Thursday, October 30, 2008

Let's not talk about it and maybe those politicians will go away.

Let's talk about movies instead of that other thing in the news.

I was reading The Atlantic the other day and came across a review of David Thomson's new collection of idiosyncratic film commentary called, Have You Seen...?

But I don't want to talk about that, either.

I want to talk about something the reviewer, Benjamin Schwarz, says about a recent seminar he taught. The students were all seniors at UCLA, a place that cranks out future directors, DPs and others who want to work in the city's main industry.

Schwarz says the students "... fancy themselves sophisticated filmgoers, but haven't seen Grand Illusion, Chinatown, or a single John Ford, Cary Grant, or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie."

Wow. So I wondered along with Schwarz, how can you consider yourself a lover of film without seeing a single Cary Grant movie? There are so many, surely you would stumble across Harvey,* North By Northwest, or Bringing Up Baby somewhere along the way.

I'm going to do the old man thing here and say, in my day, you couldn't dispatch a message to Netflix and have the film in your mailbox the next day. We had to wait for movies to come on late night TV and if you didn't catch them then, you remained an ignorant heathen. I didn't see The Maltese Falcon until I was almost 35 and the movie is what led me to the book that led me to the genre that led me to writing crime novels.

But today, you can see almost anything you want on a whim, in beautifully restored, uncut prints, often with commentary from the director or star. And still these young film fans haven't seen The Searchers? Really?

(For a great article about why The Searchers and John Ford matter, read this article by AO Scott.)

I don't bring this up to whine about the days Before Netflix, but to ask, do you really need to have seen some of the classic films if you want to consider yourself a "sophisticated filmgoer?"

I think so, but a friend here at work says you don't.

So what do you think? Are there films you haven't seen but know your education is somehow lacking because of it? Or do you think you don't need this background to appreciate today's movies? And does this apply to books?

Talk to me.
*UPDATE: Yes, I know Harvey is not a Cary Grant picture. I fucked up, ok?


John McFetridge said...

Well, I guess it depends what you see instead of those classics - which are all American, by the way.

My guess is that these kids still mostly only see American/Hollywood films, or Hollywood-wannabe movies like those Asian gangster movies, but maybe they'd surprise me and be all up on the latest Swedish movies, Bollywood and stuff coming out of Africa.

But I don't know, how do you expect to write dialogue if you haven't seen "His Girl Friday?"

Bill Crider said...

I love Harvey, but Cary Grant? He must've been playing the title character.

RedTree said...

How about "The Philadelphia Story" or "Arsenic and Old Lace"? Have they ever seen Bogart in "The African Queen" or "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre"? Gable in "It Happened One Night"? Ot the brilliant Joseph Cotten in "The Third Man" or "Citizen Kane"? Jesus Christ, how can they call themselves serious when they omit all influence. It would be like a rocker saying they had never heard the Beatles.

David Terrenoire said...


That's what happens when I try to post while working. Yow, what a fuckup.

David Terrenoire said...


Grand Illusion is French, but your point is well taken, especially with recent movies.

If you've never seen Scorcese's My Voyage to Italy, rent it ASAP. It's like sitting in Marty's living room while he walks you through postwar Italian movies he loved as a young movie fan. He lets scenes play out and tells you what he loves about them and why they have a place in film history.

Great stuff.

The Nephew said...

Um, no.

Score = David: 1, Friend: WTF

I think that anybody that considers themselves as a film lover will always feel they need to see more films. I've seen about 1000 films over the last five years and I still have close to 400 films on my Netflix queue. I'll never see enough.

I think it's especially important if someone wants to make good films. Come on, where would The Big Lebowski be if it hadn't been for the Coen brothers sitting down to watch a few classic noir films?

RedTree said...

And where would the Coens be without "Sullivan's Travels", where the title "O Brother, Where Art Thou" originated?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Back in the day, knowing classic and foreign films was part of an education, now we have dispensed with making judgments so no films are classified as classics, nor books. None of my husband's class this term could identify Philip Roth for examples, none get a daily newspaper.

norby said...

I think yes, they should see those films, and listen to old radio shows as well.

My BA is in Public Communications and one of the first things we talked about in my Mass Communications class was Orson Welles' broadcast of 'The War of the Worlds'. We also listened to the recording that was made when the Hindenburg went down.

I think if current and future students don't understand the history of film and entertainment, and the history of going to the theater to see films, it will greatly affect how they approach making films.

Of course, it would go a long way towards explaining the crap that gets released these days.