I don’t know if anyone listens to 96.3’s morning show with Blaine and Allyson, but a couple of weeks ago they brought up an interesting question. I was driving to school one morning and listened as Allyson informed me that Steven Spielberg was remaking West Side Story. She quickly rose to its defense, stating it was a perfect classic and everyone should see it. I listened, nodding my head as Blaine pointed out that he had never watched it and frankly never planned to. The closest he’d gotten was a play at the Fisher and he thought the storyline was dumb.
This conversation presently led to the question of the day: What classic movies should everyone see? Multiple listeners called in supporting Allyson in her claim as well as offer their own suggestions. On the Waterfront, Patton, The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings, Young Frankenstein, Ben-Hur, Fiddler on the Roof, Casablanca, and Gone with the Wind were but a few mentioned. After checking the American Film Institute (AFI) online, I found that many of these films were numbered among the top one hundred.
Scrolling down the list, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was all these films had in common. Take 2001: A Space Odyssey for example. I was forced to sit through this film and after two courses in Screen Studies, I still don’t understand its message, if it has one. Still, I’m told this is a movie everyone has to watch at least once; they never say why. Citizen Kane is another must see-movie. I understand that its approach to cinematography was revolutionary, but it seems little attention was given to the plot. Casablanca placed in second on the Institutes’ list and, although the casting is good, the story is thin. Why are these movies so special? What makes a film a classic? What makes it great?
According to 96.3’s announcers, a “classic movie” is one whose performance was powerful and had both a good message and a good cast. However, I disagree. It seems to me, that though a movie could have all of those qualities, these will not make it monumental. Rather, it is the impact such a film makes on its audience and the film industry as a whole. Modern Times, a well known silent film directed by Charlie Chaplin, shows the effects wrought upon workers during the Industrial Revolution. Audiences were able to connect with this film particularly because they were able to observe the changes taking place around them. Citizen Kane received such a wild response, because it redefined cinematography completely and opened up new uses of lighting and film angles. The film “M” was also an important film. When most movies were romantic comedies and contained a song and dance number, it stood out as the first to deliver a truly dark and serious storyline. The Jazz Singer was the first talkie; Fantasia, the first to combine true concert pieces with animation; and the original Tron was the first to use of computer animation. All of these films brought change to the industry for the better. They were a revolution in filmmaking itself; each new discovery giving life and inspiration to dozens of other artists.
There are movies that continue to do this today. Films like Planet of the Apes and Avatar have demanded actors to explore new depths through the use of computers and sensors. Other movies like Toy Story and new Disney films have altered replaced the hand drawn cartoons many of us grew up with. However, this world of entertainment is always changing and it will be exciting to see what adjustments arise.