A couple weeks ago, I was in Los Gatos, California, and I got to shooting off my mouth to my twin second cousins about how great a movie Jaws is. They’re 15 year-old boys, Ian & Josh, the children of my wife’s first cousin Mark and his wife Jane. The kids were patient and let me go on for bit, and then they said they’d never seen Jaws.
Never seen it! How could anyone on this planet not have seen what is arguably Spielberg’s best movie? Go easy, I said to myself, they’re from another generation, and they’ve had plenty of other things to do.
But I couldn’t let it go.
I started listing for them other must-see, great movies, and I discovered that they hadn’t even heard of most of them…movies like You Can’t Take It With You, Double Indemnity, The Thin Man, Rear Window. The classics, and some new “classics” too, like Alien, Chinatown, and The Godfather…and many, many more.
So, what to do about this sad state of affairs?
Well, Nettie and I invited them over to our house the next time they were in Los Angeles for a movie fest in our theater-like den on our 70″ TV.
As luck or chance or the fates would have it, the boys were coming down to LA the very next week, and their parents had the brilliant idea of sending them three days early for a kind of Film Class 101 at our house. How exciting!
In the days before their arrival, I put together a film syllabus of about 30 movies I thought the boys would enjoy and would provide a stimulating introduction to the great films of the past. I organized and cross-referenced them by genre and director. I’ve included the list at the end of this post.
Nettie and I own over 450 DVDs that we bought over the years we spent on the video-starved island of St. Thomas, so virtually all my choices were close at hand. The odd one or two I didn’t have, we could stream.
Josh & Ian arrived by train, a nearly 12 hour trip with the inevitable Amtrak delays. We picked them up about 9:00pm. Was it too late to squeeze a movie in? Heck no, they were game to start the movie class that very night.
We made popcorn, turned off the lights, and screened the The Thin Man. They loved it! Nettie and I loved their loving it.
We got them up early then next morning at 7:00, which is a rather horrific time to awaken teenagers, but they were cheerful and excited to reclaim their respective places on the couch.
I’d planned our first full day of film class to screen 4 to 5 (maybe 6) movies, and to repeat that schedule over the next two days. Whatever films we couldn’t get to that were on the syllabus, they could watch in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
Wow! What an fun three days we had. It goes without saying that Nettie and I love watching movies and we watch a few a week regularly. But this is the first time, we’d watched full-time for days in a row.
And what did I learn about these film classics compared to today’s movies? How ’bout it set the points down in bullet form:
- Longer scenes, creating deeper meaning
- More conversation, creating deeper character development
- Serious topics, creating deeper understanding of the world
- Higher stakes, creating deeper losses but bigger wins, too
- Similiar themes of today, creating deeper connections with the past
- Surprising modernity, creating deeper identification with the heroes
- Unguarded emotions, creating a deeper emotional journey
- Lots of tears & laughter, creating a deeper humanity
I guess you see the pattern here. The filmic world of these classics was, well, a lot deeper. There was more of everything on the screen…struggle, triumph, suspense, tranquility, revelation, and of course, inevitable failure when it came.
The people in these films were acting out our lives (or our hoped-for lives) in a very real way that provided an instant connection across the decades all the way to the minds of Josh and Ian.
In case you get the wrong idea, I do think fantastic films are still being made today. They’re just harder to find and rarer to experience. Let’s face it, the world has changed a lot since Humphrey Bogart ran a bar in Morocco.
Some things have gotten better, certainly. But many things have “thinned out.” We’ve come to accept substitutes in so many catetgories of our life today instead of demanding the real thing, from political candidates to saccharin in our soda pop!
These films and many more like them, have big fat experiences with big fat consequences. The reality of the world up there on the screen is palpable. Damn, how I love a good movie!
I felt like a film critic at times and a professor at other times. As Siskel & Ebert used to say, “the balcony is closed,” but let’s open it back up real soon. Josh & Ian thanks for making these last few days an exciting, wonderful adventure!
Below is a listing of the movies we queued up.
Film Studies 101 – An Introduction
The Zee’s House, July 29-31, 2015
Double Indemnity (1944)
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler
Stars: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Billy Robert Towne
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Houston
Maltese Falcon (1941)
Director: John Houston
Writers: John Houston, Dashiell Hammett
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor
Rear Window (1954)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: John Hayes & Cornell Woolrich
Stars: James Stewart, Grace Kelly
The Thin Man (1934)
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Writers: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich
Stars: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan
You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Robert Riskin & George S. Kaufman
Stars: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Writer: Dale Launer
Stars: Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio
Love Actually (2003)
Director: Richard Curtis
Writers: Richard Curtis
Stars: Hugh Grant, Liam Nelson
The Godfather (1972)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
Director: Steven Speilberg
Writers: Carl Gottlieb, Peter Benchley
Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Close Encounters Of A Third Kind (1977)
Director: Steven Speilberg
Writers: Steven Speilberg
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Dan O’Bannon
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Forrest Gump (1994)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Eric Roth
Stars: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise
Selected “Modern” Films of the Action/Adventure Genre
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Master And Commander – Far Side Of The World (2003)
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