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?