What we think of as timeless is subjective. What makes something 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 reaching this status. This is particularly interesting when looking at art, 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 the timelessness of music it becomes more personal. Obviously, there are certain 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 the name may not roll off your tongue, you’re most likely heard it at least once or twice. Even when a style of music loses its popularity it’s 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 appreciation for these styles. There are also certain songs 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. 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 made 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 is passed down because it epitomises the era. In general, music will always be with us because it represents an escape from the present.
Films are definitely a product of the time they’re made. Whilst a film may be set in another age the filming equipment used to make it, and the ideologies and moral messages of the movie, always refer back to when it was filmed. They become works of art depicting the thoughts and ideas of the director and actors involved. Through film and cinematography we can capture a current state of being. Actors are immortalised on film and so we can see it as an important tool to preserve. 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 can permanently capture moments.
Art is a little more difficult to talk about because your love of a piece is heavily influenced by stylistic preferences. There are 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. Here it’s not that you like these works on a personal level, but that they have such a grand reputation their legacy continues with each generation. 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 and personal. Arguably, there is an element of luck that comes with this 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 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 is timeless because it immortalises the artist. Even after the creator no longer lives, every line, brush-stroke or frame serves as a physical representation of who they were when it was made.