Thursday, May 10, 2012

Golden Age Film Culture

As a teenager in the bankrupt 1980s, I noticed that in the previous decade, there were several film books about the Golden Age of Hollywood, such as the Citadel series "Films of...", which gave a proper filmography of any given movie star from the Golden Age, there were the Charles Gerhardt re-records of Golden Age film music scores, and of course the emergence of scholarly interest in Film Noir, with the rise of Humphrey Bogart as a Counterculture hero, and film schools in California using the works of John Ford and Howard Hawks as study material. The revivals of Golden Age movies in second-run theaters were a Godsend after years of only being run on TV allowed an entire new generation to be exposed to 1920s-1940s films in an actual cinema.

That early and mid-'70s time period is a fascinating and it's hard to imagine something like that happening now, where we have more and more about less and less, despite the influx of ways these films can be seen, they seem to have largely vanished from movie houses and even TV, with the exception of Turner Classic Movies.  In the 1972 movie Play It Again, Sam the lead character is a film critic for a small film weekly and has his apartment slathered with vintage movie posters, especially ones with his cinematic idol, Humphrey Bogart on them.  When I saw the film many years ago, I made the connection that the much-maligned ‘70s were actually a Golden Age of sorts in terms of renewed interest in past cinematic treasures. 

It's interesting to note that despite the abundance of DVDs and streaming video, there's little emphasis on anything but the Summer blockbuster-type stuff and one has to accidentally find out about those non-megahit films, even if it's blockbusters from the past!

I do find the communal aspects of film going lacking. Do films even influence popular culture anymore? It seems like the biggest emphasis is on the opening weekend box office numbers rather than anything that was accomplished creatively. I'm not talking about the business end, where producers and industry people must obviously be concerned with such things, but rather the viewing audience, who discuss the grosses around the water cooler on Monday mornings at work. I've lost track of the clich├ęd critiques of recent extravaganzas which usually consists of "The movie was crap, but the effects were good.”

Perhaps we movie bloggers are the new wave of film aficionados. We don’t gather in theaters, but we do exchange ideas and viewpoints on classic movies, but we do our watching alone.  The communalism is absent because we watch in solitude.  I’d like to have had the experience of being in a theater and knowing that most everyone seated with me is appreciating the sights and sounds of the silver screen.  It’s not the same watching a film alone, hunched over one’s computer screen like some Dell-owning Quasimodo.  I want to watch The Big Heat or Top Hat in a theater with 200 other people who know every line and get misty or mortified over the same scenes in a film we all know and love.  However, outside of your major metropolitan areas, it rarely happens.


  1. I was able to watch It Happened One Night in a theatre and it was something else though I am not sure if anyone else felt it was extra special

    All of those theaters around here have closed now.

    I have found out about a couple of nonblockbuster films I would never have heard of or seen otherwise through you

  2. There are amazing films out there for those who look for them, both old and new. But of course you already knew that :)


  3. I couldn't agree more. Other than classic film bloggers and those that follow classic film blogs (which is certainly a small minority of the population), the present culture doesn't have the same appreciation for the classics. It really does seem like there was a golden age of cinema revival in the 1970s and I wish that kind of interest would come back on a mass scale. Could you imagine another generation of Scorceses, Coppolas, Allens, Bogdanoviches, Cassavettes, etc. making films today that got major releases? If guys who had an interest in classics and continued to make interesting films that didn't completely rely on super hero capes and explosions to interest an audience were making movies? I think the best filmed content is not in the theaters anymore - its on cable TV. Here's hoping for another golden age of cinema revival!

  4. You are so right. I am so pleased now that I was a young film buff in my teens in the '60s when that first wave of movie culture happened, those early books on cinema, The Films of ... series, Pauline Kael's collections of reviews etc. The intereest in Bogart, Monroe, Dean, how exciting it was to discover Katharine Hepburn's early movies as she was revered all over again, ditto Bette Davis. Most cities had revival houses where we saw double-bills of classics with like-minded people. Then of course the video age happened as we went mad on those clunky video-cassettes recording old movies, so it was goodbye to those cinemas. Then the multiplex took over ...

    Thankfully here in London we have our National Film Theatre where I am going this Sunday to see Minnelli's The Reluctant Debutante from 1958, on the big screen, with a friend who also loves this film - Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall at their zenith (well Rex had another zenith with My Fair Lady - this Minnelli film was shot between the New York and London runs) and Angela Lansbury too of course as well as Sandra Dee and John Saxon for the teens. Despite having the dvd it will be marvellous to see it again in a cinema with fellow devotees.

  5. On my honeymoon we saw Casablanca on the big screen. It was showing as a 50th anniversary of the film. I don't remember the communal aspects as much as how cool it was to see it so big.

    Michael O'Sullivan, The Reluctant Debutante is one of my wife's favorites.

  6. I'll always regret not going to see Lawrence of Arabia on one of those gigantic movie screens for one of the film's anniversary celebrations. I always think of that whenever I'd see the film aired on TCM.

    While I emphasized the "communal" aspects of seeing old movies on the big screen, it really is a thrill just to see them as they were meant to be seen.

  7. You and Robby are definitely right about the '70s being a "golden age" of cinema revival -- if I may share here, I wrote a post a couple years ago about growing up going to movies at L.A. revival theaters and about some of the special books I collected as a teen in the '70s and early '80s. The Citadels were very important to me, along with the Pyramid series. It was a great period of discovery for me and many others.

    Most of the revival theaters I visited as a teen closed after the advent of video and cable, but I'm very fortunate that I'm a reasonable drive from Los Angeles, where theaters such as the Egyptian and the Leo S. Bing (at the L.A. Co. Museum of Art) continue to show old films. I feel I've been living at the Egyptian recently (grin), having made 10 trips there in the last five weekends for films shown at the TCM Festival, Noir City Festival, and a special Mother's Day screening of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It really does make a difference seeing a movie on a huge screen with an appreciative audience.

    Best wishes,


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