Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog. Today we're featuring Joseph from Classic Movie Chat.
CMBA: What makes a film a “classic” in your opinion?
Classic Movie Chat: We've written about this many times. Put simply, a 'classic' movie is one that looks as good and plays as effectively today as it did upon its initial theatrical release decades earlier. To quote ourselves:
Are all classic movies old movies? Must they be old to be classic? How old? Can a movie be a classic without being old?
Today we are putting on our tattered philosophical hats, such as they are, and rooting around in some deep semantic waters. Stay with us. There is a point to all this.
The questions--Does old equal "classic"? Does classic equal old?
Well, right there you have fodder for several all-nighter discussions. And you'd still be left without answers.
We believe that while "instant" classics do occur -- Francis Coppola's first "The Godfather" comes to mind as a rare example. Nonetheless, the vast majority of movie classics have to have aged a bit (sometimes quite a bit), rattling around in your minds and esthetic psyches.
As we have often pointed out, a movie warrants the coveted "classic" designation because it weathers beautifully over years, providing visual pleasure, emotional drive and excitement to audiences over several generations. So by that standard, yes indeed, a movie must age before being considered a classic.
Not many movies, but more than you might suspect, can meet that qualification. Often a picture is declared a "classic" by over-enthused critics the instant of its initial release. Then, when seen a decade or two later, it plays flat and dated.
An obvious example is 1969's "Easy Rider," which made Jack Nicholson a star (can you name the movie's other two co-stars?). Hailed 42 years ago as a low-budget ground breaker about alienated youth, "Easy Rider" is tough to take seriously today (despite its appealing soundtrack).
It illustrates a cardinal rule that movies closely tracking the zeitgeist of their times run the real risk of dating themselves when times change.
A movie classic must, in our view, be timeless, not necessarily timely. The actors and actresses must visually be as striking now as they were then. The plot and the acting must not seem a function of period, as when hammy, over-reaching stage-trained actors were laughed off the screen when talkies were introduced in late 1920's. Does anyone yearn to watch a John Gilbert movie today?
CMBA: What genres do you favor?
Classic Movie Chat: We are pretty much catholic in our movie tastes. Joe tends toward big studio musicals and deftly executed comedies while Frank leans toward darker material, eg. film noir. But as close in age and background as we are, we rarely if ever have strongly disagreed about any particular titles considered. In other words, our tastes align pretty closely.
CMBA: Why should people care about “old” black and white movies?
Classic Movie Chat: Why? Because a lot of those 'old' black and white movies provide exceptional enjoyment to the viewer. Age is really irrelevant. Do we ask the same question about music, opera, paintings, literature? Our period of concentration -- the Hollywood period from the Thirties to the early Sixties -- presents an exceptional blending of art and commerce. The studios were factories that need the 'product' to fill the scores of theaters they owned. At the same time, precious European talent fled in droves to Hollywood to escape the horrors of world war. And, domestic stage and vaudeville honed legions of trained actors. It all came together to generate the classic films we love.
CMBA: What classic films do you recommend to people who may not have seen many older films?
Classic Movie Chat: Oh, boy! The list is endless. Frank has an anecdote. Some years ago he took his son to see a special theater showing of 'Citizen Kane.' Frank noted that his son was bored for much of the movie. Then, years later, he and his son watched 'The Maltese Falcon' on home streaming. Frank's son was absolutely captivated and reacted viscerally to the many surprises in the movie. So, Frank recommends 'The Maltese Falcon' to start off with.
CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging for you?
Classic Movie Chat: The chance to work closely with a good friend, says Frank, and the prospect of sharing good feelings with our unusually sophisticated readership.