Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How to Get into Old Movies...Part 9

Part 9: Check Out a Classic Film in Theaters

I've been wanting to write this post for a long time. Back in March, Turner Classic Movies teamed with Fathom Events to bring Casablanca back to theaters. Since then, the two entities have brought multiple films - Singin' in the Rain and The Birds, for instance - back to the big screen. For one reason or another, I had not been able to catch a single one of them.

Until the monster got me...Frankenstein's monster, that is. I was lucky enough to win a pair of tickets (from the amazing blog True Classics) to go see the double feature of 1931's Frankenstein and its sequel Bride of Frankenstein. I am lucky enough to have a girlfriend who enables my appreciation for classic movies and agreed to go with me.

Unfortunately for her, she doesn't like horror movies. Actually, when it comes down to it, neither do I. But I wasn't about to turn down this excellent opportunity to see a (free!) classic movie in the theater.

I am going to forego giving an extensive review of the experience, instead deferring to the opinions of two bloggers I trust who also saw the double feature - Cinematically Insane and Out of the Past. As Will from CI said, it was a great experience seeing the films on the big screen and the other people in the theater were extremely reverent of the cinematic gold; however, it was, at times, "immensely frustrating" in that the low quality of the restorations showed their age, a flaw more noticeable on the big screen.

One great thing about these theater screenings is that they are preceded by exclusive interviews - usually hosted by TCM hosts Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz - that are relevant to the movie you are about to watch. The interviews that ran before Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein featured a conversation with Osborne and Boris Karloff's daughter, Bela Lugosi's son and renowned film make-up artist Dick Smith from this year's TCM Film Festival. As somebody who has wanted to attend the Film Festival for a few years now, it was awesome to be able to view a snapshot of the experience.

As a classic film fan, it is no surprise that seeing an old movie in the theater - simulating what it might have been like when the movies first cam out all those years ago - is enjoyable to me. But what would a classic movie amateur get from it?

Well, one great thing about seeing any movie in a theater is that you can't turn it off and you can't walk away from it, allowing you to fully look at a movie and take in all of its high points, as well as its flaws. Also, TCM and Fathom choose the movies that they screen for a reason: they are all great movies that were pivotal in paving the movie-making landscape for future films. In other words, a person who is being introduced to classic movies isn't going to be viewing a stinker, or essentially something that would turn him or her away for good.

For anybody interested, the next upcoming screening is To Kill a Mockingbird on Nov. 15.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

YOM Blog Review: Ace in the Hole

As a PR guy and former journalism major, I'm a sucker for a good newspaper movie, be it His Girl Friday, All the President's Men or The Paper. On top of that, I'm a sucker for a good Billy Wilder movie, be it comedy, drama or noir. Fortunately, Ace in the Hole delivers both.

Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a former big-time newspaper reporter who has charaded his way out of just about every top tier newspaper and is willing to do anything to get back on top. We meet up with Tatum on his way through Albuquerque, broke as a joke and looking to find a newspaper that will hire him and help him get back on top. As his car breaks down, he stumbles upon the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin, a paltry rag that dabbles in nothing greater than hyperlocal community news and fluff pieces.

This is where we meet my favorite character of the movie, Jacob Boot, the daily paper's editor. For anybody familiar with Wilder's movies, you may recognize the character type: the wise, moral compass who silently knows the right moves to make but lets the protagonist make all the wrong moves. We see this with Dr. Dreyfuss in The Apartment and Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity. Boot can tell from the outset that Tatum is bad news, although he knows the writer has talent that will help him draw readers. And when things finally unravel, Boot is there, standing in silent judgment, saying "I told you so" without the character actually uttering those words.

After he is hired, we jump ahead about a year to see Tatum sitting stagnate at the news desk, complaining about the lack of excitement in Albuquerque, complete with "no chopped chicken liver, no garlic pickles, no Lindys, no Madison Square Garden, no Yogi Berra!" After reluctantly heading out on an assignment to cover a rattlesnake hunt, Tatum stumbles upon what he considers a journalistic goldmine.

A local named Leo Minosa has been trapped in a cave collapse while he is searching for ancient artifacts. Tatum, quite keen at manufacturing a story ("If there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog."), sees an opportunity and takes advantage of it, working the story from almost every possible angle.

Although the collapse is an easy fix, Tatum talks all of the big players involved into playing along with his story, promising them everything from increased tourism in the tiny town to more business to political leverage in the next election. Instead of simply shoring up the walls of the cave to get Leo out, he is able to get the contractor to drill down, giving crowds the illusion of work being done and Tatum time to begin feeding the story to the local paper and subsequent outlets nationwide. Although we don't get to know the contractor as well as other characters throughout the film, this relationship ends up being very important in how the movie progresses and in our protagonist's downfall.

As Tatum begins churning out his sensationalized version of theing story - one that, keep in mind, would have probably garnered two to three stories at most if reported on correctly and by another journalist - tourists begin showing up. As the days and the stories progress, the crowds get larger, eventually bringing in a mobile circus (unknown to Wilder, the studio actually changed the title to The Big Carnival right before its release; most airings of the movie and DVD releases use the original Ace in the Hole name).

The key to the charade working is the relationship Tatum depicts between himself and Leo, one he is able to keep exclusive (with the help of his new friend, the sheriff) from the rest of the big-time journalists - his former colleagues - who are trying to get a piece of the action. When Tatum first visits the trapped Leo, spirits are high. Leo, uncertain about what to expect, feeds off Tatum's enthusiasm. Their conversation is one of instant friendship. In fact, this relationship is the only seemingly genuine one our protagonist maintains throughout the movie...which makes how things turn out so emotionally disturbing.

Eventually, the success goes to Tatum's head, leading him to pick up the drink once more. At the story's peak, Tatum quits the Sun-Bulletin and sells his story to a New York newspaper editor for the chance to get back up on top. However, after being trapped for a few days, Leo's health drops rapidly, showing Tatum he has to fix things quickly. However, when he urges the contractor to stop drilling and shore up the walls, he finds out the vibrations have weakened the walls, meaning any attempts to do so would lead to collapse.

This is the point of the movie when Tatum gains a conscience. It's just a shame that it takes death for him to get there. From the point when Leo dies on to the end of the movie, Douglas plays the character masterfully. Throughout most of the movie, he plays Tatum as a guy who knows it all and who is willing to do anything to get it all; however, as a self-made and self-proclaimed hero who falls from grace onto his own sword, he is superb.

The tough part for the character though is, although he has realized the wrong he has done and the life he has caused to end, there are still a number of characters whose lives he has negatively affected. One, in particular, comes back to bite him in the worst possible way.

When we first meet Leo's wife, Lorraine, she is a bitter housewife, eager to find just about any excuse to get rid of what she views as her plain, leading-nowhere, too-nice-for-his-own-good husband. She is cold and almost emotionless and dreams in dollar signs. In many ways, she is Tatum's female counterpart, which is why they are instantly drawn to each other. Lorraine, who helps Leo and her father-in-law run a restaurant/gas station, is first lured by the prospect of the money that would come in from an increase in customers via tourists, who come in droves. One can't help but draw obvious parallels to The Postman Always Rings Twice (the movie version of which came out about five years before this film), wherein a ruthless drifter and equally ruthless wife of a diner owner plan to kill the woman's husband. As Tatum falls back into his drinking habit and her disdain for her husband and carelessness toward anything other than herself accelerate, their immoral personalities pique and seem to coalesce, eventually drawing them into a physical relationship.

These two characters bring out the worst in each other, and Tatum doesn't realize the effect he had on her until his conscience kicks in. Not only does she skip Leo's funeral ("I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons."), she rejects a present Leo asks Tatum to give her - a present he worked hard to buy for her and asked with his final breaths to be given to her. As he grabs her and they begin to quarrel, Lorraine snags a pair of scissors and stabs Tatum.

With that, Tatum stumbles back to the Sun-Bulletin office and utters the fantastic last words reminiscent of the ones he uttered when he first applied for a job with the paper: "How'd you like to make yourself a thousand dollars a day, Mr. Boot? I'm a thousand-dollar-a-day newspaperman. You can have me for nothing." Then, as often happens, the anti-hero falls, presumably dead.

Essentially, I started watching this movie for Billy Wilder and stayed (well, I was sitting on my sofa) for Kirk Douglas. Douglas was one of the best of his generation at playing passionate intensity, whether it's for the selfish get-back-on-top reasons of this movie, the artistic drive of Rick Martin in Young Man with a Horn or the rebellious, steadfast nature of Spartacus. Although the other actors have their moments, Douglas really carries Ace in the Hole, which really brings another layer to the selfish Chuck Tatum

A note about Wilder: I love the Austro-Hungarian director's comedies, from Some Like It Hot to The Fortune Cookie. And his dramas are just as excellent because Wilder has a knack for injecting humor and wit in appropriate ways into dramatic situations. However, he doesn't just do it arbitrarily or out of character, instead doing it in a way that makes the situations seem human, almost as if humor is being used as a sort of stress relief.

Interest to Young Fans

As a PR person and a guy who is extremely interested in the journalism industry, all I could think about while I was watching this movie was how realistic it would or would not be for such a situation to occur nowadays. Take a story as serious as the trapped Chilean miners or as ultimately trivial as the balloon boy incident, and think about the media firestorms that surrounded both. Aside from both being near tragedies (the former obviously more than the latter), what both had that made them interesting were innate human interest angles.

The situation depicted in Ace in the Hole has the very same ingredients. Leo Minosa is exactly the prototypical human interest draw that excites media and their audiences. You can easily see how such a situation would be handled nowadays: constant stories across all media national and local, endless Twitter updates and the inevitable post-event interviews (that is, if Leo lives at the end of the tragedy) on the morning show and late night circuits.

To relate it back to the mission of this blog, young moviegoers would be interested in this film because of its human interest angle. When it comes down to it, we can imagine getting into such a story nowadays. We can imagine reading the stories written by Chuck Tatum in the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin.

I can also see this movie being a shoo-in movie filler for any college journalism or communication ethics class. The movie is an obvious example of what not to do and the dangers of cheating your way to the top. Of course, it paints a falsely negative picture of many journalists as ruthless, cold and emotionally detached. However, this was a common depiction that can be seen throughout many movies of this era (e.g. Inherit the Wind and His Girl Friday).

Of course, Kirk Douglas is one of those names that many young people may recognize, either on his own or in relation to his equally famous son, Michael Douglas. On top of that, the elder Douglas is still alive and delivered a pretty funny, though awkward, speech at the 2011 Academy Awards.

One aspect of the film that might be a turnoff for younger audiences is its truly grim take on humanity. Tatum is an antihero through and through. Although he realizes the errors of his ways by the end, that realization does not make him a better person; it merely means he has the capacity to identify guilt and the fact that he has singlehandedly caused a person - one that he genuinely seemed to like - to die.

This movie isn't for everybody as it is almost completely devoid of happiness for every character. There is nothing lighthearted about it. Perhaps this is why the film was such a critical and box office flop (although similarly depressing movies, such as A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire, received Oscar nominations that same year).

However, it is an excellent piece of storytelling, one that shows how truly dangerous even a single person's selfishness can be.

Monday, February 27, 2012

YOM Blog Review: The Three Musketeers (1948)

When one thinks of Gene Kelly, the mind probably goes straight to him singing in the rain or dancing with Frank Sinatra in navy uniforms. In short, Gene Kelly is usually synonymous with his song-and-dance roles. However, his full palette of abilities is far more expansive than just those two (albeit extremely impressive) talents. This includes Kelly's role as a cynical, outspoken journalist in Inherit the Wind and his directorial credit in the (awesome) A Guide for the Married Man. That's part of the reason why I've been pumped for a long time to see the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, one of many (2,000 would be a safe guest) versions of the fantastic Alexandre Dumas story set in 17th century France.

And this beautiful, colorful, athletic version of the tale of Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan doesn't disappoint and is so bright and action-packed that you sometimes forget it came out in '48.

Not surprisingly, Kelly as D'Artagnan is the star of the movie, with a lot of the action centered around his strengths, which means fancy footwork and a lot of jumping over things to mount horses instead of simply climbing up. With Kelly as the star, most of the movie takes on a happy-go-lucky style, making most of the situations, including the swashbuckling scenes, seem somewhat passe or merely hedonistic. Of course, as adults, we realize that fighting with swords results in death. However, most of the movie downplays this angle, never showing even the faintest sign of blood (with one notable exception I will explain a little later). Instead, most of the film plays like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, with D'Artagnan wagging his derriere at his enemies or ending his first fight with Rochefort (Richelieu's chief henchman) with a little swordplay that drops his pants.

Another major impact Kelly has on the movie is how the romance scenes play. With constant swooning and blubbering, there isn't much realism in the way he plays the scenes, especially since the actor was 36 at the time and playing a character much younger and more naive. But Kelly sure has a knack for getting the audience to understand just how in love he is with another character by tripping over himself with love (even if he falls in love instantly after merely seeing the woman for a quick second and not yet speaking with her). You can tell that the movie's director and its actors intend on the audience having fun throughout the movie.

While I have always loved the story behind The Three Musketeers and have tried to see just about every adaptation of it, there are certain areas where I think this version could have been better. As I mentioned, most of this movie plays very light-hearted, focusing on athletic swordplay and romance. Therefore, when the movie goes dark about two-thirds of the way through, the balance gets thrown off a bit. This happens once Lana Turner's evil Lady de Winter receives a more important character arc, duping everybody and killing anybody in her tracks. The only time we see a trace of blood is after she kills D'Artagnan's wife Constance; we don't see the Lady de Winter necessarily but we see somebody dressed in Constance's clothes, her hands dripping with Constance's blood as she goes to kill the Duke of Buckingham. Although this all plays as interesting drama, Turner's scenes slow down the otherwise upbeat film in a big and partially negative way.

The way I see it, if you're going to make an upbeat movie, make an upbeat movie. Of course, you have to fit in certain parts of the source material to stay faithful. Additionally, Turner was talented and a popular actress at the time. However, this movie really suffers from giving too much time to the actress and a character that is important but not worth slowing down and nearly stopping the film in its tracks.

That being said, if you view most of the movie as a fun romp, there is a lot to like. Van Heflin is a decent choice as Athos. When I think of French characters, Heflin's name is not necessarily one I would think feasible for the role of the lead musketeer. However, Heflin made a career of playing the strong, silent type, which makes him a good fit. He even gets to let loose a little bit by playing drunk. Based on my perception of the roles of Aramis and Porthos, I was a little surprised at how flamboyant and outspoken Robert Coote was as Aramis and how underscored and melancholy Gig Young's Porthos became. I've read here and there that the two actors' roles should have been reversed, and I whole-heartedly agree.

Vincent Price just plain makes sense as the bad guy Richelieu, though I'd argue he should have had more of the screentime relegated to Lana Turner. Aside from being implicitly awesome just by being himself, Price's characterization of the prime minister (in the source material and every other adaptation, Richelieu is a cardinal) is made even more devious in scenes when he can be seen on his throne stroking a cat Blofeld-style.  He's so enjoyable in the role that, as a viewer, you are kind of looking forward to how he plays the scene at the end when he will assumedly get his commeupance. However, that never happens, as the movie just kind of ends without Richelieu being punished and the musketeers simply marching away after they reveal knowledge of his evil schemes to the king.

Speaking of the king, going along with the mostly light-hearted feel of the movie, Frank Morgan, most known as the Wizard of Oz, plays an appropriately bumbling version of King Louis XIII. As the cherry on top of the sundae, I almost hadn't realized Keenan Wynn had played D'Artagnan's right-hand man, Planchet, until I took a look at the IMDb page.

For a 1948 film, The Three Musketeers has a hefty number of really cool and cinematographic scenes that leave you impressed more than 60 years later. One scene, for instance, has Gene Kelly sliding down a table toward the camera during a fight. Another interesting shot is when D'Artagnan and Athos can be seen in the mirror as they come to capture Lady de Winter.

Interest to Young Fans

This one is fairly easy. The Three Musketeers is a fairly well-known story with many adaptations, enough for just about every generation of moviegoers to get their own feature film version of Dumas' classic tale. For me, my first exposure was the 1993 version starring Chris O'Donnell, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Charlie Sheen and Tim Curry. There have even been a few different versions of both this story - a version came out in 2011 - and other Dumas tales since then, including the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring Man in the Iron Mask from 1998. As I've mentioned before, comparing remakes to older versions of movies is a good way to get people interested in older movies.

This isn't a musical, but Gene Kelly is a name with which most people are familiar that might pique some interest. A similar argument can be made for both Vincent Prince and Angela Lansbury, who has a few scenes as the queen of France despite being in her early 20s when the film was made.

It's probably a bit longer than it needs to be, especially for impatient young viewers, but the pace keeps up for most of the movie and allows for easy viewership for just about anybody watching.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

YOM Blog Review: Soylent Green

Watching a movie can be tough when you already know the ending, especially when it can be easily discovered by taking a look at just about any list of all-time famous movie quotes.

Soylent Green places Charlton Heston's hardboiled Detective Thorn in New York City in 2022. However, the movie's view of the future isn't quite flying cars and robot servants. Instead, Thorn faces a dystopic, overcrowded world where homeless people sleep in piles on stairs and make it nearly impossible to walk down the street. Due to the overpopulation and very limited resources, people survive on very small food rations of processed food - the newest and most popular one called Soylent Green.

Thorn is thrown into a murder case after wealthy businessman William Simonson, played by Joseph Cotten, one of my favorite classic movie actors, is killed. In his brief screentime, Cotten shows great humanity as the aging, morally torn businessman, who willingly surrenders his life at the hands of a bounty hunter. Cotten's muted performance is trumped only by Edward G. Robinson's portrayal (his last, in fact) of Thorn's elderly roommate Sol.

Robinson's character is very important because he represents for Thorn a living bridge to understanding how humanity used to be, or the state of humanity when audiences first saw this movie. Sol understands texts, helping Thorn solve his cases by simply reading books and analyzing texts, a "skill" that is implied to have gone by the wayside by 2022. It is Sol that supplies the intelligence and emotional drive of the movie. By, once again, simply reading a text, Sol is the one who figures out that the plankton supposedly used to make Soylent Green no longer grows; instead the food is processed from dead bodies, the big twist of the movie and the big statement made about what can happen to society if we aren't economical with our resources.

When Sol chooses to undergo assisted suicide at the end, he does it for two major reasons: to escape from the dregs of society and, essentially, to provide food for more people. This scene is both beautiful and, deep down, extremely depressing. In this depiction of society, older citizens undergo assisted suicide by taking some pills before viewing images and listening to music of their choice. As Thorn watches the scene from the other side of the glass, we see images of flowers, deer and an Earth that is beautiful, harkening back to a time when the world wasn't terrible. However, the visuals serve as just a temporary Band-Aid to briefly erase the imagery of the now-downtrodden world.

You don't have to look up the movie's IMDb page to know that this film was made in the 1970s (1973, to be exact). Although the story takes place in 2022, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of imagination applied to how the world might look then. Instead, the hairstyles, the clothing and environment look like they haven't escaped the '70s. If somebody misses the exposition in the beginning, he or she might assume the society portrayed is a reimagined version of the '70s.

Interest to Young Fans

The most obvious draw of this movie is the famous last line "Soylent Green is people," screamed by a wounded Thorn after he sees the bodies of Sol and others manufactured into the food. Having only heard the line quoted by others, I was taken aback when I finally saw it onscreen. I had always imagined the line was said as a form of surprised revelation; instead, it is uttered in crazed, close-to-breathless screams. Frankly, even knowing how the movie ends, it's still shocking.

Soylent Green takes a very interesting (read: degrading) view of woman's role in society. In the movie, women are treated like furniture; in fact, they are called furniture. All of the major female characters introduced in the movie are furniture, meaning they come with the residence they live in, serving as mistress, maid and any other role the man desires.

Other than that, this movie might not necessarily have a huge youth draw, although the movie has Charlton Heston, whose name is probably the only mainstream one in the movie that young non-classic-movie-watchers might recognize.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

YOM Blog Review: 3:10 to Yuma

I recently watched the original 3:10 to Yuma from 1957, which I have to admit was much better than I expected it to be. Going into it, I thought I was going to be watching an hour and a half of gunslinging, which is perfectly fine if you're in the mood for it.

Of course, there is a fair amount of shooting; this is a western after all. But what this movie has that makes it so unique is wonderfully detailed and well-crafted characters placed into situations where they rely not just on guns but pointed words and psychological intimidation.

Taking place in Arizona in the late 19th century, the story follows hard-working, stoic rancher Dan Evans played by Van Heflin, who agrees to help a posse capture gang leader Ben Wade, played by Glenn Ford. Evans and his two sons witness a robbery by Wade's gang, which results in the driver of the seized stagecoach being killed and Evans' cattle being stolen.

After the posse captures Wade, Evans - lured by the prospect of a reward that will help his family financially - agrees to escort the gang leader to jail on the 3:10 train to Yuma via Contention City. However, Wade's gang quickly becomes smart to the plan and vows to get its leader back. Once the posse brings Wade to Contention City, Evans stands guard with the villain in a hotel room.

This is where the movie really gets good because this is essentially where the acting sets in. Ford (who in many reviews and round-ups of this movie is depicted as being cast "against type") is excellent in these scenes, presenting Wade as both dastardly and charming at the same time. Wade is both clever and villainous, but as these scenes progress, Ford begins to peel away the layers to reveal a human being with dreams and the understanding of a moral code. At one point, he might try to persuade Evans to give up the train expedition, citing its futility, and join his gang; at another point, he might lament that he's never been able to settle down and find himself a wife.

The whole time in the hotel room seems like a stand-off of sorts, but without shooting. It's a stand-off of patience and wit. And Heflin (definitely an underrated and largely forgotten-about actor due to his everyman looks and subsequent everyman roles) balances Ford perfectly, with Evans only speaking once he's calculated his words precisely. Evans rarely loses his patience and keeps his mind fixated on the goal - getting Wade on that train - even after his friends and allies either get killed or back out due to the danger at hand.

What makes the relationship between Wade and Evans so interesting is the level of respect that is depicted between the two of them. Although the situation they are in undoubtedly forces them to be foes, these are both people with strong wills and minds who understand each other well. Wade understands that Evans is doing this for the good and respect of his family. Evans understands Wade must make a living and would normally not get involved if the reward and his family's respect for him were not in question.

This level of respect is what makes the ending seem so rich. Left alone to chaperone Wade to the train, Evans is faced by gang members shooting at him from all directions. Just as Evans is cornered, Wade opts to forgo his gang and be taken on the train with Evans. As he says, he wanted to save Evans' life as Evans had saved his life back at the hotel when the brother of the driver shot at the beginning tried to kill him. And, anyway, as Wade said, "That's all right, I've broken out of Yuma before." As they look on from the train, there is a sense of calm, one you would expect from Evans (who sees his wife waving to him on the side of the railroad tracks) but wouldn't expect from a guy who is going to jail.

Interest to Young Fans

The first and most obvious angle is that the movie was recently remade into a big-time blockbuster with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. As I mentioned in a previous post, pairing remakes with their originals is a good way of getting people into old movies.

Obviously, westerns are not for everybody especially nowadays, given that only a handful of legitimate westerns have been made over the past 20 years (Unforgiven, The Assassination of Jesse James...). However, this movie is different from most, taking a more psychological and character-focused push, more in the lines of High Noon or The Searchers. In fact, 3:10 to Yuma is often bucketed together with High Noon as both represent a man facing a difficult problem by himself. Once you get through this one, I'd suggest trying those as they are both classics and on the AFI's Top 100 Movies list.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to Get into Old Movies...Part 8

Part 8: Find a Local Classic Film Festival

I am lucky enough to live close to West Orange, NJ, where the arts council has been hosting its own classic film festival for the past few years. Unfortunately, I just recently learned about this great program but have been lucky enough to take advantage of it this year.

The first film of the festival was The Wild Bunch, one I had previously seen and only moderately liked. It's hard for me to not like a movie with William Holden, possibly my favorite classic movie actor, in it. However, it's a movie slightly grating for the abundance of gore and mostly unlikable characters. After the film, Stephen Whitty, the film critic for The Star-Ledger, spoke about the film's significance, filling in gaps for the audience using anecdotes and how-it-was-made trivia.

I, as well as my girlfriend who doesn't particularly like westerns, was able to walk away with a newfound appreciation for the film.

Granted this isn't always feasible, depending on where you live (I say this because I feel most occur in big cities), but finding a local classic film festival is an excellent way to get into films. Usually, the film choices are multifaceted, varying from genre to genre, color to black-and-white and American classics to foreign. This is perfect because it opens the viewer up to a wide array of film types.

Usually, there is an expert - sometimes a local film professor, historian or critic - available before or after a film to discuss it and its relevance to cinema and society. As I mentioned in my post about film classes, it is nice for one's appreciation of a film to have somebody further explain the significance of certain parts about movies, showing you things you might not have understood even if you've already viewed the film.

One great thing about festivals is that the people there are fellow fans excited to both see the movies and talk to you about them, another forum for piquing somebody's interest in classic films.

A few ways to find a classic film festival:
  • Turner Classic Movies has been hosting a classic film festival for the past few years, although you'd have to drop some cash to get there as it is usually located in Los Angeles and fairly expensive
  • Check out local municipalities' arts councils
  • See if any local colleges host any festivals
  • Other film festivals - ones that don't necessarily focus on classic films - might feature a classic or two
  • Check out the offerings at small-town, independent theaters, especially ones that play obscure movies, such as indies, foreign films and, yes, older movies

Monday, December 26, 2011

How to Get into Old Movies...Part 7

Part 7: Start with Christmas Movies

For anybody who is not familiar with the plot of It's a Wonderful Life, there is a simple question: how?

I obviously don't know the numbers behind this, but I am safe with making the argument that most Americans have probably seen this Christmas classic. Even if they have never seen fragments of the movie, it's still a tale that is largely inescapable as it is often parodied in just about every television show imaginable; basically, if a show exists long enough, at least one of its Christmas episodes will involve a parody of It's a Wonderful Life.

The same can be said for A Christmas Carol which, in addition to being ripe for TV parody, has the added bonus of being a literary classic. Additionally, what makes the Dickens classic so unique is that it has more than a dozen movie versions (from full-length to TV movies, both live-action and animated), ranging from the first sound adaptation in 1935 to the well-known George C. Scott TV version to the family classic The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Thanks to these two classics and the national obsession America has over Christmas and its many facets - one of the larger ones being Christmas movies - it is very easy to introduce Christmas movies as an into to classic movies. What makes it so easy is that it is much more culturally appealing to a young, possibly nostalgic young person to use the phrase, "Let's watch a Christmas movie," instead of "Let's watch an old movie."

Of course, a handful of new full-length feature Christmas movies are released in theaters each year, not to mention the multiple straight-to-video and Hallmark flicks that are produced annually. However, when we think of Christmas movies, our minds don't usually run straight to recent movies (there are a few notable exceptions including Elf, Home Alone and Scrooged), such as Fred Claus or Four Christmases. They often go to the two I mentioned up top and the likes of Miracle on 34th StreetWhite Christmas, Holiday Inn, The Shop Around the CornerChristmas in Connecticut, The Bishop's Wife and countless others (including the Rankin-Bass collection, a beast too enormous to touch in this post). And if needed, you can always use updated versions of classic movies to introduce classics, such as using the Denzel Washington-starring The Preacher's Wife to introduce The Bishop's Wife.

From there, you can jump into other movies directed by certain directors or starring certain actors. For instance, jumping from It's a Wonderful Life to another Frank Capra classic like You Can't Take it With You isn't that much of a leap.

Most importantly, though, don't underestimate the power of Christmas. You can easily coax somebody into watching a movie if you say it's about Christmas. So feel free to use it. Tell young people about a movie where a squirrel helps a poor family, they might be partially curious. Tell them it's a Christmas movie and it's called A Christmas Wish (sometimes The Great Rupert), and you've just earned yourself a viewer.