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A unified crowd: On the debate between classic and contemporary films

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Fall 2019 Executive Social Media Editor

JANUARY 25, 2019

The engines of two stolen vehicles roared so ferociously that I couldn’t hear myself think. As I looked on, the automobiles swiftly chased one another down the crowded streets and alleys of Paris, narrowly avoiding a fatal collision at each turn. My eyes followed the action closely, never daring to turn away despite the impending crash of the climax.

For me, this was just another Tuesday night. I’m sitting in auditorium six of my community movie theater, watching the latest installment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. The film was full of exhilarating thrills, stunning visuals and nonstop fun, leaving me on the edge of my seat until the credits rolled. I left the movie house in the same headspace I often did — enchanted by the big screen.

But action blockbusters are not the only films that leave me in awe of their superb storytelling. I have a soft spot for all types of films. I watch everything from romantic comedies to slasher flicks to Oscar-nominated motion pictures.

My ardor for film can be explained in three simple words: Movies are magic. These motion pictures provide me with a tangible fantasy. Movies can each transport anyone anywhere or make anyone feel anything, allowing the eclectic audiences to immerse themselves in an entirely new time or place. The world of cinema is magnetic, mysterious and marvelous all at once.

As an admirer of all types of films, an enduring line of criticism frustrates me as I scroll through movie reviews. Because of the diverse array of films that have emerged since the origin of projected cinematographic motion pictures in the late 1800s, individuals have an incessant tendency to compare and contrast the old and the new, to pit the classics against inventions of modern cinema.

The world of cinema is magnetic, mysterious and marvelous all at once.

Although I am no film major, I share any movie enthusiast’s fervor for films and curiosity to explore the dialogue taking place around movies from all eras. This perpetual debate of classic versus contemporary cinema strikes me as unnecessary and even trivial, for the truly great thing about movies goes beyond a trite contest and focuses on the ability of movies to unify diverse audiences.

Regardless, the deliberation persists.

Older films are truly classic, reflecting a nostalgic past through strong storylines and uncomplicated filmmaking. Classics are often unique works of cinema that have transcended time and trends, with the undoubtable quality of acclaimed cinematic works.

As a result, renowned film critics tend to show substantial favoritism to older films. In fact, when Roger Ebert, who was the very first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, created one final list of his top 10 favorite films of all time in 2012, all except one of his selected movies were more than 30 years old, with several from the 1950s and one from 1926. In his extensive experience as a movie critic, Ebert developed a particular enthusiasm for old films despite reviewing countless works. Within his book “The Great Movies,” he often criticizes modern cinema as being hindered by Hollywood’s enormous mass-marketing campaigns, suggesting that modern-day blockbusters and box-office successes do little more than limit the public’s curiosity to explore movies from more than a decade ago.

Before the advent of CGI and similar modern technologies that create remarkable visual effects, filmmakers are thought to have relied on good stories, compelling characters and strong dialogue. Classic films, whose stories and characters are not enhanced by special effects or digital compositing, are believed to allow audiences to adopt a more hands-on viewing experience by showcasing film’s unique elements at a more personal, organic level.

…renowned film critics tend to show substantial favoritism to older films.

On the other hand, modern films are too often generalized as pop-culture flicks that are solely concerned with making revenue rather than producing quality content. Beyond this stereotype, the technological advancements that are often criticized for tarnishing modern motion pictures have also massively streamlined the process of film production.

Today, 3D printing of props has made it exponentially easier for set designers and filmmakers to execute their visions. Moreover, the development of CGI in 1973 has allowed filmmakers to visually depict worlds and themes that had never been previously explored.

In order to pull off the unprecedented feat of using CGI to animate a feature-length film, Disney and Pixar created entirely new drawing software, revolutionary animation hardware and a new genre of movie altogether. The resulting work, “Toy Story,” premiered in 1995 to excited audiences.

Modern films are also arguably not just action-packed blockbusters filled with scene after scene of mindless CGI violence. 2018 films such as “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Roma” are proof of modern filmmakers who repudiate the idea of an enormous budget for special effects or A-list actors. These critically acclaimed projects combine digital cameras with higher resolution and more advanced film-editing software to craft cinematic experiences with timeless cinematography, stunning visuals and electrifying scores that rivals any classic.

Despite this persistent debate of classics against modern cinema, old versus new, a deeper issue is brought to light. Too often are people, critics and audiences alike, concerned with rank, status and competition. As one can clearly see with the harsh grading curves of certain rigorous courses here at UC Berkeley, it is often thought that only one victor can reign supreme. Today’s society places a similar emphasis on issues of division: Affluent or penniless; white or Black; spiritual or atheistic. In our modern world of ors, we often overlook the ands.

Too often are people, critics and audiences alike, concerned with rank, status and competition.

It is important to, like the film genre of the same name, see the composite. Each film is a unique synthesis of plot, structure, dialogue, visuals and so much more. Filmmaking does not need to be a contest that pits one style against another. Each person is likewise an amalgamation, a distinct blend of their experiences and perspectives, and each person will therefore have distinct opinions on any film. Movies bring people together to laugh, to cry or to simply feel. Films have the power to unite and should be appreciated for this unique ability.

After all, when the lights dim and the film footage begins to roll, the dissimilar individuals in auditorium six become a unified crowd of moviegoers, brought together by the desire to be entertained.

Contact Brianna Brann at [email protected].

JANUARY 25, 2019