a few nights ago I rewatched Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a huge cinephile I obviously enjoyed it, but I couldn't help but think about the way films have changed, and about the way new mainstream audiences look back at the big movies that came out even before they were born. So, after a lot of thought I brought it down to six reasons for why our generation might not be able to enjoy classic films as much as the generation before us did:
1. Inflamed with stage
So the further we go back in cinema history the more similar movies become to a stage play. This is most notable in two aspects: acting and cinematography.
|A "Stand-Off" - in modern film vs. oldschool theater|
2. The effects of SFX
Most people believe this to be the strongest argument, but actually it is more of a weaker one. Yes, computer technology advanced at such a high rate, that filmmakers are now able to create situations, creatures and even whole worlds that could have never been realized just 30 years ago. However, due to the lack of computer technology back in those days, most movies did it practical: miniatures, robotics, and extensive make up. These effects usualy stand the test of time and are the reason why 80's films like Jurassic Park hold up better than those from the early 2000's with an overused CGI that was still in its baby shoes.
Still, when the complete climax of a story relies mostly on the visuals but these visuals are outdated, it will most definitely lose its impact. In very unfortunate cases the scenes even become laughable. The crescendo of Alfred Hitchcock's cunning thriller Rear Window for example used to put viewers on the edge of their seats. Nowadays, it evokes a chuckle at best:
3. The world is dark, and full of spoilers
Classics are classics for a reason. A whole bunch of people have seen them and even more people talk about them. Usually about their great and iconic moments. Every now and then however, these moments contain great twists, unexpected character developments or even the entire ending. Just like the great revelation of the original Planet of the Apes film was spoiled for, well, EVERYONE with the 2011 reboot at the very latest, most other cinematic milestones don't have any surprises left either. As a result, you will never be able to experience the same astonishment the original audience did. After all, hardly ever does someone leave a 50 year old movie thinking: "Wow, I never saw that coming!" Bruce Willis is really a ghost and Darth Vader is Luke's dad. Surprised? Probably not...
4. It's raining copy-cats and dogs
Even if (somehow) you have been able to shield yourself from any information regarding the content of the film, you still won't be save from a little "been-there-done-that" feeling while watching. Why? Well, the great films that went down in cinema history have all had an impact on the industry for many years to come. Inspired by the awe they were left in, filmmakers would borrow from, pay homage to, or straight up copy elements from these movies just to recreate that same sense of wonder. Sometimes even trying to one-up the original. In three of the best science-fiction movies of this century, Sunshine, Moon and Interstellar, you can find concepts, ideas and even entire scences that resemble the ones from 2001: A Space Odyssey. A docking scene, a spaceship repairing scene, or just a lonely dude talking to a robot. These films haven't invented it, but updated it at the very least. And they are the movies young people see first! Something that was innovative back in the day has often become the standard for that particular genre, and so when they watch these classic films it just feels like the same old thing rather than groundbreaking. It's quite unfair to these pioneers, but hardly avoidable.
5. Less Fast, Less Furious
Maybe the most important argument is influenced by the change in our culture in general. Due to the invention of the internet and other technological achievements, we now have access to a much larger amount of information. Our generation has adapted to this very quickly and we are now able to proccess multiple things at the same time. We are checking our e-mails while texting a friend and simultaneously watching a tv show.
Filmmakers have realized this as well, and so directors don't hesitate to fill their films with just as much action as dialogue, and many other audiovisual information on the side. Events come blow by blow, scenes are more dense and characters have many different issues to face at once. As a result we get a much longer (or at least bigger) story in the same amount of time. By implication, we therefore perceive older movies as moving incredibly slow. So much so, that they tend to get boring. Even modern day films like Drive and Nightcrawler initially struggled to connect with mainstream audiences mainly because of their slow pacing similar to films like 1976's Taxi Driver. We are not used to long periods of silence anymore and so when we are exposed to them it can go as far as making us uncomfortable.
6. Superlatives! Superlatives everywhere!
Imagine the last time someone told you about a classic movie. It probably went down like this: "Have you ever seen Blade Runner? It's one of the best sci-fi films of all time!" or "You've got to watch The Shining. It's the scariest film I have ever seen!" and maybe even things like "What? You haven't seen The Godfather Part II?! It's the perfect movie!"
Not only has nostalgia wiped away all memory of flaws these movies might have had, but they are also always praised as 'absolute must-sees', 'brilliant masterpieces' or 'the best of the best'. Landing on Top 10 lists all around the internet and so very often mentioned as the biggest influences for the latest blockuster, it is hard to escape all the tales of their greatness. Obviously you think of your own personal favorites when hearing all this and your expectation skyrockets as your imagination crafts the most perfect of films from all the bits and pieces of movies you love. The bar is already set too high for any modern movie to reach, and on top of that an old film probably suffers from at least one of the points I mentioned above. The hype hurts.
Sure, it is fun to be excited about something, and word-of-mouth can be very helpful to the success of a film, but when people won't shut up about a particular thing it usually goes one of two ways: Either you are disappointed because it's different from what you expected, or you are so annoyed that you don't even want to watch it anymore. Nothing is better than seeing an awesome movie without any precognition, which is often what made these films classics in the first place.
If you are late to the party however, you don't get that luxury. Especially when you are half a century late...
So this was my explanation for why you might not be able to enjoy classic films. Did you recognize your own experiences in there? Or are you able to ignore all of this and enjoy them just as much as any other movie? Which old film did or didn't you enjoy? Feel free to comment below! And next time someone pops in Citizen Kane or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, try to remember this list and cut it some slack. Because one day you might find yourself telling your grandchildren about these 50 year-old mastepieces like Inception or The Lord Of The Rings that weren't even in 3D. And you wouldn't want them to think their lame, would you?