The notion of timelessness is something subjective. What constitutes ‘being timeless’? The Oxford dictionary defines the term as ‘not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion’, but there seems to be no set criteria for its attainment. This is particularly interesting when looking at arts, film and music. Can they ever truly outlast the limits of time? And what is it that gives them entry to such an exclusive club?
When thinking about music and its timelessness there is a more personal element. Obviously there are specific songs that pass through the generations like Michael Jackson’s ‘Billy Jean’, ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston, and ‘Don’t Worry’ by Bob Marley. And let’s not forget artists from hundreds of years ago like Beethoven and Mozart. Classical music may only attract a certain type of audience these days, but that doesn’t diminish its influence. Pachelbel’s Canon is taught widely in secondary school music classes, and who hasn’t heard of that banger ‘Einleitung, oder Sonnenaugfgang’ (known from the 2001 film Space Odyssey). While their names may not trip off the tongue you’re guaranteed to have heard them at least once or twice. Even when a style of music loses its popularity it is never completely eradicated; it lingers on in elements of modern music and pop culture.
Having said this, the type of music one likes is down to specific tastes as well as cultural and familial influences. Growing up in a black-Caribbean household I was continually exposed to Reggae, Soul, R&B and Hip-Hop and so I have a greater inclination for those genres. There are also certain songs which I relate to my childhood and so they hold a strong meaning for me personally. Consequently, there’s a kind of emotional weight that attaches itself to music because, for example, every time I hear Toni Braxton’s ‘Breathe Again’ I can’t help but smile. There are songs that will always outlast the decade they were created in simply because they’re catchy and cannot be forgotten. But there are also those that will only be timeless to an individual. The emotional connection one has to such tunes are passed down because they epitomise an era. In general, music will always be with us because it represents an escape from the present.
Films are most definitely a product of the time they are made in. Whilst the backdrop of a story may reside in another age, the filming equipment used to make it, and the ideologies and moral messages within the film always harp back to those times. All films are necessarily grounded in the periods in which they were made, and become works of art depicting the thoughts and ideas of the director, as well as of the actors involved. Through film and cinematography, one is able to capture a current state of being; actors literally become frozen in time portraying film as something of importance through its ability to preserve. Thus a movie becomes a kind of time capsule.
When it comes to a movie’s legacy, something that cannot be underestimated is the power of marketing and its influence on audiences. For example, in a 2017 interview for the Graham Norton Show, Morgan Freeman discussed the box office success of The Shawshank Redemption (a 1994 film that he starred in). He argued that word of mouth is the only real advertising movies receive. If an audience is not able to return from a film with a good review then it will not go far. Despite said audiences loving the film, Freeman also suggested a difficulty in pronouncing its title meant fewer were able to see it. Ensuring that a movie is publicised in the right way can have a monumental effect on its longevity. What makes film timeless is its ability to permanently capture a state of being that reflects or contrasts the one we currently live in. A film is clearly a classic if it’s deemed good enough to be passed down through each generation, but in a sense, all films may be a little timeless in the way they almost stop the passing of time itself.
Art is a little more difficult to talk about because one’s affinity for a piece is heavily influenced by stylistic preferences. There are the world renowned pieces that almost everyone will have heard of (even if you’re not an art fan) such as the ‘Mona Lisa’, van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ and ‘The Scream’ by Munch. It’s not even that on a personal level one really enjoys such pieces, but that each generation is aware of such art works, and so their legacy continues. The boxes an art piece ticks to achieve such a status are obscure in comparison to areas like film or music because art is heavily subjective. Arguably there is an element of luck that comes with such success.
As well as this, various time periods saw movements away from and towards new styles of art. For example, performance art and cubism came onto the scene in the early 1900’s, whilst landscape paintings have been dated back to the seventeenth century. Similarly to film, art acts as a reflection of the time in which it was made. It allows the creator and the viewer to escape from societal norms and push boundaries.
In this sense maybe every piece of art made is timeless through the way it immortalises the artist. Even after the creator no longer lives, every line and brush-stroke serves as a physical representation of who they were when it was made.