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.
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
— A Patch of Blue
— Three Days of the Condor
— The Fearless Vampire Killers
— The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
— To Kill a Mockingbird
— 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")
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.