K & M Commentary – A Case for Classic Movies

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I’ve been a movie fan for most of my life. In fact as far back as junior high school I had aspirations to be a film critic. That never panned out as my life took a different course but my love for movies never waned. Yet while my love for film never left, it did mature as I grew older. Over the years I’ve come to love and appreciate classic cinema, not just the well-known Hollywood classics, but wonderful smaller gems and great groundbreaking movies from abroad. These pictures have not only earned my appreciation but they’ve given me a better understanding of filmmaking, cinematic creativity, and pure storytelling. These classic pictures have made an indelible mark on my movie perspectives and they continue to do so.

But it’s safe to say that classic movies don’t touch everyone the same way as they do me. Over the years I’ve spoke to many people who openly don’t like “old movies”. Then there are those who won’t go as far as to say they don’t like these films, but they back burner them due to what’s really a lack of enthusiasm. Now as a point of clarity let me say I’m not judging anyone’s taste. We all know movies are a subjective art. What’s good for one isn’t always good for the other and that’s the way it should be. But I can’t help wonder why there isn’t a broader appreciation for the classics these days and a rush to catch up with these films that paved the way for what we see today.

For me the classics represent a purer form of moviemaking. These were films made without the benefits of the technologies and innovations that we have today. They focused on good performances, sound writing, and a director’s keen eye. It was also a time of discovery in terms of technique. So many influential directors were finding new ways to tell their stories through their cameras and visual styles were first taking form. It’s through the classics that we can witness the new waves of filmmaking that broke new ground all over the world. Through the classics we can observe as the entire landscape of motion pictures evolve. This isn’t just a field ripe with unforgettable movies. The classics are a window into the fascinating history of cinema.

Today is most certainly a different era. The business side of movies has contributed to monster-sized budgets and even bigger studio expectations. The constantly evolving technology of special effects has become one of the biggest instruments in storytelling and presentation has become vital. 3-D, IMAX, high definition, etc. All of these things play major roles in modern filmmaking and our experiences are the better because of them. Or are they? Could it be argued that the fascination with flashy effects and 3-D presentation has in many cases taken the place of a good story with intelligent writing?

Take a look at the movies that are put out today. Now there have always been bad movies. Yet I’m amazed at how easy it is to get a movie made these days. Splash on a coat of fancy special effects or incorporate some of the numerous crutches that Hollywood uses today and you’ll get a big screen release. In many cases creativity has taken a backseat to repetitive and lazy filmmaking. Whether it’s the crutches of lame and vulgar attention-getting content or the crutches of shallow, mindless productions soaked in expensive visuals, Hollywood uses them to their fullest and we see it in film after film each year.

But couldn’t it be said that the studios are simply supplying the demand? Are they just making movies that people will endorse through their dollars and debit cards? Could the lower standards of modern moviegoers be feeding this monster? There are so many movies today that make tons of cash which leaves me scratching my head. I mean when else but today would Adam Sandler still have a job? Nonetheless “Grownups 2” hits theaters this summer and you can count on big box office numbers.

Now to avoid any hypocrisy let me say I love modern movies. I go to the theater every chance I get and I am as anxious for a next big release as anyone. I don’t shy away from big budgets or special effects and I’ll give the film its deserved praise if it’s done well. But I also love classic cinema and everything that it embodies and I want other people to love it too. Thankfully we still have some brilliant filmmakers today who work both in front and behind the cameras. They still give us great films – movies that entertain us, impress us, and provide an escape. But this is nothing new. They are following a rich tradition set before them by the likes of Keaton, Chaplin, Hepburn, Welles, Bogart, Huston, Stewart, Kelly, Kurosawa, Ford, Wilder, Cooper, Bergman, Hitchcock, Grant and so many more. It’s the classics that paved the way and its the classics that still hold up remarkable well today. I’ll never grow tired of them and hopefully more people will open themselves up to them as well. A good movie is a good movie regardless of when it was made.

28 thoughts on “K & M Commentary – A Case for Classic Movies

  1. For me old movies is a mixed bag. There are those that are great, absolutely! But what sometimes bugs me is the style of acting that was fashionable back in the days. It’s often much like theatre. It feels less natural, more staged and melodramatic. Since I’m a big fan of impro, handheld camera and indie style low key film making, it doesn’t always speak to me.

    I do still like some old filmmakers, such as Capra. And I appreciate the brilliant writing in some of those movies, with very elegant, eloquent dialoges, such as in All About Eve. But if I had to choose between only watching old movies and only watching modern movies, I would probably go for the latter.

    • Great comments Jessica! Thanks for the words. There definitely are a lot of performances that do closely resemble those you’d see on a stage. For many the two (film and stage) were closely intertwined. Add to that that for a long time shooting on location was a pretty unusual thing. Everything was on a set so not only were the performances stagey but so was the entire look and feel of the productions.

      But there are numerous actors and actresses who were complete naturals. Jimmy Stewart comes immediately to mind. I also think of Bogart and Bacall sizzling as they share the screen together. Cary Grant is another good example. Some of his work in the screwball comedies may come across as stagey but for the most part he was very natural.

      Another thing is that there were several movements that certainly weren’t stagey yet fall in the classic era. I immediately think of the French New Wave of the late 50s and early 60s. Brilliant filmmakers like Godard and Truffaut who went to great lengths to take moviemaking in new directions.

      Sorry to ramble. I guess what I’m saying is that there is certainly many old films that do have a confined and stiff staged feel in both their look and performances. But there were also a lot that wen’t beyond that. Still I like that your opinion of classic movies is based on actually watching them! I spoken to several people who have no interest in even giving them a chance.

      • Mind you, I’m by no means a hater. There are others though who automatically will rank older movies higher than new ones just because they’re “classics” and that’s as wrong as dismissing them. I try to watch every movie for what it is, not thinking that much about its age. Movie as movie so to say.

      • Oh no, I never gathered that you were a hater. In fact I can tell the opposite. I like the fact that you do give them a chance and there are those that you enjoy. Sadly their are many people today who don’t do that.

        As my site intimates I love both. And if I was going to do my all-time top 10 (something I’ve never wanted to tackle) it would probably feature just as many if not slightly more modern era movies. And I’m so glad there are still filmmakers who give us great movies and their creations really move me. Take my review of To the Wonder from last week. For me it’s the best movie of the year so far by far and it strikes so many chords with me. There are movies today, several of them, that still to do this.

  2. Interesting piece Keith. I think Jessica makes a good point about the acting style in many classic films in that it is often really unnatural and stage-like. Having said that, I do very much enjoy watching classic films. It’s always interesting to see what filmmaking was like way back when and how it’s shaped where film is today either by way of techniques used or a certain director’s style.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, though, when you say that CGI and stuff like that can paper over the cracks nowadays and convince people that a film’s good. As film fans, us bloggers are probably (not always) in a better position to see through all that than a lot of filmgoers, but many are just blinded by special effects and a pretty face on screen. Look at the summer blockbusters that come out every year. You might get one or two that aren’t too bad but more often than not they’re awful, yet still rake it in at the box office.

    I must admit, I don’t watch as many classic films as I should, as there is always something new that catches my eye. And now that I read so many blogs, I find even more things I want to watch.

    • Good words! You may not see as many classic films as you “should”, but you clearly have an appreciation for them. I love hearing that. But you also touch on something that feeds my love for classic movies and that’s the blogosphere. There are some bloggers who do either focus on classic movies or will occasionally revisit one can feature it on their site. That’s always good to see. It’s nice to see a healthy mix out there.

      I also think you’re exactly right about the summer blockbusters. Now I don’t want to be misleading. I love a good blockbuster just as much as I love to good classic. The Dark Knight trilogy, The Avengers, etc. We do get really good movies that have monster-sized budgets. But like you said we get a lot of crap these days and they make tons of money themselves.

  3. Nice write-up. I agree, most movies these days depend on flashy effects like 3-D rather than stories or acting. Unfortunately, a movie like Grown Ups 2 will make far more money than a film like Beasts of the Southern Wild.

    • Fantastic point! And isn’t that a shame? Beasts is clearly a film exceeds something like Grown Ups in every way yet one will have a massive audience and the other will never be seen my the majority of modern moviegoers.

    • Exactly. I think a lot of that had to do with the restrictions they faced. Some were due to technology and budgets. Many had to do the restrictions placed on them by the motion picture board. Therefore creativity played a huge role in the filmmaking. Sometimes I think that creativity is completely lost today especially in terms of good writing.

  4. Keith, I already follow but I wanted to say the popcorn logo is da bomb (90s slang). Adam Sandler is the Leo Gorcey of modern movies. He’s not my cup of tea but someone out there likes him. I just popped in from Fogs Link Bomb, I will always be back here again.

  5. I think watching classic movies enriches your enjoyment of modern movies. So many ideas from the past resurface again and again. For example: you could enjoy Annie Hall without awareness of screwball comedies from the 50s but it makes the film better knowing that they were the template.

    • That’s a fantastic point. In a very real sense classic films have given me a broader yet more defined appreciation for films today. Knowing the roots add to the enjoyment.

      Thanks for the great comments.

  6. You know, I had this discussion with my husband the other day. I noted that I get the most amount of traffic through my Facebook page, which is mostly my friends, when I post about more current movies. We agreed that everyone ought to love the classics, because, well, they’re quite often just better movies. Even some of the weird, lesser-known ones we’ve seen come off as something classier and more carefully constructed than a lot of what’s playing right now.

    Great post!

    • Thank you very much and I really appreciate you taking time to comment. I agree with you 100%. Sometimes I think it’s just too easy these days to get a movie made especially considering the popular opinion of what constitutes a good movie isn’t much. I’ll always love the classics and it does my heart good to hear that other people appreciate them too!

  7. I do think there’s room for both, Keith. Compared GREAT classics like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, etc. I often feel like ‘oh we don’t make ’em like this anymore.’ But then again, I do like a lot of modern films that are superior in pacing, production quality, etc. that for a while I don’t feel like I’m missing out on classic movies. I do think mixing them both makes for an enjoyable experience for me, it enrich my experience as a film fan 😀

    • I think you’re exactly right Ruth There’s room for both. I still hold to the belief that my appreciation for the classic movies enriches my experience with newer movies. And the history that connects them both strengthens both. I mentioned to someone that if I had to do a top 10 list of my all-time favorite movies at least half of them would be modern era movies. Maybe more. But the classics would certainly have their place as well. You just gotta love those good old movies.

  8. Oh definitely missing out! I tell my friend Ted all the time ahah, but I have some friends who refuse to see b&w movies. That’s just too bad!

    • Absolutely! I’ve been doing a classic movie spotlight for several months now. I’ve recently did a French Cinema series that included several reviews of films from Godard, Truffaut, and Tati. Also have several Hitchcock films reviewed from another past marathon. You can find them and other classic film reviews in my review archive. And there’s certainly more on the way! 🙂

  9. Pingback: Checking Out the “Happy-Haps!” (4/21) | The Focused Filmographer

  10. Great article, Keith. Great topic. A little too great, perhaps, because I initially found myself writing a two-page comment here. 😀 Figured I’d better save it for a blog post of my own at some point.

    Short version: I definitely agree with a lot of what you have to say, but I also have to play devil’s advocate some. Having seen a lot of classic-era films that have fallen into public domain, it’s not hard to find lazy craftsmanship there as well. We just don’t remember it as much because the longer something has been out, the more it needs to be great in order to be remembered.

    • Oh you’re exactly right. No arguments here. That’s why I said there has always been bad movies. In fact I watched a stinker a couple of nights ago. That’s one thing that no movie decade has been able to avoid! LOL

  11. People often avoid classic film because of dated “acting” or “effects”. I wish everyone could watch a good old movie and appreciate it in context. Perhaps it was visionary for its time (or maybe there was nothing similar to it beforehand).

    If anything, some older flicks are great glimpses into history! To “sell” classic films to the uninitiated, I always say “Don’t you want to know what the world looked like when your grandma was a young girl?” Ha-ha !!!

    Of course, modern cinema is wonderful too. I just LOVE movies, period 🙂

    • Your last sentence sums my thoughts up perfectly. “I just LOVE movies, period”. Those classics are just as big a part of it as the modern era films. I love them both and they both have so much to offer the movie-oholic. Great comments and thanks for checking out the post!

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