Sunday, June 22, 2014

Telescoping cultural history

Internet age style.  One of the odd quirks I've noticed over the last decade or so is how so much of older culture is being forgotten, or at least devalued.  Outside of certain fanboy circles, what once was held with reverence and revered is today almost entirely irrelevant.  It isn't that I'm shocked that the 80s are now as far away as the 50s were when I was growing up.  But I'm shocked at how aware we were of the 50s culture versus how little awareness there seems to be regarding the 80s, 40s, or any other decade today.

Let me explain.  The reason why Back to the Future worked for my generation is not that we were stunned by the cultural differences that Marty McFly discovers on his way back to his parents' teen years.  It's that we knew the references very well.  We knew the music, the TV, the fashion.  We were aware of those things.  We knew who the biggies were.  We even admired some of those old icons.  We knew the movies, the stars, Elvis and the other early rock stars.  We also knew the older stars they were replacing: Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, even older Bing Crosby. We knew the TV shows, the movies.  We knew how people dressed.  And we sometimes admired and even liked their craft.

Today, when I read sites dedicated to culture, like movies, it's as if there really wasn't a film industry before 1992.  Oh sure, some will have the obligatory Chaplin movie, or Duck Soup, or The Seven Samurai.  But on the whole, you'd think if it wasn't laden with CGI or featuring the latest, hippest, it just didn't exist.  And if older movies are mentioned, there is almost an apology for the lack of sophistication, or old standard styles that existed at the time.

Which brings me to Steve Graydanus.  He's every Catholic's favorite movie critic.  And yet?  He exemplifies what I mean.  Set aside the fact that when it comes to movies influenced by American Protestantism, you can expect at least a finger wagging, if not a drop of a letter grade.  That's just the Catholic coming out.

But go to his site here, and see what he praises, what he doesn't, and what he doesn't even mention, which to me represents everything I'm noticing.  Movies like The Godfather, Gone With the Wind*, Cool Hand Luke, Cape Fear, Psycho, and The Sting - movies considered revolutionary, influential, or among the greatest ever made, aren't even mentioned.  You might say it's because his is a family guide site, and those aren't family.  Yet he has R rated movies (see The Silence of the Lambs).  Why not these?

When he does rate classics, such as Snow White or Stage Coach, he often injects slights at them for various era based distinctives, or seems to say 'nothing special, but an A for reputation', even if he ends up praising  the overall films for reasons his review doesn't reflect.  Or he dismisses them outright.  Yet he gives a B- to The Phantom Menace.  A B+ to The Lego Movie!  Are you kidding me?  Sure it was cute, but Lawrence of Arabia gets an A-, while the Lego Movie gets a B+?

It's as if the Internet age has changed things.  Changed what we accept as good, quality, acceptable, unacceptable, classic, legend.  Sometimes it's as if things that once were the "Essentials" have suddenly been tossed on the trash heap.  What was once legend is now antique at best.  Once the medal standard is now a forgotten footnote.  I don't know why. I don't even have a theory.

I just know that when my friends and I watched 1933 King Kong, in the post-Star Wars era, we thought it was awesome.  We got that it was old, the special effect weren't up to Star Wars.  We got that the acting was different than modern acting.  We hadn't been influenced by Multi-cultural PC enough to look for racism and bigotry in every frame of every movie, but we got that it was of its time.  Unlike modern movie review sites, we wouldn't lament the special effects, acting, racism, or anything else.  We took it for its time and praised it accordingly.  And any young, budding movie critic would also have to grapple with such films, even if they didn't care for them, because they were part of the whole cinematic package.  It's noteworthy that Decent Films doesn't even review the original Kong, mentioning it only in the review of Jackson's 2005 remake, and then more or less dismissing it as uninteresting and not worth much more acknowledgement than setting up the basis for Jackson's B Graded remake. A movie that once garnered praise and adoration from critics, movie buffs, film historians, and youngsters of every generation, reduced to an afterthought.  Such is the fruits of the Internet Age.

Mr. Graydanus is not alone.  Like so many modern film critics, he seems to have little to say about anything old, unless it tickles his fancy for this or that reason.  Likewise, fanboy that he is, his respect is reserved for the latest fantasy/comic book laden stories with copious amounts of CGI.  Sure, he gives bad reviews to movies, often when they flagrantly assault a major part of the Catholic ethos.  This isn't to pick on Mr. Graydanus.  In fact, I enjoy reading his reviews, even if I disagree with many of his conclusions.  But he represents a trend that is far more common, even among older critics trying to appeal to the Internet age, than it is the exception.  Just look at the IMBD top movies list for examples.

It's post-modern, mixed with the Internet cubicles of a fragmenting generation. I owe nothing to anything greater than myself or the particular clique to which I belong. If I'm a movie reviewer, and don't care about or want to look at a given movie, then so be it. And woe betide anything other than a small handful of old offerings that fail to measure up to the awesomeness of Now (compare his C rating for the delightful 1977 The Hobbit animated movie with his B level rating for Jackson's 2012 cinematic version - what was better in Jackson's other than the use of CGI?).  Back in the day, a movie critic who didn't include The Godfather would be like a Revolutionary War historian who had nothing to say about Washington.  But not today.  What that says about the greater trends of our post-modern Internet age, I don't know.  But I'm 100% convinced it says something, and eventually will say it loudly.

*It's worth noting that Decent Films has few reviews of the greatest movies from 1939, considered for almost all time as the Greatest Year in Movies.  Including Gone With the Wind.  Again, it says much, IMHO.

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