As a film geek who has been into movies, perhaps to an unhealthy degree, since childhood, reading this article by Neal Gabler at the LA Times about how the current youth generation thinks old movies are old and boring and useless really breaks my heart. But does it surprise me? Not at all. The premise of the article concerns The Amazing Spider-Man, which rebooted a franchise whose third installment hit theaters just five years ago. But in that five years, some kids might say that it was about time Spidey got a reboot -- because the other movie was "old." And I feel like Gabler only interviewed people who spoke to really stupid children. Let's explore this, shall we?
Full disclosure, I was led to read this article because I just finished a book by its author, Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (awesome, by the way). And while I enjoyed that book deeply and feel that Gabler's research uncovered a wealth of fascinating information, I feel like a smaller, "internet-column-scale" version of that effort could have gone into this before writing off an entire generation of moviegoers.
That isn't to say that this is a bad article (because it is interesting), and I wouldn't deny that so-called "millennials" are a bit jaded to older movies, but can't we also consider that teenagers and young adults who aren't die-hard film geeks have never been into movies as much as die-hard film geeks are? No matter what generation they're from? Gabler mentions a high school teacher who said he won't teach The Godfather in his class anymore because of "lack of interest." His students were bored by it. By The Godfather. For one thing, your argument is invalid. High school students think everything sucks, to say nothing of worrying about going to college and taking SATs and such, and there was probably at least one kid in that class who secretly loved that movie and is now plotting a film career. I guarantee it.
I know that the younger generation of moviegoers also has different tastes and expectations when it comes to entertainment. Gabler makes that point, saying that every successive generation thinks the quality of their movies is better than those released during the preceding one. And yes, the special effects of the second Star Wars trilogy are better than the second. We cannot deny that, no matter how bad those movies sucked. But then he worries that film history will ultimately get flushed down the toilet by these dirty little punks, and no future generation will have the same appreciation for classic cinema ever again, and "classic" will refer to movies released all of one week ago.
With all due respect, and there's a lot of it, I think rumors of cinema appreciation's death have been greatly exaggerated.
I give you: Netflix. Netflix provides access -- with the cost of a monthly membership -- to decades and decades of all kinds of movies. Old ones, new ones, less old ones, less new ones, with something to match someone's mood no matter what kind of mood they're in. Let's create a hypothetical kid: we'll call her Jessica, because I went to school with about 12 of them. Jessica is 17, owns a smartphone, though she doesn't pay for it. It's hooked up to Netflix, which is also paid for by her parents. Boom -- free movies on her phone, as far as she's concerned. Since her favorite magazine features writers who are from Generation X, she reads a reference to a movie called Clueless. (The reference may or may not include the sentence "Where the hell is Alicia Silverstone these days?") She hops on Wikipedia, and after falling into a Wiki-hole for seven hours, she wonders if Clueless is on Netflix, just out of curiosity. By jove, it is! She watches it on her phone -- and it's her new favorite movie. Even though it's "old," it has a story she likes, and the clothes are funny, and there's a makeover in it, and it's slightly creepy because Brittany Murphy died when she was 32.
What else did Brittany Murphy do, and was there any sign at all that she'd end up dead at 32? Girl Interrupted. Is it evidence? No, but Angelina Jolie is in it, and she won an Oscar for it! That's really fancy! Jessica then reads about the Oscars (after plugging in her phone, because the battery is starving now), and she finds out that Jolie's father, Jon Voight, won an Oscar, too! Jessica isn't the type to watch Coming Home, though, but she sees that he played a gigolo in Midnight Cowboy, and that is one group of sexy, sexy words.
And that is how Jessica found Midnight Cowboy and was introduced to the 1960s Decade of Amazing Films. It was like that other movie Jon Voight was in, that movie from "like a million years ago," National Treasure, when he found that vault underground in New York City with all that freaking gold! Because on Netflix's list of recommendations, there was The Graduate. And Anne Bancroft kicked so much ass in that movie. Then Jessica found out that Anne Bancroft was in The Miracle Worker, a play about Helen Keller that she was forced to read in seventh grade, but if there's a movie, then she doesn't have to read the book again! And it's in black and white, which seems weird, but now Jessica can tell her friends who won't stop talking about 16 and Pregnant that she watched Anne Bancroft wrestle Patty Duke, who is the mother of Sean Astin, who was in The Lord of the Rings movies, which were all "way too long," but had Orlando Bloom in it, and he's hot. If you like old guys.
Jessica and her peers might not fully appreciate classic cinema right now, and many of those kids will not have the same curiosity as Jessica and never will. But if you show anyone something that contains even a scintilla of something they might find interesting, enough of them will come around and say they cannot go a Christmas without watching Miracle on 34th Street.
In the meantime, these punk kids aren't going to obliterate classic cinema as long as people like me and Neal Gabler are around telling them to get off our Technicolor lawn.
When she isn't nerding out that the holidays are coming, Jamie is a reader at Monday Night Fan Fiction at Fontana's in Chinatown, NYC (next date: TBA, 7:00 PM). All work is original, written by the readers, so if you have a brilliant fanfic idea stuck in your head, send it via Twitter: @jamielikesthis