Welcome to the first in a themed series of blog posts and articles to celebrate (if that's the right term) World Alzheimer's month. Throughout the month, I'll write a bit about the various conditions, but really these posts are designed to engage and support someone living with a dementia, by looking back on events and people from the golden age of cinema, the Silver Screen.
You may have heard of reminiscence therapy, where people talk and share thoughts, memories and experiences about the past. Personal memories can be very powerful, weddings and births for example. Things that happened in the news can be helpful, but can also provoke difficult memories (not all memories are rosy). For example, today in 1939, The UK declared war on Germany, closely followed by France, and shortly afterwards they were joined by Australia, New Zealand and Nepal. Interesting historically, and for many older people living with a dementia today, talking about the war (when the vast majority would have been children) can provoke happy childhood memories and painful and frightening ones in equal measure.
The Silver Screen though was an escape from the challenges of day to day life. Many of the older films and television programmes people watched when they were younger can now be seen on YouTube, TV, or on DVD. Some channels are great. If you work supporting people with a dementia, or just have a friend or family member you'd like to talk to, using entertainment as a prompt, can I suggest you look at either of these two channels, both of which are excellent.
Talking Pictures: An independent archive film and television channel. https://talkingpicturestv.co.uk
Turner Classic Movies: A long standing channel showing older movies . http://www.tcmuk.tv
In the UK alone, 850,000 people live with a dementia. Alzheimer's is the most common form of the disease, so it's likely that you, or someone you know has a friend or relative living with the condition. Talking about old films, TV or other entertainment can start some fascinating conversations and take the person to a place of safety, comfort and calm as they relive the cinema, the time and the people they shared the time with.
So, to start us off today, James Cagney. With 70 acting credits to his name (according to IMDB, the internet movie database) you're sure to find a memory to talk about. Perhaps print this picture off and use it to start a conversation.
The reason I choose James Cagney to start with is that two of his films were released today, but then, in 1943 and 1948.
Johnny Come Lately is the story of an ex-newspaper man, who, having fallen on hard times, ends up working with the female boss of a local newspaper to fight corruption. It was released in cinemas today in 1943.
The Time of Your Life first hit the Silver Screen today in 1948. It's the tale of a neighbourhood bar with Cagney observing the lives and stories of the people who spend time there. This isn't a paid post, or one funded by advertising, but if you have Amazon Prime, you can stream this film at the moment, once you've finished reading my post that is. :-)
These two films might not be his best work, but they are well known and often remembered in detail by older people. He's better remembered for Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) so you might want to look those up too and work into the conversation.
In addition to talking about Cagney and his films, the reminiscence conversation can lead to wider conversations about cinemas at the time, the cost of a ticket, what else was on and what films your friend or loved one might recall.
Here are a few points of history and trivia about Cagney. Perhaps use these to keep the conversation going?
Born in New York In 1899.
Irish and Norwegian by descent, he grew up in a Jewish part of New York and could speak Yiddish.
Started out as a dancer and comedian in vaudeville theatre.
Signed by Warner Brothers for a 3-week contract at $500 a week ($7,000) in today's money).
Immediately extended to a 7-year contract.
Won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Was nominated as Best Actor for Angels with Dirty Faces. Lost out to Spencer Tracy, in the thrilling drama, Boys Town.
Had a black belt in Judo.
Was married for 64 years. Unusual for Hollywood, even then.
Famed for saying "You Dirty Rat". Never actually said it though, the closest was "You dirty yellow-bellied rat" in Taxi in 1932.
Turned down the role of Eliza's father in My Fair Lady. The role was eventually played by Stanley Holloway.
Also turned down the lead in High Sierra in 1941. The role was filled by an up and coming Humphrey Bogart, who had also worked with Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief little trip down memory lane with me into the world of the Silver Screen and hopefully you can see how easy it is to start reminiscence conversations. I'd love to hear how you get on.
Over the rest of the month, I'll provide more Silver Screen posts and I've tagged some related articles I've written to this post too, so please check back in, share away and as always, thanks for reading.
If you work in healthcare and you'd like to talk about building a suite of Silver Screen and other historical reminiscence tools, please feel free to get in touch here.
See you at the movies!