Have you heard the latest? “The last picture show” director Peter Bogdanovich has been writing on his own blog, called Blogdanovich. Hollywood’s subversive answer to Roman Polanski lamented the lack of interest in cinematic culture. He writes, “The knowledge of, or interest in, films made during the fifty-year Golden Age of Pictures—1912-1962—is generally either non-existent or extremely spotty,” adding that without having referred to these earlier works, it’s difficult to really understand modern film culture, “not for the purpose of remakes, but in order to learn the vocabulary, grammar, the humanity, the art of the craft.”
This opens up a lot of interesting questions. Could classical cinema be circumscribed to being mere afterthought by technology itself? Do you necessarily subscribe to a torrent provider so you can revisit the entire Shoedsack opus or because you never got to see “Antichrist”?
While he may be a little presumptuous about it, Bodganovich makes a point that’s worth noting again, even though it’s already been confirmed. Young, mainstream audiences (sorry but they’re the easiest to pick on) aren’t up on their movie classics and the zeitgeist does not encourage the young to turn on, tune in, drop out and become Golden-era classics dilettantes. And you don’t see mid-tier festival heads rushing to program a reprint or an evening of classics. On the other hand the most-watched and attended film festivals always have and probably always will made time for an evening of classics. There are obvious imperatives behind this difference (economic and marketing-related) but I think the main reason for this decline is an ever-embryonic technology that seeks to ally itself with the cinematic arts (cue the current 3-D crusaders) at the detriment of older movies coupled with America’s tacit approval that classic film culture be relegated exclusively to the film departments and academic publications, instead of Sunday afternoons en famille.
As University of Chicago Film’s Julia Gibbs told me, “what saddens me is that all these eager young minds will be watching the ‘classics’ on a Netflix download–the loss of proper screening venues seems a greater problem for the health of cinematic culture.”
And yet, could it be that Bogdanovich is getting a little overprotective–suspicious, even? Gibbs added, “I’m not sure that Bogdanovich isn’t painting the picture with too broad a brush. ” I would tend to agree. But if you belonged to the club whose mission statement is, “American Classics for Americans,” you’re bound to be disappointed by the dearth of public venues in America. Ho Hum. I’ve been living in Paris for half a year, and Peter, I don’t have to tell you. American classics are alive and well, here. But that’s not to say an intransigent but vital minority of American cinephiles hasn’t kept the party going in the U.S.
Every year Kevin Bowen, who writes for us, attends The Plaza Classic Film Festival in El Paso. This Summer films like “Sunset Boulevard” and “African Queen” were programmed, alongside “A fistful of dollars” and “The Absent-minded professor.” I could easily see myself making a stop in El Paso next Summer on that “driving cross-country” journey I’ve always wanted to take. Thriving festivals such as Plaza Classics may not change the trend which Bogdanovich blogs about but it reinforces the importance of movie-watching as a cerebral experience, one which behooves people to put in a little bit of effort for a big payoff. Eric Pearson, who heads the Plaza Classics festival, told me, “I agree with the idea that you should know the history of your craft. It’s the only way you can truly and honestly move the conversation forward. “
Just as this article was being prepared our other contributor Saïdeh Pakravan just finished with major enhancements to her list of the best films of all time. This new version, which will be available on the site in electronic book format soon, now includes linkable references to IMDB and, if previously reviewed here, Screen Comment articles.