I often think -- even after working in the area for more than ten years -- that there is something almost magical about the wonders of the Internet and World Wide Web. I can rhapsodize about how the Internet has transformed business, society and our personal lives, and often do in formal talks and any other opportunity I have. But we all know that real "magic" isn't theoretical but personal. Take the impact that the Internet has had on my pleasure in watching films.
I have enjoyed movies as far back as I can remember. Going to movie theaters has been one of the main sources of entertainment in my life. And, more and more, I also found that I enjoyed reading what critics said about the movie I had just seen -- if I had bothered to save the newspaper or magazine with that particular review. Once the Web came on the scene in the late '90s, I no longer had to hunt for those magazines or newspapers, and could simply go to web sites like imdb.com . . . . and there they were, not just the few reviews I was able to previously get my hands on, but a whole slew of them from all over the country and sometimes beyond, usually led by my favorite and most trusted reviewer, Roger Ebert.
So far, so good, but I was still primarily watching newly released movies in movie theaters. But then, around this same timeframe of the late '90s, I happened to wander into the video room of my local library in Westport, CT, and came face to face with this incredible collection of films on VHS (they have since added DVDs to the collection), from just about every possible genre, that you can check out and take home. I browsed the collection, saw an older, classic movie that caught my eye (I don't remember what film it was), took it home and watched it. Afterwards, I went to imdb.com and other sites, and found lots of information about the movie I had just watched, including the collection of reviews that expressed lots of different points of view on the movie. A number of the critics, along with opinions on the particular movie being reviewed, also had opinions on what other works by the same director, actors or actresses you should watch. I then went back to the library (or in reality, searched its online catalogue, took out whatever recommended movies I found, and before I knew it, I was not just watching individual movies, but essentially taking the equivalent of a self-taught, informal film course over the Internet.
For example: I had honestly never paid attention to Westerns since watching Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger -- speaking Spanish -- when I was a kid in Havana. I knew who John Wayne was, but the general impression I had was of someone who strongly supported the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, and later had an airport named after him in Orange County, CA. One day, browsing the Western video section in the library, I saw a tape of Stagecoach, took it home and watched it. I absolutely loved it!!! I then went on imdb.com and learned all I could about it. Stagecoach was directed by the great John Ford, was viewed by critics as one of the first "serious" Westerns, and propelled John Wayne to stardom. The reviews also recommended what to watch next, and I proceeded to watch and learn about just about every Western directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne. There was the so called "Cavalry Trilogy": Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande, in all of which John Wayne plays a cavalry officer. There was the much darker The Searchers, in which Ford and Wayne deal with racial prejudice against native Americans in a more complex way than had been done before. And then there was the magnificent The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which they deal with the demise of the Old West as civilization arrives at the frontier, and which ends with one of the most famous lines in movies: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
It is very interesting, and frankly quite a pleasant surprise, that I had to wait until my 50s, and the advent of the Internet, to enjoy and appreciate these wonderful films.