You’ve heard it before. If you haven’t seen the classics, the silent epics, and lots of foreign films then you aren’t a real film fan. If you’ve never watched Casablanca or Gone With the Wind, you can’t possibly be passionate about movies. I have been informed of this by teachers, family members and even other students. But what if religiously watching all these ‘essential’ films isn’t that rewarding? What if it’s okay to miss out on these if we want to?
The process of films becoming ‘classics’ is questionable anyway. The same goes with literature: Jane Eyre was radical in its day, and caused so much controversy that it is now studied all over the world within the context of class struggle and feminism. But chances are that reading it in the 21st century probably won’t have the same effect. Seven Samurai, number nineteen on the IMDB Top 250, was possibly very fresh and exciting when watched in the 1950s, but this generation’s audiences will probably find it hard to relate to its narrative now.
Vertigo is considered by pretty much every film magazine as the best movie (most notably by Sight and Sound, who called it “the ultimate critic’s film”), but upon its release in 1958 it was criticised for being too long, and made significantly less money than Hitchcock’s other work. The director’s fans were not impressed and even Orson Welles said he didn’t enjoy it. Only in 1983, when Vertigo was re-released and therefore re-evaluated, did audiences start to praise it as the best film of all time. But the fact remains that films made in the 1950s and earlier are vastly different to the ones we watch now. The technical disadvantages, along with censorship adding limits to the content, means that films such as Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Metropolis, and more will not resonate with today’s audiences as they did with older generations. This isn’t to say that they should be completely dismissed; we can still appreciate the cultural and historical significance of D.W. Griffith’s silent The Birth of a Nation whilst not wanting to sit through its wildly racist three hours – while we might be more tempted to watch this year’s modern reimagining, of the same name.
Should we feel inclined to make ourselves watch long-winded, confusing or dull films that we don’t really understand, just to prove ourselves as film lovers? Or is it instead the case that we take pleasure in what we can not only relate to, but what we were brought up on – ultimately on what we know. It is a learning process to truly appreciate these films; we must learn the historical context of when these films were made, as well as the art styles and influences at play in its creation. Of course, everyone can appreciate a film for its historical significance, as a time-piece more than a piece of entertainment (or art). We may watch some films from the place of more of an observer, as opposed to a partaker like we do with modern films – we must detach ourselves from the film, and watch it for pure “academic interest” – whatever that is? I think it is naïve for ‘true film fans’ to deride others on their taste, we cannot expect everyone to have the same interests as us, the same perspective – that kind of thought should be reserved for 5 year olds.
Some moments linger, unaffected by time, in their cinematic magic; when audiences first saw the classic ‘Hitchcock zoom’ in Vertigo, it would have been astounding, and our parents probably watched in awe at the chest-burster scene in Alien – these moments still have lasting impact, decades after their release, raising these films above the others, making them more than just “academically interesting”. Of course, millennials were brought up on different films, in an age where 3D became more common and action became bigger and better. Just because we might prefer The Dark Knight to The Godfather, this doesn’t mean we don’t have an appreciation for film.
I think it is an elitist, excluding thing to be deriding of people who don’t like “real cinema”. If you want people to see your point of view, educate and inform, rather than exclude. And for everyone else; don’t let someone tell you that if you don’t force yourself to enjoy these ‘classics’, you’re not a true film buff. Times have changed, and so should the way we talk about film.