Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog. This month, we’re featuring Colin McGuigan, who writes at Riding the High Country.
CMBA: What makes a film a “classic” in your opinion?
Riding the High Country: I guess the easy answer to that is a movie which has stood the test of time. Of course, the answer is in itself something of a classic and probably in need of clarification. I guess I mean a movie which has themes running through it that continue to have some resonance with viewers, timeless material dealing with and raising questions about all the areas of life that remain constants. Crucially, though, this needs to have been achieved in a way which, first and foremost, is entertaining and engaging. Lose those two vital ingredients and you lose the audience, and then all the timelessness in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans, as I understand is often heard in Casablanca.
CMBA: Why should people care about 'old' films—in black and white or in color?
Riding the High Country: Why indeed? I know why I care; these movies represent a significant part of our shared cultural and artistic past, our common heritage which really ought to be passed along or at least preserved for those who follow. In the end, it’s part of a process that has been going on for as long as we’ve been civilizing ourselves and I see no reason to willfully break that link now. And if that sounds too pompous or pretentious, then there’s also the point that so many of these movies are just plain fun to revisit.
CMBA: Is there a classic film that you find yourself watching again and again?
Riding the High Country: I don't think so, although there are plenty of films I’ve seen multiple times, such as Hitchcock’s oeuvre, most of Bogart’s work, that of John Ford, Fritz Lang, and Anthony Mann, and so on. While I still return to these, I find I need to leave a space of a few years between viewings now, to let them breathe a little. There would have been a time when I was younger and was reliant on movies popping up on TV, and it was often a matter of what could be termed “big hitters” being regularly scheduled. Then when I started to build a small collection of VHS titles, I probably revisited a lot of those frequently. However, I’ve noticed that maintaining a blog has meant I’ve broadened my viewing considerably, both as a result of following up on the recommendations of others and also by heading off down previously untrodden paths after liking the work of some cast or crew member in a film I’ve just seen.
Whenever I do revisit a movie, either for a blog post or just because, I generally come away with some different feeling. It’s that old truism of course which says the movies don’t change but we do, and I find it interesting to see how the stages of life alter us and how our ever-shifting circumstances color our perceptions of the movies.
CMBA: What classic films do you recommend to people who may not have seen many older films?
Riding the High Country: That depends on the person to some extent. In general, though, pacing and rhythm seem to be the areas that people need to adjust to. As such, a lot of prime Billy Wilder can be a good introduction to classic cinema because he tended to keep things moving briskly, so Double Indemnity should work. Howard Hawks did so too and something like His Girl Friday is an easy recommendation to make. For westerns, which have a special place in my heart, I try to point toward Boetticher and Scott in the likes of The Tall T and Seven Men From Now, and Delmer Daves’s 3:10 to Yuma. If these prove attractive, then people can cast their nets further and go where their tastes lead them.
CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging for you?Riding the High Country: When I first started, back in 2007, it was a way to put some thoughts out there on stuff that appealed to me, especially since there were few opportunities for me to converse about old movies with my friends and acquaintances. I guess I saw it then as an opportunity to marshal my thoughts on different films. Over time, and as the readership grew, I came to really appreciate the interaction with visitors and commenters. I still see the whole thing as essentially a learning process, where I’m forever expanding my own cinematic horizons and, I hope from time to time helping others to do the same. Basically, I regard it as a terrific chance to share my own passion for the movies with readers and for them to stoke up my enthusiasm for stuff that is new to me.