When talking about films with my co-workers (a common topic), the subject turned to older black-and-white movies. I can’t remember what film I was discussing, but a newer guy who appeared not to be paying attention pipes up with “old movies are boring.” I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and my fingernails grew slightly. What heresy dare he speak?
I get this a lot actually, from people who haven’t seen any movie that preceded their tenth birthday when they saw a movie for the first time in the theater. They grew up with MTV firmly in place in our culture, which has spewed forth many directors who brought their obnoxious “style” of fast cutting and hyperactive camera work from the small screen to the big. A slow brewing plot and developed characters seem wasteful to many, with much emphasis on the slick production values taking a front seat. It’s Fast Food Film.
Does that mean that older fare is only good for movie-making film geeks like me? What purpose can classics serve for a mainstream audience? And how can you encourage those not interested to view said classics?
I don’t believe that any classic movie is only for those of that era or for those marooned in a film class. These films are what developed our cinematic language that we use today, and serves as the bedrock for what we have now. It’s a real eye-opener to watch a movie that did something for the first time (Rear Window) and see the exact same themes and plot in a current film (Disturbia), which is essentially a ripoff. That doesn’t mean the new version is bad, just not original. I’d hope people would seek out the original inspiration, where they might discover that the source of the idea tends to be a better product.
The main point is that older, classic movies are just good movies. They work. They are successful in conveying whatever experience they are supposed to. You may not like them all (I don’t), but don’t write them off as obsolete and old fashioned, because you’ll be missing out on some fine entertainment. You don’t have to be a film scholar to appreciate the witty dialogue of Billy Wilder or the suspense created by Alfred Hitchcock. These guys made films for the masses, and the masses can still enjoy them.
A group of friends and I used to have a monthly movie club, which I really miss. We all put in about ten suggestions of films we really enjoyed, then would draw one from that person’s list on their day. It was great to come across a movie you may have heard of but would never see otherwise. It was a way to open your mind to unseen treasures. I learned to appreciate foreign films this way, and was able to share movies dear to me as well.
A good place to start is AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time. Granted, these are all American movies, but it’s a good list of quality material. Please don’t discount great movies just because they’re from another era or don’t use a full-color palette. Just like a old song or painting can be a beautiful thing that inspires and/or affects, so can a motion picture from days gone by. I dare you to try one.