CMBA profiles one or two members every month. This edition features Tynan Yanaga who blogs at 4 Star Films.
Tynan Yanaga’s blog 4 Star Films is not just a celebration of classic films, he dives in deep as the blogs sub-title states (Looking Deeper at the Best Classic Films). Like many of us, the more he looks the more films he find. But it’s more than that, and I am going to let Tynan speak for himself. The following is from his introduction page.
“True, I want to preserve a love of film as an art form, understand their historical context, and acknowledge their value as pure entertainment. But most importantly, there’s the human component to movies that is so important. I’m constantly drawn back to them, like so many others, because they bring us together and act as an imperfect reflection of our imperfect lives.”
CMBA: What sparked your interest in classic film?
TYNAN: Because of my parents, I grew up watching classic movies like Singin’ in the Rain as a kid and I enjoyed them but it never crossed my mind that there was such a rich history to be culled through. So I was actually quite a late bloomer. It wasn’t until a road trip in high school where I got to watch TCM in hotels across Middle America and I saw 12 Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World each for the first time. And we visited places like Devil’s Tower and Mt. Rushmore so when I got home I just had to pop in North by Northwest and Close Encounter of a Third Kind. That was the genesis.
The next step was finding the American Film Institute lists of the greatest films. When I started out I had only seen 12 of their top 100. A few years later I had essentially finished the list. But the beauty of those lists was not their comprehensiveness but the fact that they provided a gateway for me. I started getting interested in certain actors, directors, and of course foreign films which were not represented.
If I look back now it was definitely my appreciation of history as well as my affection for lists that instigated this passion for classic movies. And certainly, I got a little help from TCM and family vacations because it’s seeing more and getting out into the world that helps you realize how interesting and complex it is. There are so many different people and places – both past and present – which are fascinating to learn about.
CMBA: Your blog covers a wide variety of genres, do you have favorite?
TYNAN: I can say without a shadow of a doubt (no pun intended) that if we can use the term “genre” loosely, film noir is my unequivocal favorite. I say loosely because obviously many people consider these dark crime films a style or a movement more than a genre. It’s notoriously difficult to define as each person has a slightly different definition with its own particular nuances.
But regardless, there’s just something so satisfying about them both visually with low lighting or chiaroscuro photography and the character archetypes like gumshoes and femme fatales. But I’m also fascinated with their morality because though they were made under the production codes they still deal with often taboo or edgier themes that show the licentious underbelly of mankind. I once heard film noir quoted as the genre out of Ecclesiastes and I like that a lot. There’s an underlying cynicism and disillusionment that runs through them; we are constantly reminded that everything is meaningless.
I enjoy a lot of the undisputed greats like Double Indemnity and Out of the Past but film noir has such a rich tradition in gritty B-movies too. And furthermore, directors like Robert Siodmak, Anthony Mann, Jules Dassin, and Henry Hathaway are just as fun to watch even if many of their films are often less heralded.
CMBA: What do you look for when watching a film? I ask this because in many of your reviews you write about them from both their historic viewpoint as well as our current times.
TYNAN: That’s an interesting question and I’m not sure I have a very thoughtful answer off the top of my head. However, the tagline of my site is supposed to be “Looking Deeper at Classic Movies.” Certainly, that could mean any number of things and I never hold myself to certain criteria in my reviews but I do make a conscious effort to see what elements speak to the human condition.
In film noir, for instance, you have a certain moral ambiguity and malaise that characters must cope with. 12 Angry Men is very much a case study of humanity when you put a bunch of people in a room with different points of view and life experiences that rub against each other. Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life is a picture of the complex patchwork of community that makes up one person’s life. And yes, even Rear Window though it is a riveting thriller, also plays as a commentary on romantic love and what it means to be a good neighbor. I want to try and wrestle with those themes that seem applicable to me and to everyone really in the here and now.
As I mentioned I do like history and classic films are awesome because they do act as a bit of a cultural time capsule. I just find that incredibly fascinating so if I can I try and familiarize myself with the context of the film both within the frame and outside of it with the actors and directors that’s a plus.
And though I’m hardly an academically-trained critic, I have dipped my toe in it. Since film has formalistic elements that are so crucial to creating the illusion of moving pictures, I try to at least be cognizant of elements like cinematography, mise en scène, etc. It’s all in an effort to maintain a well-rounded approach to films. I want to try and enjoy them along as many planes as possible. That’s the goal anyway.
CMBA: What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
TYNAN: Like trying to classify film noir I feel like the phrase “classic” is a moving target with different connotations. To be honest, I’ve never much liked the name of my site, 4 Star Films (I never came up with anything better), but I think I still stand behind the initial impetus of that title. I wanted to try and search out films with merit whether it be critically, artistically, historically, and obviously as entertainment. Again, it’s a bit of a moving target but I think “classic” films have these aforementioned elements that mean they’re still worthy of being sought out and enjoyed today.
If I were to try and put any sort of time stamp on it I think subconsciously my own proclivities for Classic Hollywood make me mentally label “classic” as extending from the 1930s-70s. But of course, that’s only personal because I do admire a great many silent films and earl pre-code offerings. Then, on the other end, that’s not to imply John Hughes isn’t “classic” either.
It does seem to be an arbitrary distinction really. I think the key is being open to something new. I appreciate those kinds of people who are willing to try something they’re unfamiliar with. I had a friend who had no idea what Hellzapoppin’ was and yet we sat down together and laughed all the way through. Or another friend was interested in Sci-Fi so we watched Metropolis and Solaris together on two separate occasions. That’s what I’m talking about.
CMBA: Why should people care about classic film?
TYNAN: Another great question. Again, for me, it goes back to classic films being a cultural artifact that can take us back to a different time and place. They can expand our view of our world and give us a deeper understanding of not simply the past but our current reality as well. I grew up watching a lot of classic sitcoms from the 50s and 60s which is a similar concept. However, movies existed far earlier than television so the historical documentation goes back even further which makes them an invaluable resource.
Another important piece is that films released now are not created in a vacuum and people who make movies love movies so they’re bound to include references or homages to their favorites. Rather than making us appreciate efforts from Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, or Paul Schrader less because we’ve seen certain elements before, we’ll have a deeper appreciation if we know where they gleaned their inspiration from.
Also, this is another issue entirely but classic foreign cinema opens you up to the global aspect of film and that’s really eye-opening and empowering in a good way. People would do well to care about classic film for what it can show us about the world we live in currently. Nothing is new under the sun.
CMBA: What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
TYNAN: This is probably the hardest question, right? Because that’s the tricky thing. Every human being is different and I can only speak for myself. And again, it’s all about going in with an open mind because if you’re already set on “hating” something you’ve probably lost before you’ve even begun. I think old movies deserve at least that much respect the first time around. Also, many people that I know don’t hate old movies they just haven’t seen any.
For me, film noir was an instant draw because you had violence, crime, edginess all right out in the open but it was also stylishly cool. I’ll make a plug for The Crimson Kimono from Sam Fuller because for being a film from the 50s it provides a strikingly groundbreaking commentary on Japanese-American identity and so-called “reverse racism” that feels relevant to conversations going on right now.
Also, I had a handful of friends who really loved La La Land a couple years back and so the obvious recommendations were Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. Backtracking like that from modern films to their predecessors is another great strategy for recommendations.
CMBA: Many “classic” film lovers do not like modern day movies. What are your thoughts and where do you stand?
TYNAN: I’m not sure how this happened, maybe some form of osmosis, but I feel like I’ve been influenced by the French New Wave filmmakers like Francois Truffaut. I say this because the fellows at Cahiers du Cinema didn’t create any type of hierarchy for movies -- which ones were better than others. I like that. A B-movie can have just as much merit as Oscar bait and conversely a well-made modern superhero movie is not inherently worse than a screwball comedy from the 30s. Sure, it’s like comparing apples and oranges but the bottom line is that everything is given the benefit of the doubt from the outset.
Though my personal preference is older movies and I don’t see that ever changing, I have no qualms about enjoying modern films with my friends. Because if a movie has some meaningful element to it, the year it came out should be superfluous. Sure, how we make films and the people who make them change, even audiences change. However, I’d like to think that there’s still something innate to our identity as human beings that means we can relate to something as long as it speaks to us on some deeper level. It should free up old movie aficionados to at least enjoy some newer movies (not necessarily all) and then modern viewers for the same reason should still be able to enjoy the classics.
CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
TYNAN: Obviously, the community is awesome and the realization that there are like-minded people who are equally passionate. It’s also humbling because someone like me can learn so much from others who have so much more knowledge than I do. I’m deeply appreciative of that.
Blogging is also personally edifying because I like to think but I often do not articulate my thoughts verbally. I'm very much an internal processor. I never realized it until I found blogging but it’s an outlet for me to cement my thoughts and wrestle with ideas that intrigue me. It sounds almost like blasphemy because I love watching a great movie but I write so much that sometimes I almost want to watch a movie just so I can write about it. It just gives me so much pleasure to put words down on a page and think about movies. I hope to continually share in that experience with others.
Hopefully, my reviews are helpful if only to point others to less-remembered classic movies I really enjoyed. Though I do always say I’d still be writing even if no one was reading. At the end of the day, and this is not meant to sound selfish at all, I’ve always written for myself as I wrestle with my own questions. I only hope that at least one line of what I’ve written has resonated with another person on some level. If so then I consider it a success. Soli Deo Gloria.