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'Old' Films - What do you think of them?

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Breaking off a debate from Discussion here, I'd be interested to see what people's opinions on 'old' films were.

Even defining what an 'old' film is can be tough, so for sake of argument we'll just go by era I think, and call anything pre-New Hollywood 'old'. (Very) rough definitions, very US-centric too (apologies):

Silent era (birth of cinema to 1930s)

The 'Golden Age' of Hollywood (30s to end of 40s)

Post War (late 40s and 50s)

New Wave & New American cinema (primarily 60s)

New Hollywood (70s)

The Blockbuster era (late 70s onwards)

For the sake of argument, we'll call anything pre-New Hollywood 'old'

The assertion in the thread I linked to was this:

There are not a lot of old films that are enjoyed [by the general public] for more than kitsch value, relative to the number that were made. Or to put it another way, little of any medium is effortlessly timeless.

​I'm genuinely interested how people feel about this. Do you watch a lot of 'old' films? What's your opinion of them? Do you do it to educate yourself about cinema, or out of genuinely enjoyment? Is the era in which they made a barrier to entry or something that excites your interest? Do you cherry-pick the better-reviewed films or are you happy to work your way through a genre, movement or director's back-catalogue? Are even the best 'old' films not as sophisticated as the best produced today?

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Comedies of any age are fine (Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplain etc), but there's something about most pre-70s stuff which makes most of it almost unwatchable for me, although I can't immediately say what. Just a general "tone" which is off-kilter from what I'm used to in more modern movies.

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I love old films but I do admit to being little lazy. It does take a little more 'work' on behalf of the viewer simply because of the difference in approach/ tone (as mentioned above) and therein lies the question really, is it that they are unwatchable or do we just struggle to watch them?

Passion of Joan of Arc is a fav of mine http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0019254/ but it so unusual and free of the devices that modern films employ it can feel alien and alienating but immensely rewarding if time is invested.

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I agree with the point quoted. In any medium, very little is worth recording as worthwhile. Thousands of films made in all eras, and generally, we remember a very small fraction of them, and an even smaller fraction of that portion, would be enjoyable to a modern audience. This can probably be applied to books and any artistic media. For every Van Gogh, there were probably a 1000 jobbing painters around at the same time who are not remembered.

I don't think it's a very controversial opinion.

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I love films of all ages - they tell you a lot about the time they were made. The problems people worried about, what fashions were, how people expected others to behave, etc. Also good to contrast cultures - you can learn a lot about other countries once you've seen a handful of their films.

Always surprises me how little has changed in over 100 years - some very, very old films feel so fresh and contemporary. Something like the Russian Man with a Movie Camera (1929) is an amazing documentary.

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I love old films particularly Westerns, so many great films out there if you haven't seen them I envy you, things like 12 Angry Men, Harvey, The Searchers, Rio Bravo etc etc love guys like Wayne, Stewart, Fonda, Garner etc, I do watch some modern stuff too but nowhere near as much.

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I can't say I really think about them much. I'll occasionally read an article or have a conversation which inspires me to seek out a classic, older film but it's not a habit, even though I like to consider myself fairly open-minded with foreign language films and such. I'll admit that my first reaction when I turn on the t.v and see a film showing from 40/50's is not "ah, this might be a gem slipping under my radar" but rather "christ, wonder how many pennies this cost them to secure the broadcasting rights". Of course there are still a number of them I keep meaning to watch but never get around to, Twelve Angry Men stands proud on my prescription list for example.

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I love films of all ages - they tell you a lot about the time they were made. The problems people worried about, what fashions were, how people expected others to behave, etc. Also good to contrast cultures - you can learn a lot about other countries once you've seen a handful of their films.

.

That's a good point. Obviously not all old films should be admitted to the pantheon. Especially once I got completist about things or was following particular areas of interest I watched quite a few pedestrian films. Some were outright stinkers. But quite often just the fact it was made so long ago saved the day, there is this whole extra layer of interesting delights to be appreciated.
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I'm not even sure I understand the point here. Loads of media from all eras is poor. Is it the contention that 'old' films are worse than newer films, or just that 90% of everything is shit?

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In terms of stuff that I own on DVD and Blu-ray probably about 50% could be classed as 'old' (ie pre-70s) but at the same time I don't think that comment is particularly innacurate. It's only natural that the cream invariably sticks around while the crap is largely forgotten. I do think the general standard was probably higher back then though, relatively speaking. As far as the public's perception of it goes, I imagine the vast majority wouldn't even watch a modern film with subtitles never mind something older, not in colour or (gasp!) even silent so that's probably a fair generalisation too.

It's a shame of course, but a lot of people just want an hour or two of escapist enjoyment without the need to put in a lot of effort in order to engage with it, which is fair enough. Watching a film's probably one of the few chances they get to zone out a bit in today's world.

I find it hard to hold that against them but that daft cunt David Cage and his waffle at the Sony conference about the inherent inferiority of silent film was another matter, though I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise to find that he knows next to nothing on the subject.

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There is also the contention by snobs though that old films are better simply because they are old.

I happen to be one of those snobs, because films were better IMO than they are today. Certainly commercial, studio led films were anyway

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I watched White Heat recently but didn't really like it. Thought Seventh Seal was amazing, 12 Angry Men quickly became my favourite film, and that's about all I know.

That's why I'd be a bit wary of just giving an old film skeptic a few films from the canon to see. "I saw Citizen Kane and it was crap." They'd need to watch a whole bunch of different stuff to find what matches their current taste. And watching stuff changes you, so our experimental subject might like entirely different stuff in a year. Historians may like to note I extensively documented my own sentimental education in "The Movie Watcher's Blog - Volume 1, the Early Years" (Rllmuk Press, currently unpublished).

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I didn't say it was crap, just that I didn't like it, I was however giving it 20% but yeah. I might watch scarf ace.

Oh, I know. Sorry if I gave that impression. I think I like the Brian de Palma Scarface better. A new remake better than a film by Hawks and Hecht! Sacrilege.

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I don't really think about whether a film is old or not, but it does seem that film makers from certain eras and countries would capture a particular zeitgeist that I find personally compelling and so I will endeavor to see more.

So you've got 60s/70s Italy with its Westerns and Giallo, the Nouvelle Vague in France and the Hollywood Golden Age. That American led rush of sci-fi action in the early 80s or the hard sci-fi coming out of the Soviet Union. Something unique about the context the films were being made in that gave them a particular style.

This means that when I'm flicking through netflix or browsing cinemageddon and I see a horror film made in Italy in the 70s I feel more inclined to watch it than if it was British and from the early 2000s. Though I'll probably read up on it first, see if its worthwhile.

From time to time I'll recast my net and watch anything and see if I can find a new thing to explore. Or I'll look for films related to whatever interests me at the time.

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I think the original contention was that the majority of old films don't have much (if any) value beyond kitsch, and that you can find good ones but that's cherry-picking. There was also an argument in the original thread that most people's replies (about the quality of old films) are biased because people who vote for their favourites on places like IMDB, or even post in these sorts of threads, are all well-informed cineastes.

I'd argue that, because films aren't part of an iterative process and are 'art', that the majority of studio-released films from most eras (and definitely from the golden age-onward) have value as, at least, pieces of entertainment that hold up today.

Studios have been the same for 50-60 years: expensive tentpole releases and complete dreck sent out to die is in the minority; good, solid entertainment that most people can get at least a modicum of entertainment from is in the majority.

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Over the last year or so I've watched loads of old films. I have always been a bit blasé about watching films and for much of my adult life spent a good proportion of my spare time obsessed by music, pretty much ignoring film and television. Which put me in a position where I had never seen dozens and dozens of classic films. I decided to change that about a year ago and set about watching lots of films, pretty much ignoring the year in which they were made. I became a member of the Prince Charles Cinema, bought a ton of Blu Rays and DVDs, got Netflix sorted out. I started putting little reviews in the movie watchers blog thread, but decided I wasn't really cut out for reviewing films so I stopped doing that, but carried on watching.

The Film & Television folder is such an amazing resource for film noobs like myself. I'll often record films on Sky that LC has recommended, look out on Netflix for films mentioned elsewhere, check cinema listings for repertory screenings and I always buy at least one film from the Criterion collection every time there is a sale.

I've watched some brilliant films from many different periods over the last year and I really don't think it takes a big effort to enjoy an old film, it just requires the viewer to not be a narrow-minded dick. A good example is The Red Shoes. Sure, it's a romantic film about a ballet dancer, it was made in the 40s and they all speak fluent BBC, but so what? It's a truly great film. I do wonder whether the ability to appreciate good films regardless of age has something to do with maturity. One of my favourite films is now Tokyo Story, which I probably would have dismissed as massively boring 15 years ago and I doubt I would have sat through The Red Shoes then either.

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I think the original contention was that the majority of old films don't have much (if any) value beyond kitsch, and that you can find good ones but that's cherry-picking.

The majority of any mass entertainment doesn't have any real value be it cinema, books, music or games. The good is always going to be outweighed by the mediocre and the poor, even during golden periods. The difference is that a lot of the bad gets forgotten or lost over time so we are naturally left with a cherry-picked selection.
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I think the original contention was that the majority of old films don't have much (if any) value beyond kitsch, and that you can find good ones but that's cherry-picking.

Surely finding good films of any era requires cherry-picking?

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