Movies & Time

"They don't make 'em like they used to," is one of those age-old mantras every generation gets around to sooner or later. This site might appear to support that position given how the oldies run rampant.

But why should they make 'em like they used to? Times change.

And as for the implication that statement almost always carries - "movies aren't as good as they used to be" - I don't buy that.

Every decade has it's own buzz (even with the acknowledgement that "decade" is an arbitrary unit), and any decade that produces a few good movies is a good one as far as I'm concerned. In the forties, noir happened. It was a zeitgeist that lent itself particularly well to the movie format. Noirs were cheap, so there were lots of them. They don't churn 'em out like they used to, that's for sure, so when it comes to the contemporary crop you don't have as many to chose from.

Movies may take a while to sink in. A lot of these noir numbers I hadn't heard of until relatively recently. Or I had, but something made me rethink them. The Dark Energy project doesn't make a conscious effort to stay current. Things just show up. As time goes by, I make new acquaintances. There's no rush. The absorption rate in these parts is a leisurely affair.

Someone said Willem de Kooning believed all art was contemporary. I like that. Pandora's Box ('29) and The Big Heat ('53) take you back to their respective time periods and to the attitudes of those times, but they are contemporary in the sense that while these films are rolling, they are here and now; and, with a little luck, they leave you with something you can use, something aesthetic or emotional or in some way provocative. Why should every movie, in order to be relevant, seem as though it were shot yesterday? There's no reason to believe we're so enlightened we can afford to shrug off everything that appeared on the scene before we did.

A contemporary director can shoot a film placed in the twenties or fifties, leave out the dated stuff, and come up with a period piece that's perfectly tuned to the modern sensibility. But what you are looking at is a picture of an era. With Pandora or Big Heat you are actually there. Which is not to say you should like or not like movies on this basis. But Farewell, My Concubine and Pandora's Box each represents a view of the past that's different from the other, Farewell with the advantage of hindsight and Pandora with the advantage of immediacy.

That all art is contemporary is the whole point of a site like this one. The point is not that viewers should live in the past; it's that the past is living now through its influences and echoes. It's not that old movies are better; you pick and chose from the old ones just as you do from those released in the last year.

Not too far down the road, this year's perfect expressions of whatever we find compelling will seem quaint to another generation, and those movies will persist or not on the basis of criteria that you or I can't second-guess at all.