June 2, 2013

Martin Scorsese Takes Us to School: Why Old Movies Are Essential Viewing

When a master in a craft tells you that you should do something you tend to listen. So, when Martin Scorsese mentions over 80 films that have helped him learn about cinema, I think it's time to perk up our ears. Not only that, but he answers that question that I'm sure most of us have been asked, "Why should I watch old movies?"

These films, compiled by Co.Create (and originally mentioned in a Scorsese interview) read like humble direction from an old soul. Just to name a few of them:

These films definitely changed the way I looked at film, both in terms of genre and aesthetics, but most of these, as well as those on the list, are -- old movies. I mean, technically Do The Right Thing isn't "old" -- it's definitely more contemporary than the others, but Scorsese's choices reveal a penchant for films that are definitely not recent. Scorsese once said:

There was always a part of me that wanted to be an old-time director. But I couldn't do that. I'm not a pro.

But why? Why are older movies usually touted as -- well, better than contemporary films? (Obviously, I don't mean always and "old" and "better" are subjective, but typically the films analyzed in film courses, textbooks, and film focused websites are -- old.) Anyway, Scorsese answers that question:

I’m often asked by younger filmmakers, why do I need to look at old movies -- And the response I find that I have to give them is that I still consider myself a student. The more pictures I’ve made in the past twenty years the more I realize I really don’t know. And I’m always looking for something to, something or someone that I could learn from. I tell them, I tell the younger filmmakers and the young students that I do it like painters used to do, or painters do: study the old masters, enrich your palette, expand your canvas. There’s always so much more to learn.

Totally, Marty -- err -- Martin. Mr. Scorsese. Who better to learn filmmaking from than from those who wrote the book on it, and filmmakers like Georges Méliès and D.W. Griffith essentially did.

So, I figured we could sound off on our favorite old movies -- the ones that shaped the way we view cinema and the ones that are just near and dear to our hearts. I'll get the ball rolling:

Now you go!

Also, if you want to see Scorsese's full list of 85 essential films, click here.

Links:

Your Comment

66 Comments

Maybe I am an idiot, but I don't really think "Do the Right Thing" belongs on there. Much respect to Spike Lee, but it just didn't do much for me....maybe in 20 years when that whole aesthetic has some nostalgia to it, I'll backpeddle and gush over it.

June 2, 2013 at 6:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Harry Pray IV

Well, either way... these aren't easy to find....only 4 of them are streaming on netflix (as of 6/1/13), and about 1 out of 10 don't even show up in their database.

June 3, 2013 at 2:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

As someone who has worked on more than a few Scorcese pictures, I can say that Marty is far from personable in person. He's actually quite awkward and unapproachable to the rest of the crew other than his stars. A friend of mine took a nasty fall in front of "Marty" and Scorcese actually walked away quickly, shielding his eyes from viewing the scene (using his hand in a similar fashion to a horse blinder). The only other famous person with the eccentricity to pull of such an awkwardly strange move is Larry David. So, personable? NO. A genius? Absolutely.

June 2, 2013 at 6:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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anonymous for o...

Whoa -- I would've never guessed. Interesting though!

June 2, 2013 at 7:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

There's plenty of unexpectedly mean people in the business. Jason Bateman actually has it in his contract that he can kick PAs in the balls once per day. True story.

June 4, 2013 at 8:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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brett

Whoa — I would’ve never guessed. Interesting though!

June 7, 2013 at 10:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ally

I totally believe that. To become a famous director you need to be positively insane. Normal people don't make it, they don't even become small time directors.

June 7, 2013 at 5:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Heiko

1. Persona (Bergman, 1967)
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
3. Badlands (Malick, 1973)
4. A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes, 1974)
5. Tout Va Bien (Godard, 1972)
6. Sisters (De Palma, 1973)
7. Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, 1961)
8. Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick, 1964)
9. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)
10. Rififi (Dassin, 1955)

June 2, 2013 at 7:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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So let's assume the cutoff is 1989. Not bad year to start backwards from.

Sex, Lies and Videotape, 1989, Dir. by Steven Soderbergh
Breaking Away, 1979, Dir. by Peter Yates
Detective Story, 1951, Dir. by William Wyler
The Big Clock, 1948, Dir. by John Farrow

June 2, 2013 at 7:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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earnestreply

Whoa. The fact that you put two films that are unbelievable great, Breaking Away and The Clock, I just had to reply and say you have great taste in films

June 2, 2013 at 8:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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MIkep

The Tin Drum, Volker Schlondorff. Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino. Brazil, Terry Gilliam, Silence Of The Lambs, Jonathan Demme

June 2, 2013 at 7:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Rob

I see . Some people think last summer are old movies. Sorry ,not what he was getting at.

June 6, 2013 at 4:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dheep'

Woah, woah. Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Terry Gilliam? Before you understand those guys, you've gotta go to OLD movies - movies that defined cinema as an art, gave it its language, taught it to speak.

You know...Griffith, Eisenstein, Murnau, Flaherty. Then Ford, Welles, Wyler, Rossellini, De Sica. Hitchock. And more.

June 2, 2013 at 8:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

Metropolis (Fritz Lang 1927)
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein 1925)
King Kong (Cooper 1933)
Touch of Evil (Welles 1958)
The Bride of Frankenstein (Whale 1935)
Citizen Kane (Welles 1941)

I'm sure there are many others but those come to mind at the moment

June 2, 2013 at 10:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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TJM

Martin, Marty, Mr. Scorsese I do believe is responsible for making the first 35mm film at NYU. A style like no other, they broke the mold (as my grandma would say) when they made Scorsese. He took an incredibly complex form of art and added to it. Probably one of, if not the most influential director of our time. We're lucky to see him action and enjoy his work. He stuck with DiNero, used everyday characters, turned mobsters into heros. The Last Waltz is a dynamite doc, I guess it's safe to say he's my biggest influence. There's a ton of great filmmakers out there but only one Marty. He's in some respect bigger than the stars he directs, he's got a knack for bringing out the best in a performer. Great post. Thanks

June 2, 2013 at 10:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Anthony Marino

Great post! So many favorites, so little space:) Listed in no particular order...

4. A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes, 1974)

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie - John Cassavetes

- The Kid by Charles Chaplin - Sansho the Bailiff by Mizoguchi
- The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut - M by Fritz Lang
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington by Frank Capra - Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein
- Shoeshine by Vittorio De Sica - Louisiana Story by Robert Flaherty
- Broken Blossoms by D.W. Griffith - Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock
- Children of Paradise by Marcel Carné - The Red Shoes by Powell and Pressburger
- Nosferatu by F.W Murnau - The Godfather Part I and II
- Ivan's Childhood by Andrei Tarvosky - The King of Comedy by Martin Scorsese
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by G. R. Hill - Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica
- Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock - The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman
- Schizopolis by Steven Soderbergh - The Graduate by Mike Nichols
- Amarcord by Frederico Fellini - The Knack... and How to Get It by Richard Lester
- Kagemusha by Akira Kurosawa - Persona by Ingmar Bergman
- 8 1/2 by Frederico Fellini - Singin' in the Rain by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
- Brazil by Terry Gilliam - Citizen Kane by Orson Welles
- The Conformist by Bernardo Bertolucci - Umberto D. by Vittorio De Sica
- Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders - Chinatown by Roman Polanski
- Jaws by Steven Spielberg - Jeremiah Johnson by Sydney Pollack
- Vivre Sa Vie by Jean Luc Godard - The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp by EP and MP
- 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick - The Passenger by Michelangelo Antonioni
- Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni - Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut

GREAT site! Keep up the good work NFS!

June 2, 2013 at 10:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jake

I absolutely adore your list! So glad to see someone mention M - one of my all-time favorites :-)

May 3, 2016 at 7:18PM

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Katie Mlinek
Writer/Filmmaker
13

All right, I'll throw a shrimp on the barbie (these would be both old and foreign) - "The Ascent" (1977) by Larisa Shepit'ko, (Golden Bear - aka the top prize - 1977, West Berlin Film Festival) "Three Poplars on Plyushchikha" (1967) by Tatiana Lyoznova, (Top prize Mar del Plata, Argentina, 1969), "The Cranes are Flying" by Mikhail Kalatozov (Palm d'Or, Cannes, France 1958), "Once more about love" (1968) by Georgiy Natanson (special prize, Cartagena, Colombia, 1969).

All in glorious B&W.

"The Ascention" is/was released on Criterion. "The Cranes" is available (with decent subtitles) on YouTube via its copyright holder Mosfilm (Channel).

June 3, 2013 at 12:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

A short personal list of great movies a person would want to see to get an inkling of what I like in movies.

The Crowd- I've always liked it's subversiveness concerning the American Dream.

Seven Men From Now- really all the Ranowns. Like how the redemption gets dealt and denied.

The Searchers- not a favorite, could have been so much better if it didn't make half it's characters into caricatures. But the meat of it is great.

Glory- About being or rather becoming a man (or full person for you namby pambys), not less than one.

Raiders of the Lost Ark- My inner 14 year old insists this is included

Killer of Sheep- My favorite American movie (at least today). Dead dreams.

Dr. Strangelove- The end of the world has never been more fun

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre- Believe it or not, its better than the book, and the book is good.

Los Olvidados- Movies don't get better. Much here for understanding what it's like being a little boy needing your mothers approval, and how nasty and brutal children can be.

The Silence- Listing this last one because it's a great book/movie that Scorcese has said he wants to redo. Why? I have no idea, it's perfectly fine how it is, and complete. I can't imagine what he could add to it. Hope he leaves it alone and doesn't engage in the folly.

June 3, 2013 at 12:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Abersouth

My Bad!!! Last one is just Silence. No "The" there. Novel by Shusako Endo and movie done with his collaboration by Masahiro Shinoda.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silence_(novel)

June 3, 2013 at 12:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Abersouth

Funny how you get a whole different set of people commenting on different posts...

No order:
Godfather II by Coppola
Wild Strawberries by Bergman
Fitzcarraldo by Herzog
All the President's Men by Pakula
Badlands by Malick
Sherlock Jr. and The General by Keaton
The Crowd by King Vidor
The Gunfighter by Henry King
400 Blows by Truffaut

And so many more.

June 3, 2013 at 12:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Kenneth Merrill

Could/would you write an article on what we're supposed to be looking at when we watch these older movies? I find myself noticing obvious plots, awkward camera angles and I don't relate to the characters. I rarely find myself inspired. Some help would be appreciated. Thanks.

June 3, 2013 at 1:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jonesy

Jonesy-

Remember that when watching older films, that many things have changed in the way "film" has been perceived. Your artistic palette and understanding of the world and how stories are told is much diffrent than it was 100 years ago. Much like the different artistic periods, film has gone through transitions/ periods. Technology (stock, sound, computers etc) has had a big influence on this, but also, education (of the sheeple, internet, etc) and building on this foundation (what if we put wheel on the tripod so it could move...).

Back in the 30s,40s and even into the 50s there were many people that couldn't read or write. Their understanding of "language" was limited. A story arch for you that seems obvious is obvious because you have almost 100 years of simular stories that you alreay know, back then these were new stories, or a new way of interpreting stories. What you can take away from this is to see the foundation of the "murder mystery" arch or "love story" arch etc. These early films are what film history books (film theory) are about. These actors, writers and directors essentially wrote the book on film educate/ language. There was no rule of thirds or the 180 degree or third wall. All that "language" was discovered in these films, through trial and error.

Analyze what they are doing and why they did it? did it work? Why does it work or not? What were their possible limitations, how did they make that work, or not work? These older films are also paced much slower then modern works, and again, thats just the taste of the audience/ period.

Nowadays, audiences love explosions, exotic locations, big starts and VFX and "real world drama". During this time (early days) film was an escape to a different world, people couldn't afford to travel, there was a world war going on, people didn't want to be depressed, film was a way to get away from the awfulness of the real world. You can take away from this how to transport your audience to a different world, out of reality. They were also churning out new films ever couple months. It wasn't uncommon for a sound stage to see 2 or 3 different films shot on it in a single day. They were working on small budgets and very tight deadlines. How did they work with those constraints? etc.

When you go to an art gallery and look at sculpture, or drawings or paintings, what you are enjoying is the rendition of the artists creation. Do the same here. Know that lighting units were huge, loud and hard to move. Cameras were also big. Technology like the dolly and crane were new to the industry in the early days. All the language you take for granted as normal was new. Watch the Singin in the rain to get an understanding of what it took to build sets and record voice etc. (its a bit comical, but there is some truth there)

But thats the really old films, moving forward in time to the 60s/70s/80s/ etc. Each of these eras is like a different era in painting (romantic, renaissance, rococo, cubist etc). Films' language and colour palets changes, cinematography advanced, and story telling also changed. You start to get more genres, more "real or dramatic" stories, different film stocks, different camera moves, more locations etc. Films took longer to make, bigger budgets and added more post production etc. As you watch these films, take away all aspects, the look (stock, lighting, framing, etc), the colour palate (wardrobe, sets, lighting, even stok treatment etc) and dialogue (how people spoke in those times), the edits (use of jump cuts, pacing, etc).

This all relates back to you in many ways. Cinematographers reference materials, for example, to get a 70s look or feel if they are doing a period piece; what does that men, it means lens choices, camera angles and movement, films stock, lighting instruments and placement etc. Writers that want to write a story set in the 80s need to know how people spoke to each other in the 80s, its not how people communicate today (different age groups vernacular etc). The list goes on, wardrobe, sets/ locations, editing, paceing, graphics, acting styles, etc.

This is what "Marty" is talking about. Everything he has seen or experienced in past films helps build his creative palette. Its not uncommon to work with a director who might say something like " I want this to look like Movie X or Y.. that gritty feel or that uneasy feel or that look.. I loved the feel i got when i watch the scene in Movie Z. These cues are what drive todays films, some that you may just take for granted as "normal" language, it all has a foundation and reason why its "normal" today.

The more old films/ classics you watch the more you will see their creative influences on the movies you watch today. Even if the movie is bad, in all aspects, you can learn how not to make a bad movie "why is this bad? What makes this this way? What would I have done differently? etc" You can see directors find their language, each of them tells their stories a certain way, you can find things you like or dont like in that and build that storytelling into whatever part of the industry you are focused in. I personally use old films in many of the ways implemented/ mentioned above. You are never too old to learn and we learn from history.

I hope that helps, sorry its a bit longwinded.

June 3, 2013 at 12:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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tbonemain

Thank you for taking the time to say all that. I am going to try to suck it up and try to dedicate myself to watching some more oldies. But honestly, your point about learning what not to do is what I had already thought to myself because really that is mostly what I get from the old films. But then again, I'm just being a little negative because I know there is a lot to learn from these films.

What would be really cool is if we could all somehow watch a film together and then post our comments and critiques. Like maybe we could decide on a film and then watch it and then post our thoughts on a wiki or public google doc or something like that. Would anyone be interested in this? I would totally be down.

June 3, 2013 at 7:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jonesy

This is like -- grassroots film school classroom activity! How guerrilla! I'd be down!

June 3, 2013 at 8:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée

Why don't we set that up as a "Film of the month discussion post or page, or whatever works for people. It would be a nice break from the comments about how the highlights are blown or there is moire and whatever crap people can find to say about a short of cats or trees. It would be fun to hear what other people say about a story that we are all focusing on.

June 3, 2013 at 11:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Yah. That's what I was thinking. We could decide on a flick and then spend a month discussing it from all angles. Kinda like a book club. I know I would benefit a ton from hearing everyone else's thoughts. And I think I would learn to better contribute.

Does anyone know of a good internet service that would work well for something like this? I'm kinda having a brain fart right now and can't think of anything except Google Docs.

June 3, 2013 at 11:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jonesy

Fabulous post. Very precise, well thought and enlightening. Thanks

June 3, 2013 at 11:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Anthony Marino

Would love to see some tidbits of *what* people learned from the movies rather than a list of titles. One of my biggest guilty pleasures is I tend to get lost in the escapism of a movie, the fun of it... so I forget to study :)

Recently, I saw The Thin Red Line. Terrence Malick does a brilliant thing there which will (hopefully) affect me going forward. He sometimes cuts to "b"-roll which, in most other films, would simply be there to show you the environment or give a relevant feeling. But not here. Here it's an intrinsic part of the story, poetic but also working on the surface. For example, the image of the damaged bird walking along the ground (showing the collateral damage from the war, but also poetically symbolizing the inability to fly away etc.) and cutting to a view up at the trees as someone is dying (showing their view from the ground, but also creating a distinct "light at the end of the tunnel" image). I hope I'm affected by this technique for the rest of my life :)

June 3, 2013 at 1:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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In my four films - great cinematography, editing and, most importantly, the psychological subtext of the characters that one rarely sees altogether in "mainstream" Hollywood productions, even by such masters as Mr. Scorsese himself.

June 3, 2013 at 2:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

While I respect Mr. Scorsese's opinion, and feel that it's certainly a good idea to broaden your horizons when it comes to what films we watch and learn from, I think the most important think for us filmmakers to do is watch films that INSPIRE our own creativity. At the end of the day, the only reason I watch and buy so many films on DVD/BluRay, is the pursuit of further inspiration and motivations in efforts to continue fine-tuning my craft as a story-teller. It's crazy to me that people want to tell others what those films need to be. We each find inspiration in our own spaces.

June 3, 2013 at 2:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Agree with you 100%!

I think these lists, regardless if Scorcese made them or someone else, are totally useless. Not only are they highly subjective but also the movies in it, I`m seeing more than a few painfully boring flicks mentioned here, even more in the comments that obviously won`t help you with your skills because they don`t connect to your own "style". And I`m wondering why only "old movies" are "essentials, a bunch of my personal masterpieces are from the 80ies and 90ies up to the 2000`s - I think "old = gold" is quite narrow minded.

For example, I once watched the Satjyajit Roy`s "The Music Room" because Akira Kurosawa proclaimed that "one hadn`t lived if he didn`t see Roy`s movies"...sorry to say but it was one of the most boring movies I watched in that year. Same with "Brazil", I bought it for cheap and immediately, when I was finished gave it away I found it that awful. I`m quite radical in this sense - if a movie doesn`t connect to me in the first few minutes then it`s not worth being watched.

June 3, 2013 at 4:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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mariano

The dictionary is the most boring book I've ever read. Still, I wouldn't call it useless if you're a writer.

June 3, 2013 at 7:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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In other words, true, I don't think I've ever sat through Citizen Kane without falling asleep. To relax after a long day of work, I'd rather watch something like Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey.

But as a reference for what can be done with well-thought composition and crafty camera placement... it's solid gold, I'm absolutely blown away by the skill in those images.

I think that's an important point to consider here, maybe Kurosawa and Scorsese actually enjoyed these films, but that's not really the point. They are saying that these are some of the best references if you want to study the craft.

Granted, entertainment value is also an important component, maybe even the most important part- and I'd be surprised if they thought the older films are the best references on that... but then again, I'm not really up to speed on film history anyway, maybe there's some oldies that I'd enjoy as much as Nolan's films, for example. Though again, I don't think this is the aspect they are really talking about.

June 3, 2013 at 8:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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True dat. Tarkovsky's films, as an example, are often more reference than pure entertainment but, if some folks are surprised by the non-linear story telling in "Pulp Fiction" or the "Reservoir Dogs, try following the "Mirror". And if you want to see a minute long shot, the "Stalker" just might be a thing for you.

June 3, 2013 at 9:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Will have to check those out, thanks :)

June 3, 2013 at 12:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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haha completely agree

June 6, 2013 at 9:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Rob

I personally feel like I learn a great deal from "old" films but I also totally get where you are coming from. A lot of older and world cinema is so far removed from what people are used to. I imagine it can be quite alienating, especially as a younger person who might not have had the opportunity to watch many films outside of the ones that play at the local cinema, to be quoted a list of films made 50+ years ago and from a completely different culture without any reference of why you are watching them and what you should be looking for in them. But, I think you can also learn how to watch certain films. There was a really great article written about this a few years ago: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/07/10/good-and-good-for-you/
Have you considered looking at older periods of filmmaking which have stylistically influenced the directors you really love today? This could be a more fruitful way to explore film history. Genres are often overlooked in favour of celebrity filmmakers. A film textbook may not immediately sound like a good time but may be able to guide you through a particular period of cinema and give information about stylistic innovations that you might want to look out for. If you like Kurosawa maybe take a look at the Jidaigeki genre or some classic westerns and take a book out from the library that studies the particular genre.

June 3, 2013 at 2:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

Thanks MAK for your suggestions, very appreciated!

I think it`s also some other issues I had with this Scorcese advice, first, I`m seeing the issue that a lot of film schools give the same instruction and let the students watch all those Tarkovsky, Eisenstein etc. movies. and then, as the most obvious and stupid move, these poor fellas start copying certain elements like overly long shots, very slowly paced edits, monotonous music etc without ever doing the less obvious but more important thing and get a "feeling" for the motivations which made these directors develop their "handwriting". Instead they mimick and produce unbearable films for festival circuits or even more dumb directors produce crap like "The Flight of the Phoenix" with Dennis Quaid, an awful remake of the unbelievably fantastic original from 1965 with James Steward, David Attenborough and many other fantastic actors.

@David K. I am not rejecting old movies at all, there are quite some I love very much, but that`s my point, I don`t believe that movies can be of much assistance to nurture your style when you don`t feel the connection to it.

June 3, 2013 at 6:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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mariano

It's difficult to understand completely what a director was going for if you don't have a frame of reference, like living in or knowing the culture from where the movie comes from. And some film school students as well as other filmmakers may go overboard with the long takes or disjointed edits, because they might not understand the meaning BEHIND those filmic techniques. Eisenstein wrote the book on montage -- and unfortunately most people think a "montage" is a compilation of seemingly random shots and images (like in A Clockwork Orange,) but that's only one kind!

Also, the "long take" is much more than an aesthetic choice or simple technique. It has much more to do with the representation of reality than anything else. The Italian neorealists believed that long shots and takes were the best way to film a movie, because it allowed the audience to direct their attention to what they wanted on screen -- much like we do in real life. But, in America, we didn't really adopt the long take, and a lot of American audience finds them boring. I know I had to train myself to like them, because I was brought up on American horror and action flicks! But, that's the beauty of cinema -- though theories abound, the individual reactions to it will always vary (so, there can't really be any one "true" way to make or experience a film.)

Perhaps that's why we should watch old films: to experience the different film movements that changed the way films were made!

June 3, 2013 at 8:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée

I think you need balance. I think that American audiences are just fine with long takes as long as they are coupled with a balance of other kinds of material. I think Pulp Fiction is a great example of this. There is a long take where Sam Jack and Travolta walk down a couple corridors and and then back to a door, all in one take. The reason it works? The dialogue is interesting. The performances are money. And the very next scene is super intense. Mix it up and I bet it will be well received.

June 4, 2013 at 12:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jonesy

No worries. Ultimately, you should concentrate on trying to make what you love. If you really can't stand certain types of films you probably won't get much out of forcing yourself to watch them. Watch films you like and explore older films or foreign films in genres that you are interested in and more open to.
Just remember that your tastes will be changing and evolving all the time. As with books, music, food and travel etc... you may become open to different kinds of films over time. Maybe revisit some of these older films in a few years or so.

June 4, 2013 at 4:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

As to why younger people don't like "old" movies, I believe it is mainly a generational thing- today's generation won't see much to identify with while watching a D.W. Griffith movie. Regardless, watching movies from different time periods can only enrich your pallet and make you a better viewer of movies, giving you a much better historical perspective and generally making you a more intelligent person.

I've always hated the attitudes of most younger aspiring filmmakers who refuse to watch "old" movies. These people, if they are interested in becoming writers and/or directors, tend to have the least amount of talent and also exhibit the least amount of curiosity about the world in general.

I have a bigger problem with newer movies, especially those that are made in H'wood, which are currently being made (for the most part) by relatively younger filmmakers who refuse to connect with anything that was made before they existed.

June 3, 2013 at 10:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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scott

I guess I was quite strange. I started my Movie watching "Career" in my Teens. Back when they were all on late at night ,after my Parents went to Bed. It never occurred to me NOT to watch them ,that they were "not cool". I watched ever old movie I possibly could.
For a time ,Stanley Kramer moved to Seattle & Hosted a Movie night on a Local Channel . Most People said he rambled on and on during breaks ,but I loved it. I feel very fortunate to have seen so many. So many of the younger generations will never see the 1000's of wonderful Movies that are out there. Would be a better world if they did.

June 6, 2013 at 4:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dheep'

I completely agree. Attention spans in the young generation (and I am a part of it, sadly) are so low that no one gives the old classics a try. It's such a shame to hear my peers say they can't even get through Rear Window - Rear Window! A thrilling mystery!
I discovered George Melies after reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (the one Scorsese based Hugo off of) in 5th grade, at 10 years old, and fell in love with his films. I credit him with turning my childish interest in filmmaking into a full-time passion. People need to stop thinking of films as tortilla chips and start looking at it more like cheese - they don't get stale, they get richer with age.

May 3, 2016 at 7:27PM

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Katie Mlinek
Writer/Filmmaker
13

After I left my pro career behind I started teaching film to middle schoolers now and I'm always stressing how important it is to watch old films, learn from the people who came before you. Here are the ones I'm always looking at again:

Breathless
Touch of Evil
Tokyo Story
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Vertigo (any Hitch, really, but that's obvious)
The Third Man

To me it's not so much about watching specific old movies, but trying to expand your breadth as much as possible. A kid who's only ever seen big summer tentpoles will freak out when they see their first Woody Allen film (my middle schoolers effing LOVED Small Time Crooks). Just knowing that there's more out there than what you've seen is a big deal. It's eye-opening.

June 3, 2013 at 1:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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These are two short "staircase" scenes from Michail Kalatozov's films - notice the lighting and the camera movement.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKzredIaefA

June 3, 2013 at 3:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I have seen multiple people lately mention The Conversation as a good movie. I really didn't care for it. In the book Film Craft: Editing, the editor said something about how it wasn't coming together quite as planned, and I thought oh, that is why it was terrible.

I look on IMDB and it has an 8.0 rating. I don't get it, Francis Ford Coppola or not.

June 3, 2013 at 8:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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steve

Kurosawa's IKIRU is sometimes compared to Well's CITIZEN KANE. Both tell a story of the main character who died, but from the point of view of several people who knew parts of that person's life--interweaving flashbacks in a fluid way sometimes leaving empty strands but also connecting some dots. Kurosawa's RASHOMON also tells the story of an incident in flashbacks from multiple conflicting points of view. There are many truths but perhaps no single truth. Movies that are difficult or imperfect can sometimes inspire more than the perfectly crafted formula product designed to put the maximum butts in theater seats. Many of the films that are worth studying are the ones that were worked through and didn't quite work as planned but something unexpected, original and valuable was created in that struggle. (Werner Herzog films are often about quixotic subjects and the films themselves are that way so he is worthy of study by film students.)

June 4, 2013 at 1:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Rob

Martin Scorsese talks about his love of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger movies: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/video/2010/nov/19/martin-scorsese-mark-ke...

June 4, 2013 at 4:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

'A Canterbury Tale' is my favorite P&P. Great work Scorsese has done in their preservation (famously, his hand in preserving The Red Shoes). He is a great conservationist, and, not to diminish his work, it's a legacy as important as his career as a filmmaker (or perhaps more-so; time will tell).

June 9, 2013 at 8:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jon

Agree completely... about his legacy as a film preservationist that is. He is doing such important work in that arena. Not only preserving old, established masterpieces but also smaller, lesser known foreign films via the World Cinema Foundation. I had an opportunity to watch a restored print of A Brighter Summer Day a few years ago and it took my breath away. It's so great to have such a well respected and powerful filmmaker like Scorsese advocating for film history.
I like A Canterbury Tale but have to go with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp/The Red Shoes as my favourite P&P.

June 10, 2013 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

1. KIDS (screenwriting)
2. The Conformist (cinematography, screenwriting, subtlety)
3. Any film by Tarantino
4. Caddyshack (damn fine comedy)
5. Mean Streets / Taxi Driver
6. Man Bites Dog
7. La Haine
8. Nosfratue
9. THX1138 (staple film for editors)
10. Stranger Than Paradise
11. Woman Under The Influence / Faces

June 6, 2013 at 6:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Andrew

Arsenic and Old Lace
His Girl Friday
Some Like it Hot

Good old school coms/romcoms that modern cinema would do well to look back at.

June 9, 2013 at 6:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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TJ

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Yasujiro Ozu--my favorite filmmaker. When, possibly, the two greatest living filmmakers, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Abbas Kiarostami, are making homage-films to the same director, then you know he's worth studying closely and completely.

Further, Ozu's 'Tokyo Story' topped the Sight and Sound director's poll (the only important best movie list, and a poll taken every ten years), so it's a commonly held belief among important, world filmmakers.

June 9, 2013 at 8:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jon

Ozu is also (probably) my favourite director. He has really grown in estimation amongst filmmakers and critics since his films have become widely available. I predict the same thing happening with Mikio Naruse over the next decade or so.
It's also nice to see HHH and Kiarostami get a nod in the comments here. Pedro Costa's In Vanda's Room also reminded me of an Ozu film, albeit an extremely modernist take on Ozu. You might want to check it out if you are not already familiar with it. Costa is a lot rougher around the edges than HHH and Kiarostami but I find his films just as exhilarating.

June 10, 2013 at 4:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

No you are not a fool, really. Its just the prism that blocks out a certain shade of hue in your reflections on what is art. Hence some people do swear that Rap and hip-hop shouldn't be considered art.

August 14, 2014 at 2:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tony

The films that shaped me and taught me the most about the kind of filmmaking language I wanted to be apart of

Citizen Kane
The Seven Samurai
Psycho
Once Upon a Time in the West
Star Wars
Blade Runner

August 14, 2014 at 5:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daggard

To make a great film you have to tell a story, that is Essential. Remember the words "once upon a time" we all wanted to know what was next. If you do one of these four things in film, you will have a viewer for life. Make them feel, make them laugh, make them scared and make them think.

August 14, 2014 at 10:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Maybe there is point that Martin Scorsese watches 50's and 60's movies because the guy was born in 1942 he watched those movies as a grown up at that time ! he still have some taste to that kind of films, in which most of us don't have !! simply because we are 40 years younger than Scorsese !

I really do agree with Scorsese on how we learn from old films but "old is relative, I do personally enjoy learning a lot from Scorsese himself, and some of his great contemporary peers, but I still like modern Cinema from young or old filmmakers, I feel that I am learning from something that I can feel, from something that uses the same tools I can use, the world is changing and cinema is more than 100 years we don't have always to go back to the beginning to learn !

maybe I am wrong because I am still didn't get the point from learning films from a very classic film

My question is what did have those films that films of the last 30 -40 years don't have ?

and taking about painters ! I don't see painters study painting of 3000 years old to learn Art !
To put in a nutshell, learning from old films is very relative to what we need and what we like, Cinema and Art are evolving with the time we still appreciate to watch a classic from time to time but they are not always our school, there is a 1001 method to tell a story and 1 one them can be learned from 60 years old classics.

August 15, 2014 at 6:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Younes Boudiaf

I'm not familiar with any films made 3,000 years ago. Was that -10th Century Fox, perhaps? As for painters, maybe some artists today pay no mind to the beautiful cave paintings of Lascaux, and they turn a blind eye to the art and sculpture of the ancient Greeks and Romans. But, I think you'd have a hard time finding any that haven't studied and been inspired by the works of Rembrandt, Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Caravaggio, Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Munch, Titian, Chagall, etc. etc. etc. Those weren't exactly painted yesterday, and they still seem to be popular. Or maybe all those people waiting in line at the Louvre are there simply by mistake, thinking they're going to see newer, better, "fresher" art.

May 5, 2016 at 4:06AM, Edited May 5, 4:20AM

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Try Fandor.com for older more obscure films.

August 15, 2014 at 8:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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You are not the only one to think that Lee ought not to be mentioned and there is a reason for that. Years down the road when you have been steeped in technique you will see what Lee had done. Only in recent times are some critics getting what Lee did.

August 15, 2014 at 10:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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EVERETTE C. NICOLLS

I can't understand any aspiring filmmaker or student of film who questions or refuses watching "old" films. Although I suppose it does explain an industry increasingly devoid of creativity, style, or originality.

June 7, 2015 at 11:13AM

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This is a wonderful article and in light of it, would anyone on here know how I can find the films of Robert Bresson on line with English subtitles.... There are so many I have never seen and would love to study for inspiration. Thank you!

May 3, 2016 at 3:24AM, Edited May 3, 3:24AM

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Laurie Strickland
Producer, Writer, Actress, Director, Filmmaker, Poet
8

When I was young in the 60s and 70s, I don't remember anyone ever complaining about a movie because of its "age." We were a product of the new 60s scene which was a complete 180 from life in the 50s and the decades prior, yet we still appreciated films from, well... the beginning of film. Imagine really young kids at school talking about Buster Keaton and laughing about his crazy stunts (and not in class -- on our own), or laughing about the Three Stooges, or recounting how terrified we were of Nosferatu, or talking about and reliving some of the great black and white films, or the huge color spectacles. And then imagine older kids, maybe high school age now, still talking about films, but now discussing even the quiet, serious, intense dramatic films that, I fear, most younger people today wouldn't have the patience for. We did that. And in the most unlikely of places -- a small town in the middle of nowhere. Not in some school for the performing arts in New York.

Something has fundamentally changed since then. I can't exactly put my finger on it. There seems to be a feeling that old is bad and new is good, which really wasn't how we felt back then. We didn’t really put an expiration date on art. And there also is such flippant criticism thrown about now -- people are so cynical. And then, of course, there are the short attention spans.

So, to any of you who are saying "Why should I watch old films?", the answer is pretty obvious. Because it's where we came from and have become who we are. History is us. If you're wondering why films were shot a certain way, I can guarantee you there's a reason. Was it because the cameras then weighed as much as a Buick? Or was it because the weight of the story required less movement and longer shots (practically unheard of today -- except in "Ida"). So then, why is "Citizen Kane" praised so much? Hmmm. Could it be that it reflects and chides certain realities of the times, surprising many with being so outspoken in a time when people tended not to speak out in that manner? Could it be how it was filmed? Remember that Buick camera? Ever wonder how you get an ultra low angle shot from floor level with a Buick camera? Why... you dig up the floor, of course. In this case, "Citizen Kane" was literally ground-breaking.

All these films are classes on not only how we've evolved technologically, but also how we've devolved in some ways. When I was a kid, we didn’t lock our doors. And you just walked in homes to visit people. Everyone had guns yet I never heard of anyone getting shot. And we didn’t have cameras pointed at us night and day or have to get patted down when we traveled. We’ve lost a lot in my lifetime. It’s very sad… and you can see how life was then in old films. If seeing life then doesn’t make you question how things are today, it’s not the film that’s the problem.

If you want to have a real master class in discussing "old movies," then watch the film and come up with your questions, then divide the questions up and do REAL research... and then share the results. Find out what the top news items were at the time the film was made. Read interviews. Find out what societal norms were then and how that film ridiculed them or challenged them or at least shed a new light on them (because, let’s face it… if it didn’t do either then it’s probably not considered great). Look beyond the film... and then you'll understand why every great film is brimming with lessons to be learned.

So why is it different now? Personally, I think it's because people are less well-read today. We read a lot back then -- and not just in school. We read for pleasure. We read "old” books — like Shakespeare. Guess who also read Shakespeare. Name any great director -- that's who.

One last thing — try to stop being so critical of every little thing. Enjoy the 90% of what’s good about the film instead of ripping it apart over the 10% that is so beneath your elevated standards. We know… you want to show off your superior film intellect online by eviscerating it, but… come on. Seriously?

Avoid the isolation of "NOWism" and you'll continue learning -- always.

That said, I'll throw in some of my favorites:

— The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
— Battleship Potemkin
— You Can’t Take It With You
— The Best Years of Our Lives
— Gone With The Wind
— The Great Dictator
— Cat People (1942 and 1982)
— Citizen Kane
— The Third Man
— Notorious (see how Hitchcock got around the censors kissing time limit)
— The Big Sleep (1946)
— On the Waterfront
— Paths of Glory
— Fahrenheit 451 (mentioned above but worth repeating considering the relevance of the times)
— Really, anything by Hitchcock
— The Exorcist
— Charade
— A Patch of Blue
— Three Days of the Condor
— The Fearless Vampire Killers
— The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
— To Kill a Mockingbird
— Patton
— The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!
— Cool Hand Luke
— Goodbye, Mr. Chips (both versions)
— A Man Called Horse
— Lonely Are the Brave
— La Dolce Vita
— The Parallax View
— Breathless (1960)
— 2001: A Space Odyssey
— Blue Velvet
— Some Girls (1988)
— The Point (1971 Animated TV Movie)
— The Big Blue (French title: Le Grand Bleu)
— Betty Blue (French title: 37°2 le matin)
— Diva (French)
— The Last Picture Show
— Manhunter (1986)
— Frantic (1988)
— Body Double
— Paris, Texas (also mentioned above but worth mentioning again)
— Lost in La Mancha
— My Best Fiend (that's "FIEND" not "Friend")
— Bladerunner

Hope I haven’t offended any of you “kiddos.” Every word was typed with love. Keep learning! (and sorry for the long post... I actually never post comments, but you struck a nerve ;)

BTW... great article V Renée! You made someone who has never posted a comment post a comment.

May 5, 2016 at 2:47AM, Edited May 5, 3:24AM

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