In praise of old movies

Payton Kastella, '20

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On a typical winter’s evening just this year, I lay in bed trying to find a new film to watch and stumbled across the well-known classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Although I had always been interested in watching it, it was not until that day when I decided to commit myself to the choice and spend that part of my day watching it. I began viewing, and somewhere close to halfway in I fell into a certain habit that I had not yet realized I was victim to. I momentarily lost focus, reached for my laptop, and gave half of my attention to something else while also trying to understand the plot and meaning of the film. And to my suprise, there was a moment in which I shifted my concentration back into 1961, but found myself completely confused.That was the same moment when I understood why Breakfast at Tiffany’s is, and has always been, so highly acclaimed.

I would have considered myself as one who knew movies well before this experience. Going to the theaters has always been one of my favorite activities, and it has become a frequent thing for me. When I’m at home in my bedroom, there is mostly always something playing, even just in the background. At a younger age, my family had a movie night almost every week, and my dad and I were avid horror fans. Now I watch movies with the one that I love. They have surrounded me throughout my life, and it sometimes feels like I am living inside of one. But if anyone’s true life was created into a two hour film, it would be a complex web of a plot filled with meaning and complex messages that are learned through experience. So, why should most of the movies made in the last decade be simple enough to play in the background, and still be easily understood by one who is barely watching? With the new technology and concepts of the 21st century, more opportunities should be available for filmmakers in order to create something new for their audience. But instead, they use a similar plot as every other blockbuster simply because they know it’s worked before. Because of this concept, movies made in previous decades, such as the classics, have their viewers in awe because the people of today simply aren’t used to originality.

While looking at film history, I found it very interesting and important to also consider the time before humanity had the resources for entertainment. At this time, stories traveled through word of mouth, from generation to generation. These stories were not made for structure or art, but simply for the lesson that they gave. Since they were not concerned with the entertainment factor that cinema is today, there was one basic structure that almost all of them followed— the hero monomyth. Joseph Campbell, a professor studying mythology, outlined this idea in a twelve-step journey that nearly every myth follows. It includes certain characters like the hero, the villain, and side characters along the way, and describes almost the exact path that myths take in order to reach their conclusion. Since there were not many ways to portray these stories other than passing them down, they all followed this same structure because it worked, and there wasn’t a lot of room for individuality anyways. Now, Hollywood has come to this same problem, and everybody is so used to the storylines that they know they enjoy, and not many producers are willing to take the risk of being too different. We have fallen into our own hero monomyth, and it has caused entertainment to bore those who are looking for more.

One of the major losses towards the quality of movies today is the absence of an underlying meaning, but instead clear messages that do not require much work at all. In a 2017 essay by Rob Ager, he describes how in recent years, scenes of movies are trying so hard to condense themselves for the movie time that they lose their craftsmanship as a whole. When there are so many of these scenes that give the viewer exactly what they need to know without having to think about it, the entire movie becomes much less complex. This is also why older movies are considered to be “boring” by the ones who are used to this concept. In ones like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, and as I mentioned earlier, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the scenes are not as action packed as we are used to, which makes them be considered boring. But in reality, the complexity and detail of these older scenes are much more interesting when really understood. This same source discusses how the new CGI has created the illusion that movies are advancing, so the crew that is making these scenes finds them to be more advanced, when really they are lacking authentic concepts.

On the website Movie Quotes and More, Shelby Fielding writes that, “There are other creative choices that have hardly been explored, but I think the range of established film making formulas allows modern filmmakers to go the lazy route.” I think that this says a lot about where movies are today. The methods that are used today to get the message across today are mostly just recycled ideas and symbols. They are familiar to the people watching them, so instead of taking a chance, they go with what they know has worked in the past. But life is about taking risks, and so is movie making. Risks are what makes a true movie great.

I do believe that there is a time and place where these newer, simple movie plots are a better choice than a rather complex one. Although, if theaters are being sold out in the nation for a movie like Star Wars, the people deserve to spend their time not just watching, but thinking as well and being able to leave with something to take away. In previous times of society, the expectations of films were much higher, and they were a lot better because of it. Instead of viewing these older movies as a stepping block to what they have become today, they should be seen as the foundation of what cinema is today. This is something that most filmmakers do not understand, and therefore do not create plots that have true authenticity.