Published on September 26th, 2011

Alex looks at why nobody his age has seen much of what he would deem classic American cinema.

The majority of movies I watch are modern. I prefer to watch my movies in a theatre, so that’s kind of the way it has to be. But that is not to say I do not appreciate film history: while I have seen an incredibly small number of movies released before 1955, I’m generally pretty well versed in the American cinema that follows. That being said, I still have to talk myself into watching older movies. This isn’t to say that anything made before 1990 is a piece of shit; The Graduate will always be one of my favourite movies, and there will never be a time in my life when Paul Newman’s egg eating miscreant in Cool Hand Luke isn’t the most entertaining character in cinema. But even with these movies, I sometimes need to talk myself into them.

When I was watching Vertigo and Apocalypse Now recently, I found myself getting a little bored in spots, despite the fact that I kind of love Vertigo and mostly like Apocalypse Now. I had a similar experience with …And Justice For All, even though that movie features a spectacularly Pacinoesque performance from Al Pacino. It’s always a weird thing to me that I can get temporarily bored during movies I love but never lose focus on a modern movie that I kind of hated, like Warrior. But it also kind of makes sense. I used to hate watching older movies before I was about 13, but then I saw To Kill A Mockingbird, realized it was a glorious film, and began a path through the history of American cinema. Every time I was continuing down that path, however, I needed to talk myself into it. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to eat healthy and somebody offers you a giant hamburger instead of some trail mix (or whatever it is that healthy people eat). You know which one is supposed to be more nourishing, but goddamn you just don’t want to have to eat that trail mix, or watch those three meandering hours of Deer Hunter. It’s unfortunate that this happens, but it does, and it even kind of makes sense.

We are an on demand generation; we have our multiplexes and our Netflixes. As far as popular media is concerned, we can get whatever we want whenever we want. Older movies have no benefit on our actual health, like avoiding the hamburger does, so there is really no reason to watch Robert Redford in All the President’s Men when you could just go watch the new version of Robert Redford manage the Oakland A’s in Moneyball. Both are good movies, but outside of their leading man’s hair, they look entirely different from each other. If All the President’s Men (or a thematically similar movie) had come out this weekend, critics would have loved it, but maybe the average person wouldn’t have enjoyed that it takes a lot of time getting to its resolution, or that it’s a two and a half hour movie where the climax involves watching Woodward and Bernstein use a typewriter. That’s a lot harder to sell to audiences these days*.

*State of Play is proof of this: that movie was trying to be All the President’s Men, but it threw in a lot more action and promiscuity to make it sellable to 2009 film audiences.






Most people I know have not watched a lot of movies that I would classify as classic cinema. I have never had a conversation about All the President’s Men with anybody under 30, and I momentarily lost my mind last summer when I found out my then-roommate had never even heard of The Graduate*. This (obviously) used to bother me, but like most things that I put a little thought into, I realized that it’s okay for the most part.

*This guy was also a middle school teacher; despite the fact that he was an awesome roommate and human being, it kind of bothers me that the kids of the country are being taughtby somebody who doesn’t know who Benjamin Braddock is.

Had this ability to control whatever we watch never come about, it’s unlikely that I would have seen half of the movies I have mentioned here. I saw Apocalypse Now in high school English class*, but the rest of the movies I have mentioned I had to seek out on my own. I hate watching movies on television because the commercials and censorship ruin the flow of most good movies, so had this boom in home media never happened, it’s possible that even I wouldn’t know who Benjamin Braddock was.

*Thanks for being such a big Joseph Conrad fan, Francis.









When I was a pre-teen, my mom would constantly bother me about shopping exclusively in the action section when I would go to rent a movie. “You should watch some older, good movies,” she would say.

“I will eventually!” I would (only half-seriously) respond before rolling my eyes all the way back over to the copy of Chill Factor that I had my eye on. And you know what? Twelve year old me was totally fucking right.

I eventually moved on from the action section, even before renting every movie that had looked appealing in it (I have never actually seen Chill Factor; I probably just rented Broken Arrow for the 1000th time). Given the frequency at which I would rent movies, I ran out of choices from the genre that I loved, and I had to try movies that I was only kind of interested in. I would have remained entertained had their been enough action movies to fill my movie watching time, but there weren’t. Eventually, I had to move on to other movies in that same store. And that’s the only way I could find out that The Graduate both exists and is a delightful piece of cinema.

People that think about movies a lot now tend to hold a level of disdain for the general lack of classical cinematic knowledge my age group holds. But what we may lack in classic knowledge, we make up for in general knowledge. Things may have gotten more compartmentalized, but there is probably a wider breadth of cinematic knowledge out there now. I probably only remember who Samantha Mathis is because of those years combing the action section, and a friend’s knowledge of musical cinema is more in-depth simply because she was able to find these movies easily. We’re not getting dumber necessarily; we’re just knowledgeable about newer products, and doing so in a way that was not present when these pieces of classic cinema were being released. Whenever we want to find our way out of the action section, they’ll be waiting for us. And even if not everybody does that, the few that do will be able to keep these movies alive.


  1. Posted by Colin on September 27th, 2011, 04:00 [Reply]

    I like that you don’t necessarily say don’t watch older movies, just provide a reason for this behavior. That being said, when you know you are signing up for a shitty 87 minutes with “iam number four”, do something healthy and watch a Kubrick please. In fact, no more Michael Bay until you have seen Full Metal Jacket. Trivia: Anthony Michael Hall turned down the lead in that.

    • Posted by alex on September 27th, 2011, 04:05 [Reply]

      In my defence, I was realllyyyyyy hung over when I was watching I Am Number 4. Anything even marginally decent would have been a total waste that day. And I watch a lot more oldish movies than most, I just happen to watch so much that I can keep up with the new, shitty movies as well.


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