I’m not saying Old Hollywood films are inherently inferior. There are great runs for sure, but it seems the standard for judging Old Hollywood films differ from the standards used to judge “art films” or even more recent American films, for lack of a better term. For example, Godard and Tarkovsky are judged by their artistry and what they have to say on a profound level, and they are accordingly acclaimed, whereas filmmakers like Hitchcock and John Ford, who are generally speaking, equally acclaimed, made many cliche ridden films containing elements for a which a more recent American film would be ridiculed. However, they seem to get a free pass for the technical prowess of creating the film that was exhibited. Nobody would blink an eye at a modern cliched American film, no matter how impressive the technical craft. The same goes for a French film. But when judging Old Hollywood films it seems craftsmanship is key in determining their greatness, and they are consequently mentioned in the same breadth as many of the filmmakers many would refer to as “art filmmakers.”
The Hollywood dream factory was an efficient machine, and among the many thousands of films made during that era, there are many hundreds of wonderful films, and scores of ones to be restored or uncovered. TCM is a godsend, millions of people are either discovering old films for the first time or seeing them anew. I adore old Hollywood, almost everything about it.
Fair enough. I’m not saying I don’t like Old Hollywood. I’m just saying it seems to be placed on a pedestal. I guess my question is, what makes films like It’s A Wonderful Life or Gone With the Wind, Some Like It Hot, or The Grapes of Wrath equal in quality to a Tarkovsky or Antonioni? For example, I find Rear Window and North by Northwest to be impeccably crafted and worth watching for the craftsmanship, but I wouldn’t mind being enlightened on where the artistic profundity can be found in such films.
I’m just saying it seems to be placed on a pedestal.
Of course it is. The iconic movie stars, for one thing. The genres like film noir, women’s pictures, musicals, etc. for another. The wit, sophistication, and eroticism that many directors managed to get past the code office. The glamor, the nostalgia, the black & white, so many things.
Maybe its the fact that when these films were released, they weren’t as cliche ridden as we perceive them today after having been imitated over and over.
It’s A Wonderful Life or Gone With the Wind, Some Like It Hot, or The Grapes of Wrath
You’re citing a very narrow selection of “classics”, fans of old movies have their own favorites and many are not necessarily established “classics”. And none of those films you listed are even the best of each director.
Okay I hear you, perhaps. Maybe it’s just been a while since I’ve avidly watched a lot of Old Hollywood films. I do watch them from time to time but less so than I did in the past.
Who are these scores of people giving “Old Hollywood” films a free pass? I see nothing here but a faulty premise.
You cite Hitchcock as one director whose films are “cliche-ridden” … really? Rope was riddled with cliche? Rear Window? These were innovative films. Lifeboat?
“what makes films like It’s A Wonderful Life or Gone With the Wind, Some Like It Hot, or The Grapes of Wrath equal in quality to a Tarkovsky or Antonioni?”
If the question is what makes some of the best films of that error—those of Ford, Hitchcock, Hawks, etc—equal in quality to Tarkovsky and Antonioni, it’s that they’re, well, equal in equality to them.
I think this assumption is incorrect. The movies that get this supposed “free pass” likely earn it by exhibiting craft and technique equal to or greater than the cliches they exhibit.
For example: CRISS CROSS (1949) gets a free pass, because it rules. CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948) gets no free pass because, well, it’s kind of lame.
I don’t like Hollywood classics at all and for that reason I never watch them. I do or until recently did have a soft spot for eighties teen movies. I thinks these films get a free pass for the following reason. The first people want to relive a time decades ago when things were simpler and (in the movie) were safer, regardless of whether they were alive the at the time. I wasn’t alive in the eighties, but I still feel an over-whelming sense of nostalgia when I watch pretty in pink. Although now I’m that bit older I think ‘Paris, Texas’ or ‘O-bi O-ba, end of civilization’ are better films, they don’t have that same nostalgia. I wouldn’t give Breakfast Club a free pass and I don’t think Old Hollywood films should get one either.
comparing breakfast club to hitchcock now? sigh
“when things were simpler and (in the movie) were safer”
But, wait, I’m confused: BEYOND THE FOREST (1949) features a MORE COMPLEX and DANGEROUS depiction of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy than KNOCKED UP (2007). So…?
Old Hollywood gets a free pass? According to whom? A mainstream cinema fan that cites each “Hangover” movie as THE film event of the year probably doesn’t care for Old Hollywood save for the MOST worshipped films (for example, “Gone With the Wind” and “Casablanca”). And even then I don’t think they’d appreciate them all that much, at least not as much as the latest CGI-laden summer blockbuster. The problem is that even so-called “smart” film fans that turn up at the movie societies and arthouse style cinemas snicker derisively at a lot of Old Hollywood. I had a really annoying group of idiots behind me to the right at a screening of the EXCELLENT Don Siegel film “Crime in the Streets”. I also hate that smug “superiority” a lot of hipsters have for thinking that THEIR birth decade (i.e. the 1990s) is the best decade for “nostalgia” cinema. Speaking for myself, I was born in 1978, but as a child I loved Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” (still do!) and Shirley Temple in the rather similar “The Bluebird”. Speaking generally, I preferred films from the 1970s and ‘80s, but was not averse to movies from earlier decades (especially if they were sci-fi). I recall renting “The Blob” (with Steven McQueen!) on video and thinking how awesome it all was. Alas, nowadays it seems the older the Old Hollywood films get, the less people care for them. Most youngsters wouldn’t know Humphrey Bogart from Humphrey B. Bear. Fortunately some old cinemas still exist to show old films the way they were decades ago.
Just be sure not to consider things like AFI’s lists or TCM’s Essentials as the definition of old Hollywood movies. You have to dig deeper than that.
“Old Hollywood” is as varied a term as “World Cinema.” It contains some of the greatest films ever made as well as irredeemable dreck and everything in between. Of course, what most people choose to remember from old Hollywood are the classics. If they seem to get a pass, it’s because they have earned it.
What’s with this “get a pass” business? Different films made in different contexts are admired in different ways for different reasons.
You can’t compare “Casblanca” to “The Sacrifice.” The first was a mass audience designed product, the second an “art” film. Different audiences have liked each differently and there are some who like both films — for different reaosn.
Wher’s the “pass”?
Well what would people on here recommend from Old Hollywood besides the obvious films. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Old Hollywood is crap. I like Sunset Blvd and Strangers on a Train just to name a few films. I don’t think The Searchers is as great as people make it out to be though. I just think it’s put on a pedestal by a lot of older American cinephiles like Ebert and many film academics who have a tendency to view world cinema and non-anglophone cinema as a mere division while Old American cinema is viewed as the “real deal.”
So yes, Old Hollywood is not bad, but I notice many people who seem to love Old Hollywood tend to be very self-righteous about its importance, including a film teacher I’ve had. So I guess it’s fans of Old Hollywood rather than Old Hollywood itself. I know I’ll get slammed for saying this, but I’ve come across older people who treat it like it’s sacred and will act as though any minor criticism directed at an Old Hollywood film is sacrilege, and will just defend themselves by saying, “Well you’re too young to appreciate it!” Or will just lament by saying, “Young people today just don’t appreciate the classics.” So all I’m trying to get across is the fact I think it’s wrong that its placed on an elevated pedestal by certain film lovers.
cinema is still a relatively new form of art.
you have to also take into consideration how old and who are the people making these judgements..
i’m sure the standards of what is considered “great” will change over time as with the generations.
Ebert has long been a champion of foreign cinema. If you look as his “Great Movies” list, you find non-English language films represented in abundance. I know of no well regarded critic who would limit their recommendations to one nationality or language.
Leonard Maltin maybe?
Point well taken. There are film scholars/critics who specialize in Old Hollywood, just as there are others who may specialize in Japanese film.
The Searchers is as great as people make it out to be though. I just think it’s put on a pedestal by a lot of older American cinephiles like Ebert and many film academics who have a tendency to view world cinema and non-anglophone cinema as a mere division while Old American cinema is viewed as the “real deal.”
Can’t people just like a movie? Can’t we just be comfortable disagreeing with others without trying to posit some conspiracy where the people who disagree with you are only interested in a certain film because it’s on some invisible pedestal. You might try considering the idea that other people like certain movies for reasons that you can’t yet appreciate. And that’s OK. I, for instance, pretty much loathe 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yet I can still accept the fact that those who like it do so for honest reasons.
Just to be clear, I’m not upset at the fact that you don’t like The Searchers, which is one of my absolute favorite films. When I first saw it, I wasn’t much impressed either. It grew on me slowly over a roughly eight year period. So, I can understand why someone might not get into it.
Now, on to the actual OP. Truthfully, I think you could apply this sort of notion wrongly to just about any film category that you don’t get into. Why do French New Wave films get a pass? Why do Italian Neo-Realism films get a pass? Why do old Japanese masters get a Pass? Why do American Indie films get a pass? You can always find enthusiasts who are devoted to just one area of cinema history and accuse them of giving that area a free pass. The people on these boards (except the Carney/Cassevetes crew) are generally pretty well-rounded when it comes to their interests. I see very few users who are dedicated to one particular niche to the exclusion and distain of all others.
Also, I think there’s a major blind spot to your argument: the fact that most of the dreck of Old Hollywood has faded into obscurity. You don’t see the truly bad Old Hollywood films, because no one will watch them, which means that no studio will spend the money to bring them to DVD or some other viable format. Hell, you can barely get access to some of the greatest old Hollywood films like Ruggles of Red Gap. When the cream of the crop rises, it makes it easier to appreciate everything that was good about Old Hollywood and to forget about everything that was lame about it. The classics that you’ve mentioned have risen over the course of anywhere from 50-80 years. They’ve been seen over and over again, and loved for a wide variety of reasons. And free passes are not given to all Old Hollywood directors. Do you see people (other than Jerry Johnson) praising John Ford’s Donovan’s Reef? Nope. Does anyone cite Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn as one of the best Hollywood films? Nope. Does anyone try to tell you that Hawks’ A Song is Born is among his best films? Nope. So even among vaunted masters there is discretion. No one just runs around praising everything that Old Hollywood did to the skies.
there’s no free pass. cinema has kubricks and tarkovskys at one part of the pool and hitchocks and fords in another and all manner, mean and mode of director in between. You can’t consider films from ‘old hollywood’ it w/o also considering the studio system and all the constraints that engendered on all creative departments. A Tarkovsky film springs from a different set of circumstances than say a Jules Dassin or a Raoul Walsh or Nicholas Ray or a Howard Hawks or a Fritz Lang. There were certainly bad ‘old hollywood’ movies just as there are bad movies being made now. That will never change.
“Why do French New Wave films get a pass? Why do Italian Neo-Realism films get a pass? Why do old Japanese masters get a Pass? Why do American Indie films get a pass? You can always find enthusiasts who are devoted to just one area of cinema history and accuse them of giving that area a free pass.”
. . . and silent films are getting a pass even though they don’t have any sound, and black&white films are getting a pass when they’re not even in color like later films (to extend the argument even further into the absurd). Right. One has to make an effort to see a film from the perspective of the style of filmmaking rather than simply from a particular contemporary notion of what film is.
Alright. I didn’t mean to upset anyone. It’s just an impression I sometimes get. It’s just an impression that’s all. Impressions are allowed to be deceiving.
We’re really not getting upset (or, at least, I’m not). Sorry if it reads that way. There’s a tendency, which seems to have manifested itself here quite a bit recently, to try to process whole segments of film history categorically—“Hollywood films,” “middlebrow films,” etc.—and, while it’s certainly anyone who wishes to’s right to do so, I don’t understand why someone would then seem to want to turn around and call into question the motives of everyone who’s not willing to do this . . . although perhaps this wasn’t the intent and the OP is just awkwardly phrased (?)
Also not upset here.
not upset either