Monday, July 22, 2013

Old Movies?

"Y'know, I don't like to call films 'old films.' Nobody ever says, 'have you read that old play by Shakespeare?' Or 'have you read that old book by Steinbeck?' Or 'did you hear that old symphony by Mozart?' Nobody ever says that. It's only 'old movies.' Well, I don't believe in that. I think they're older movies, and made in an earlier period, but they're not old if you haven't seen 'em--they're new."
--Peter Bogdanovich,
   from the documentary BY BOGDANOVICH (2011)


  1. That's an interesting point. But there is a difference between a film and a play. A play is performed again and again and again, each time different and a reflection of when it was performed and by whom. A film is made once and is immediately and completely static in when it was made and by whom.

  2. Changing times lead to different perspectives on films, though, in exactly the way you describe. Films take on different meanings with time. Shakespeare can be (and is) performed with different emphases in different eras, but the plays are exactly the same--no one rewrites the Bard! This is true of film, as well.

    Back in 1932, THE MASK OF FU MANCHU was a very racist production, featuring "yellow peril"-ist fears of its age. Today, the "yellow peril" is a racist trope of the increasingly distant past. No one holds to it anymore, and few younger people are even aware it ever existed. These days, the idea of Fu being this charismatic leader who could conceivably conquer the world just adds to the zaniness of the picture. Dr. Fu is an uber-cool, sadistic bastard of a villain, and if the fact that he's Chinese particularly spooks Nayland Smith, so much the better for Fu.

    That said, Bogdanovich, it must be conceded, is talking about film as art, not as commerce. Every era of filmmaking has produced great movies, but many younger people, weaned on today's commercial trash of mile-a-minute, effects-laden Hollywood tentpole flicks find films of earlier eras unbearably dull. They can't handle the pace, they dislike films in which one has to follow dialogue, and they have a psychological aversion to films that aren't shot in color. Obviously, this sort of filmgoer, without some education, isn't going to be scanning his local movie-houses for revival showings of CASABLANCA. Old films are still new to him; he just lacks the understanding needed to appreciate them (and, often, any interest in acquiring it).

  3. Great quote. I had never thought of it that way. When I hear the phrase "old movies" I never think of it as a negative. It's usually a sign of better quality. If you're talking about an old movie, it's probably one that stood the test of time.

  4. I think about Dracula, a film you have some problems with, when there's talk of "static", "slow moving", too much emphasis on reactions, body language, talk back and forth, and how it has been considered just some old, boring horror film that just doesn't cut it nowadays. It just makes me cherish it more.

  5. DRACULA's problems--and there are many--don't really have anything to do with its age, though.