Science Fiction Repair Shop: Old But Not In The Way Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-04-29 14:00:00 No comments

CHUD-IAFT: Why Old Movies? |

Often in my film school classes, I hear students complain about the screening of older movies. They say they’re not interested. They think old movies are boring. They complain about black-and-white, and they’ve got difficulties relating to those old actors. What qualifies as an old movie to these students? Anything made before the year 2000. And certainly nothing of any consequence or relevance was made before 1980.

If someone claims to be a film fan but can't stomach the idea of watching something before they were born, I submit they're not much of a fan to begin with.

There's a big difference between people who "like movies" and film buffs, and it's the same difference I see in all classes of people who casually like X vs. those who are fans of X. The fans do not care about age, provenance, delivery method, or artifacts of origin. They care about just getting the experience, whatever form it comes in. They learn to stretch themselves, to see their prejudices as just that: prejudices borne of the moment and the circumstances. Casual viewers train themselves to sit still for what's current, and so anything from before that era just looks like ... well, work.

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I have never understood such parochialism, but I suspect it's more because I'm lucky and not because I'm all that good. I got exposed early on to the idea that a movie could be, and often was, a product of so much more than my current moment in time — and that a little work on my part would be paid with enormous dividends later on. Metropolis was the product of far less sophisticated effects technology than TRON Legacybut the storytelling was arguably as sophisticated (maybe moreso in its own way). Watching the former movie gave me that much more to work with. It was raw material, not just something to distract myself with.

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A self-professed film student who doesn't want to do that work, who doesn't want to watch Wild Strawberries or Ikiru or Safety Last!, is just cheating themselves of the opportunity to learn something. The same goes for the self-professed SF or fantasy author who doesn't want to crack Mervyn Peake or E.R. Eddison or James Tiptree, Jr., for the sake of seeing how else things can be done. To say nothing of the same authors never opening The Tale of Genji or Every Man Dies Alone or Crime and Punishment or any number of other books that might help them widen the scope of their vision and enhance their sense of the possible. None of this is about worshipping such books, but simply seeing why they did what they did — where they were coming from and to what end, which is far more interesting than just using them as bludgeons to fend off the incursions of skanky popular culture (which is an injustice to pop and high culture alike).

A movie not made in color or before my date of birth is not "old", in the same way a play by Sophocles to me is not "old". It is a human voice reaching out across time. Granted, someone who died a good 2400 years ago is going to have been a product of a different moment in time than someone who only just died the other week. Both have their own things to say, and those not interested in cultivating the ear to hear such things are better off spending their time doing something else. They should at the very least not kid themselves about their real motives.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop aesthetics fandom movies