What in the hell is wrong with you? Ahem, no, sorry, not the best way to begin. Allow me to rephrase: why don’t you like classic movies? And what do you mean by ‘classic’? Anything made before 1960? Anything in black and white (thus ruling out both The Artist and Raging Bull. What is the matter with you, imaginary person?) Anything they show at 8:00 on TCM? Anything made before 1980? 1990? Last year? I will not buy the ‘they’re boring’ excuse. Tree of Life was made last year, friend. Just sayin’.
It’s one thing to say you’re not a big fan of horror films, or melodramas, or even comedies in general; that I can understand. But to entirely dismiss whole decades of cinema, cinema that influenced and continues to influence ALL of the great filmmakers, actors, writers, etc. of today (that includes Tarantino, whatever else he wants to say), is just … silly. But I’m beginning to understand it, in theory, a little better.
The problem with approaches to classical cinema seems to me the same problem with approaches to classical literature. We’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that anything labeled a classic is boring. It’s something that we have to read, something we have to see. And I’m thinking about the classics that everyone repeats ad infinitum: Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, Ben Hur, etc, etc. All of which are excellent films, no doubt (except for Gone with the Wind: it’s racist as hell). But they have been overpromoted. It is next to impossible to watch Citizen Kane with an untutored eye now; it has become so ingrained in the popular culture that you probably have seen Citizen Kane without having seen Citizen Kane. And whenever something is overpromoted, or oversold, people react to it.
This happened to me with Harry Potter. I hate the Harry Potter franchise. I tried reading the first book and wondered why intelligent adults wanted to sit through this. And the movies were alternately boring and hysterical; all but the last one, that was pretty cool when Harry almost bought it. But half of my hatred for Harry Potter is the simple fact that EVERYONE told me I had to read the books, see the movies, watch the TV specials, buy the merchandise. It was way too much, I couldn’t stand it. I think I would feel less vitriol against JK Rowling if Harry Potter had been slightly less of a phenomenon. I might even have given it more of a chance.
The same I think can be said for much of classical cinema. Among the people that I know who evince a dislike of any movie in black and white, many of them have seen only a few. As soon as something comes on that they’re supposed to have a vested interest in, they turn off. They don’t want to give it a chance. It’s like me and Harry Potter. It’s the notion of classic movies that bothers them, not the movies. Classic films have been put into the ‘elite’ category, for some reason. These pictures that were initially meant to be popular entertainment have become, through their age and their influence, something that only the educated can understand. Which, as someone who went to NYU and studied this stuff ad infinitum, is quite simply bullshit. Movies are for everybody; no one has a monopoly on ‘em.
If we perhaps take out our vested interests in hating (or not hating) classic movies — all of the shoulds and ought-tos that everyone keeps throwing at us — and actually pay attention to what the films themselves are saying, there’s a good chance we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Take The Big Sleep for instance: a private eye investigates pornographic photos of the younger daughter of a wealthy tycoon, and gets wrapped up in multiple murders while falling for the sexy but dangerous elder daughter. There’s no way that that cannot be fun!
We all have our tastes. I average at least a movie a day, but I know people who are lucky if they get to see one or two a month. So I fully understand if you want those one or two movies to be something you really want to see. The entertainment factor is important, of course, but in all honesty just because a film was made 70 years ago does not mean that it’s out of date. In much the same way that it is ridiculous to assume that everything made in the classical era was brilliant, it’s ridiculous to dismiss them all too. You don’t have to have an intimate understanding of the studio system or Howard Hawks as an auteur to laugh at His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby. Some Like It Hot might be a seminal examination of gender distinctions in cinema … but it also has men in dresses and Marilyn Monroe’s breasts. Ben Hur can be fairly dull, but it has a kickass chariot race. Spartacus is … SPARTACUS!
So, basically, give it a chance. If you have resisted classical cinema to this point, just try it. Learn the plot of a movie and judge whether or not you want to see it based upon that … not whether it was made in 1919 or 2010. In a weird twist of fate, you might actually realize that you like Buster Keaton or the films of John Ford. There is a reason certain films are considered classics, and it’s not just because they’re old. It’s because of their continued ability to entertain.