the audio quality, and the playback controls. That being said, in my tests over a standard DSL connection, movies played smoothly and without interruption. Don’t expect many movies to be available in 1080p or 7.1 surround sound, but enjoy the fact that you can watch them easily without leaving the website.
The website’s clean and elegant look is perfect for its subject-matter. It is well-organized and easy-to-use. A search box makes it possible to find movies by keyword, and the “Explore” button in the upper-right of the screen makes it possible to search by genre.
Additionally, the website displays well on a wide-screen television. Generous margins on the left and right sides of content ensure that you can zoom as much as necessary. At 1720×936 resolution on a 53″ television, I was able to use Firefox to zoom in five times and still use the site without having to scroll from side-to-side. By the way, did I mention how great this site looks?
You can find public domain movies elsewhere online, but Big Five Glories is such a pleasure to use that you won’t want to go elsewhere (except, possibly, a paysite). And since the movies offered are classic movies, you not only get entertainment but also a level of thought-provoking enrichment that you’re not likely to find in the latest thriller.
Monochrome manliness or high definition? Both have something valuable to offer… if we give both a chance.