Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, Steve McQueen, John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin
What do all these male actors have in common? No it’s not that they’re all dead but that’s actually pretty close. No I bring up these actors with distinguished careers because they belong to another time in cinema, a time that younger people are increasingly beginning to forget about. Not even just forget about…no see that would just be a simple consequence of a larger time gap between modern cinema and that age. Nope, this is much more than just forgetting. Most younger people simply do not care about older movies anymore. According to them, old films are nothing more than vestiges of another time, a less flashy time, a time that did not include special effects or incredible visual, high definition technology. Black and white has become synonymous with boring and sleep inducing.
And that really is quite a shame. Yes, color and high definition definitely add a wonderful dimension to film; however, that does not make all the black and white films of the previous century worthless. As I understand cinema, it is a combination of plot, acting, visual style and sound. At least those are the big factors. Older black and white films have some of the best acting and stories I have ever seen and it is extraordinary how much modern films today draw from old classics. In fact, many of the films we see nowadays are remakes of older films and the older films tend to be far superior most of the time. Take the film The Day the Earth Stood Still for example: a modern remake with Keanu Reeves came out in 2008 and while several of my friends loved it, I absolutely couldn’t stand it because I could not help thinking how much better the original is. Yes, The Day the Earth Stood Still was originally made in 1951 in full black and white glory and the film is about a billion times better than the remake, in my opinion. If you think that’s the only example, then you are mistaken. I could probably use this whole article to just list films where the original surpasses the modern remake in about every way possible.
I’m not quite sure what it is about black and white films. I understand that most of us are conditioned to watching films in color seeing as we were born and raised following the advent of color in film. However, most of my friends and younger people I know seem so strongly opposed to watching such films that I do not think it is only a problem of conditioning. Is it the lack of a big budget that did not allow directors and actors to do incredible action sequences back then that bugs them? Is it the more conservative time period? Whatever the reason, it remains true that these films are getting less and less attention and that simply should not be the case. Whether one likes the film or not is irrelevant but they should at least watch the film so they are not reduced to simply judging a film for its black and white appearance rather than its merits.
Now sure not all black and white movies are great. Not all old movies are amazing. But it is true that several classics exist and they came before all the technological improvements to film. This makes them almost more impressive in my mind. These films did not have to rely upon color or visual effects to make their films special; they are special for the purest qualities of film. These are the films that inspire our modern directors and they definitely inspire me. Now next time you see a film on AMC or TCM that looks a little older than something you would usually watch, just give it a chance. The classics are here to stay and it’s time more people started embracing them.
A short list that I would check out: Rear Window, On the Waterfront, Paths of Glory, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Breathless (This is a French film and a wonderful testament to what I’ve been talking about in this post)
There are plenty more so go ahead and stop limiting your cinema exposure and travel back in time with film.