Thursday, July 31, 2008

7/31/08 - Modern Classics vs. Old Classics.

The other day my friend Jen and I had a long discussion over IM about 'modern' classics vs. 'old' classics. With some minimal editing, here's the bulk of the conversation.

Jen: have you seen a streetcar named desire

Jeff: no
i've read it though
way back in the day

Jen: i have similar feelings towards that movie that i do to [The Maltese Falcon]
i realize that its good, and can see some of the ways in which it was really groundbreaking for that time, but only really am enjoying it bc its supposed to be a classic

Jeff: yeah
that was how i felt as well
it's kind of like listening to run-dmc

like, guys you don't have to end every rhyme the exact same way you know
but they don't know
b/c everybody's just feeling out the medium

Jen: yeah
i havent listened to enough run dmc to say i agree but i believe you

Jeff: the "first of its genre" is always kind of strange

Jen: yeah, but streetcar wasn't necessary 1st in genre

Jeff: true
i guess i should say groundbreaking work

Jen: yeah, just classics in general

Jeff: not always
but often

Jen: yeah
not always
i think i can watch some classics and enjoy it just as being good

Jeff: agreed
and sometimes it's hard to reconstruct something where the achievement was something new
that has since been copied

Jen: but some i watch and think, would i have known this was good had someone not told me. Have you seen the apartment?

romantic comedy?

Jen: 1960 best picture with Shirley MacClaine
it was referenced in mad men, and now i want to see it
Billy Wilder

Jeff: hmm
never saw it
a classic that i enjoyed

Jen: example of you can enjoy
i agree

Jeff: pride and prejudice
wuthering heights

Jen: as movies or books?

Jeff: books

Jen: oh there are TONS of books
im talking movies

Jeff: movies i find harder

Jen: yeah

Jeff: esp pre-70s

Jen: yeah

Jeff: but what's considered classic
like is the Godfather considered modern?

Jen: just old i guess

Jeff: or classic?

Jen: haha
its classic but im speaking about old classic

Jeff: you're talking about something that's old enough to where the dominant style was different than what's done today

Jen: yes i think so

Jeff: so like the 70s classics fit
apocalypse now
would those be "classics" or modern movies?

Jen: mm, i dont know
i think they are modern classics
and then there are old classics

Jeff: my theory is that those fit as modern b/c those styles have been appropriated by modern movies
in terms of directorial style
and in terms of looking at the director as the "author" of the movie

Jen: and classics are just critically acclaimed, or ones that everyone thinks you should see

Jeff: so you're drawing a distinction between one set of classics and another
where one "feels" older
and the others are more modern classics
all can be considered classics
because they're widely critically/popularly acclaimed
but there's a distinction between "modern" classics
and "classic" classics
all I'm saying

Jen: yes
im saying for 'classic' classics
or old classics
modern classics i get
usually always
90% of the time
old classics, maybe 45% of the time
ok maybe 60% of the time
by get i mean enjoy and appreciate

Jeff: and my theory behind that is that modern classics are made in the same cinematic style/vocabulary/aesthetic as movies today

Jen: yes

Jeff: i.e. director driven

Jen: you think before they werent director driven?

Jeff: naturalistic acting
directors used to be just kind of hired guns
they weren't really considered the "author" or the movie

Jen: hm, i dont know if i agree

Jeff: example - who directed wizard of oz?

Jen: im thinking more like sunset blvd, citizen kane
very director driven

Jen: i dont know who directed wizard of oz without using wikipedia.

Jeff: gone with the wind?

Jen: but i also don't know who directed shakespeare in love. or chicago.
i dont know directors that well

Jeff: a good point
the theory that the director is the auteur of the movie, that the director's creative vision is the driving force, was first developed in the '50s
which is relatively recently
but think of the way that we discussed christopher nolan
and his body of work the other day
we talk about directors as though they're the authors

Jen: but you dont think that can be done with old directors?

Jeff: whether or not you know who directed one
you can retroactively apply it, but think about what that means from a business/creative standpoint that they weren't thought of that way

Jen: now youre arguing the director is now the 'author' of movies
the main creative force
you dont think its always been that way?

Jeff: well think about the difference between the way movies are made now
and under the studio system from the '20s to the '50s
where studios would produce movies with their stars, writers, and directors tied to long-term contracts
in that case the director is still the main creative force maybe, but the real power lies with the studio and the producers
but obviously movies are highly collaborative
so there's also been evolution of acting
towards more naturalism

Jen: yes
so this is the reason why i like movies more now?

Jeff: i think it's a factor as to why the style of what you're thinking of as "old classics" seem so alien
for me that holds true
like if a movie's made after about 1969 or so, it may feel like a 70s movie, but it feels "modern"
or an 80s movie will feel dated, but still modern
but movies made much before that feel like they're made with a different cinematic/acting/writing aesthetic vocab.
so i'm just speculating that that may be what you could be reacting to also
in your 90/60 % split
Star Wars
totally modern feeling

Jen: 70s though
so you think the cut off ist he 60s

Jeff: it's somewhere in the 70s
i guess
i just know that the 70s was the rise of the American auteurs

Jen: so godfather is 72 (im using wiki now)

Jeff: Spielberg, Altman, Francis Ford Coppola
and my theory is that it's their influence that really marks the modern film vocab.

Jen: one flew over the cuckoos nest is 75
which seems in old classic genre
director influence?

Jeff: yeah director influence
godfather you would say old classic or modern classic?

Jen: modern classic

Jeff: so 72 at least would be the cutoff then
but obviously those styles were new at the time
so you'd expect there to be plenty of "old classics" littered throughout the 70s
i doubt you'd find many (or any) in the 80s that would feel like "old classics"

Jen: hm i see

Jeff: like psycho i still enjoy just as much as a modern movie
but it still feels like it's on the other side of the divide

Jen: what year is that

Jeff: ‘60

Jen: hmmm

Jeff: The Excorcist – ‘73
Carrie – ‘76
i would pinpoint those as the first modern horror movies

Jen: yes

Jeff: also
until 64 all movies had to meet the Hays code
basically the industry censorship agreement put together in the 30s
spelling out what was morally acceptable
so the modern rating system was implemented in '68

Jen: yeah so there are a lot of other factors besides directors

Jeff: totally

Jen: camera technology
sound technology
make up

Jeff: for sure
but i think those are less of a factor
b/c think about the diff in those from a movie made in the early 80s to today
both feel "modern"
but camera, sound, costume, makeup, speech - all different
that's what i think the puzzle is
b/c there's clearly a line in there somewhere
where "modern" shades into "old"
that's more about aesthetics and less about technology/costumes/slang/etc.

Jen: but how much of this is colored by the decade when we were born
our earliest memories of modern movies were in the 80s

Jeff: totally

Jen: so if you asked my dad this, he might not draw the line at the same place

Jeff: very true

Jen: or ask a teenager
whats modern
i dont know if it would make it to the 70s

Jeff: right like a teenager today would probably feel anything without CGI is dated

Jen: yeah, like star wars is probably way too old
i think the 1st harry potter CGI is terrible

Jeff: haha yeah CGI can get horribly abused
BUT pre-CGI will feel dated, but I bet for teenagers now what will feel even more dated are movies without the rapid-fire cutting
think about how long the shots were in the first batman compared to the dark knight

Jen: interesting

Jeff: i wonder though b/c we've all seen lots of movies and then saw CGI come onto the scene
i wonder how a modern teenager would feel about Raiders of the Lost Ark

Jen: classic
and i feel modern

Jeff: a good argument then that style/aesthetic is more important than the technological prowess on display
but we have no way of knowing without access to a teenager

Jen: must get access to teenager

Jeff: haha yes

Jen: for experiments
movie perceptions


Carey Garris said...

well played - Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were directed by the same person. And released IN THE SAME YEAR. Good effin' luck topping that, and no, the Jurassic Park/Schindler's List double doesn't count. Credit, credit to Coppola for trying - Godfather, The Conversation, and Godfather 2, all in three years.

That shift in performance and style is dated 1959, and it's Cassavetes' SHADOWS and Godard/Truffaut/the french new wave - Breathless, 400 Blows, etc. Coppola and Lucas have said openly that all they wanted to do was do what the french were doing, though they did it as only the Americans can.

Andrew said...

whoops, that was andrew, not carey. as you may have guessed.

Kenny said...

I think that it begins with The Graduate; I checked Wiki for this because I thought that it was '69, but it is '67. Though The Graduate does seriously employ some classic styles, it starts to incorporate more modern elements. The Graduate just feels like a different film than others of the same era. But it was gradual of course; The Lion in Winter is '68 and it's a complete oldie but goodie. Same with the Romeo and Juliet we all had to watch in english class with Romeo's ass and juliet's boobs hehheh. But Patton is '70 and A Clockwork Orange is '71. 1972 sees Godfather, Deliverence, and Cabaret.

Modern horror is definitly '72 with Deliverence as well as Last House on the Left, Wes Craven's first.

Elements of the modern classic action/suspense/horror movie are evident in some earlier films, most notably in Hitchcock's films of the late 50's and early 60's; Vertigo '57, North by Northwest '59, Psycho '60 (as correctly mentioned), and the Birds '63. Would movies be as awesome today if Cary Grant doesn't get to climb all over Mt. Rushmore.

On that note I am happy that Hollywood hasn't tried to remake any more Hitchcock movies. It's a magnificent thing that psycho flopped otherwise Colin Farrell would play Roger Thornhill or Lindsay Lohan would be Tippi Hedrin's character in the Birds. Where the birds are weta creations from hell and midi-chlorians were responsible for them getting all pissed or something.

Andrew is right, we were ultimately late to the French's party and just decided to throw our own that copied it completely over the course of the decades to follow.

Consider the movie "The Dark Crystal," will kids today love the fantastic Jim Henson creations with much more implied action than actual action. (Labyrinth need not be mentioned because Bowie is eternal). Or will they refer to it as Gandalf might, "A movie of the ancient world." Granted that ancient world did not have Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog.