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I hate, hate, hate people who look at movies–especially older movies–as just a step in the line to the movies we have today.  It’s a slap in the face to life, by extension, and I will explain why. (Foswi, this is primarily for you.)

I am a staunch historian, and I thoroughly believe in the value of studying history.  If you do not, you might as well stop reading this blog.  We’ll just never get along.  To that extent, is it useless to study ancient warfare in a modern context?  Are there no pracitical applicable lessons to be learned from tactics that defy era, technology, or weaponry?  I think you out there in someplacewhereyou’restaringatacomputerscreen should be thinking to yourself, “No, there is value in knowing that stuff…”  Because  you’re right.

Or, let’s think of this in terms of books.  Does it make sense to stop reading  Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Lord of the Rings, Black Boy, Brave New World, Romeo and Juliet, The Giver, etc. just because there are the Harry Potter series, the Twilight books, the Time Traveler’s Wife, and various James Patterson and Stephen King books topping the New York Times Bestseller list?  Should we leave the past behind and only allow only what is new and pretty and shiny to be let in?

I think not.

The problem is the genre of film allows this to easily happen.  And many people who watch movies (or passively read about movies) tend to think only the little that is said without thorough investigation into the actuality of history.

Point 1: Michael Bay is awesome…but not really.

The Island

Michael Bay, as many know, is the champion of all things pretty, and mind-numbingly explosive.  After all, you don’t make a name for yourself with blockbusters like Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, Transformers, and Transformers II (directed all by Bay) without some level of skill.  I mean, seriously.  That’s an impressive list of movies, with impressive DVD sales, and everything.

But let us be honest.  The movies star nice looking people, blow a lot of things up, include heart-racing, adrenaline pumping, action and car chases (or meteorite destroying drill malfunctions, what have you), and fun technological advances.  They’re like James Bond films…just without James Bond.

These movies have made millions.  They have loyal fans of adults, teenagers, and children alike.  They’re fun to watch, made millions in the movie theaters.  But they suck.  They have no deeper meaning, make me thoughtful in no way, and generally make me dumber, because I actually could have been learning something while I was wasting time watching pretty people run around.

Point 2: There is more to history than just history.

Citizen Kane

A friend of mine (after reading a former post of mine) responded thusly:

I’ll disregard the opinion of anyone who thinks Citizen Kane is great for anything more than its innovative transitions and camera angles.

While said tongue-in-cheek, there is, I know, a part of him that believes this to be true.  And this is why I am angry.  I love Citizen Kane, in the same way I love Schindler’s List.  Sure it’s a little on the long side, but the story is great, the acting is believable, the direction is flawless, and the overall impact: unforgettable.

The ease with which Americans, modern people, I’m not sure who this list should (or actually does) include, forget the past when it comes to movies is disturbing.  Yes, movies are more entertaining today.  Movie from yore are a little boring.

Except that’s not true.  I defy anyone to watch The Apartment and not be complete enraptured.  Peeping Tom is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen.  (If you have a Netflix account, I believe it is streaming live.   You should go watch it now.  Better than Drag Me To Hell.  Creepier.  Stranger.  More interesting.)  And you know what, It Happened One Night is the quintessential romance that cannot be improved upon in a modern way.  There are just old movies that age well, and have stayed good for a reason.  Citizen Kane is one of them.  Beyond the transitions and camera angles. (We’ve all heard the “Oh my gosh, there’s a ceiling” reaction.)  But let’s talk about the role the dining room table plays in the movie.  Did you ever think about that? Or how about the scene where Welles types out the rest of a horrible review of his wife’s disastrous operatic debut?  The acting is top notch, better than Sean Penn in Milk.

I am struck by many things.  Here’s a short list:

  • People today seem so averse to watching older, or just pain old, films.
  • People tend to devalue the impact of older movies because modern counterparts tends to be more engaging, which they equate with “better.”
  • People tend to devalue the fact that most older movies have a deeper theme than most modern movies, even modern movies based in classic stories.

This is why the market for older movies should be booming, not dying away.  This is why people should actually sit down and become their own movie reviewer.  If you take the time to watching a movie a week, you’ll watch AFI’s Top 100 movie list in less than two year.  Probably less than a year, considering you’ve seen a lot of them.

Why is it people are so ready to agree, or disagree with the statements of critics and film historians, but are so rarely willing to make their own original statements about the movies themselves.  People, you, staring at your own screen.  Say what’s on your mind.  Be willing to say Citizen Kane sucked, but don’t you dare say it’s boring without backing it up.  I’m not about opinion’s with no evidence.

Just have an opinion, and make it your own.


You’ll have to forgive this entry if it is uninteresting, but I keep coming across the topic of stars in my reading (as I roll through the Young Adult section of Borders) and in the music I listen to and I wonder if I’m reading too much into things, or if this is legitimate.

One can generally assume in Western Literature that if it’s a reference it probably comes from one of three places: Shakespeare, the Bible, or Greek/Roman myth. Right? Right. These are the three pillars of Western literature pretty much. There are others, of course, but these are the Big Three, if there were any at all. And, at a cursory glance, the stars in the night sky seem to pop up a lot as symbols for practically everything. They are a big part of the current world’s modern mythology, for more than a few reasons.

So just chew on this for a moment:

  • Probably one of the earliest references would be in the Bible’s first book Genesis (15:5, KJV) when God commands to Abraham–currently childless–to “Look toward heaven and number the stars if you are able to number them… So shall your descendants be.” So initially stars symbolize a promise, and they symbolize the future, and they symbolize fertility. All at once in those two little sentences. But there’s more–much, much more.
  • And according to Ovid in the Metamorphoses when a god created man he created him upright with his head towards the stars in the heavens, and not like other animals whose gaze is constantly directed at the ground. And then, in another creation story they become the sign of man’s intelligence, of his higher being, or his status as master over the animals, of his privileged place in the world, and of that which man can accomplish, even–that being anything. Limitless potential.
  • The stars are also the symbols of astrology and take on the role as guides of fate and fortune.
  • And then there’s Shakespeare. I could write a thesis about all of his references to stars, just in his tragedies, and all that they mean; but I’ll take one of the more popular references: When Romeo begins his little “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” as Juliet appears on her balcony he continues on saying “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven/Having some business, do entreat her eyes/To twinkle in their spheres till they return.” Getting us to the more basic symbol of beauty, not getting into to the lengthy discussion of eyes as the portals into the soul and what starlight in those eyes could mean…
  • And, just to get more modern more quickly, there is the classic Walt Disney animated motion picture Pinocchio where “When you wish upon a star” … and I’m assuming you know the rest, where the stars here are promises for the future, wish granters, almost representative of gods you could pray to and grant your deepest desires.
  • And just to give these bullet points a nice symmetry, I’ll just end with the reference from Lois Lowry’s book Nubmer the Stars, the title she borrowed from the passage in Genesis, about the Jews of Denmark in the escalating years right before and in the beginning of World War II. There the stars are the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, the people who were represented the Star of David, the fulfilled promise from ages before.

And then I hear a song like “After Tonight” by Justin Nozuka. Here are some select lyrics

There’s something in your eyes
Is everything alright
You look up to the sky
You long for something more

Darling, give me your right hand
I think I understand
Follow me and you will never have to wish again

I know that after tonight
You don’t have to look up at the stars
No, No, No, No…

And I can’t help but wonder if he’s consciously or unconsciously taken in all of those cultural references about stars, even if just from watching Pinocchio as a kid, and the power that they seem to hold in and out of literary, cultural, and collective imagination.


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