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Today's pop culture musing. Why some films don't hold up over time.

This year marked the 30th anniversary of "Dances with Wolves" winning the Oscar for Best Picture. At the time it was universally praised and massive box office hit. Today it routinely makes critics' list of "worst films to win Best Picture". Similarly, every now and then, a film critic will watch "The Lost Weekend" (for the record, I've never seen it) which won for the year 1945 and declare that today it's unintentionally funny. Why is that?

In no particular order and for your consideration ...

It's Black and White -- Some people my age and younger simply can't watch anything that's black and white. I myself love a good done B&W film, but it goes without saying that not every film from the 30s, 40s, and 50s leveraged the medium's strengths.

It's in Some Way Too Dated -- It's no accident that the films from the 30s that hold up well today ("The Thin Man", "It Happened One Night") for the most part avoided the more formal language you hear in a lot of other films from that era that don't. While I've met many people my age who love "Dinner at 8", I turned it off after 15 minutes. I couldn't even quite understand what they were saying.

You Had to See It on the Big Screen -- If you saw "Dances With Wolves" for the first time in the theater, seeing the northern great plains on the screen made the landscape another character. Cinematographer Dean Semler's shots are stunning and Kevin Costner the director took full advantage off it. On your TV, that's completely lost.

You Know How It Ends -- To avoid a spoiler, I'll stick with DWW and just say that when you know how it ends, after a while, you start to feel like Costner is just beating you over the head to make the same point rather than telling you a story.

It Became a Victim of It's Own Success -- "2001: A Space Odyssey" was deliberately made to turn science fiction into a serious genre. It succeeded brilliantly. Unfortunately what came after it was much much more entertaining to watch. Similarly "The Lost Weekend" was the first film to show the horrors of addiction. Films that explored the topic after that kept taking it further and further and now it's an artifact.

The Special Effects Don't Hold Up -- Pretty self explanatory

An Artistic Choice Doesn't Survive Repeated Viewing -- Returning to DWW, the biggest knock on it at the time was Kevin Costner's monotone narration. At first, I thought the narration worked because you had to ask yourself, "What would Captain Dunbar sound like reading from his journal?" Today, it just annoys me.

The Plot Doesn't Survive Repeating Viewing -- Lord knows everyone's heart was in the right place, and the acting and character development remain amazing, but about the third or fourth time you see "Saving Private Ryan", you realize that after the Omaha Beach scene, it's essentially a comic book (and yes, I'm aware that the sniper scene was based on a real firefight in Vietnam). It's also a little odd that a film that depicts George Marshall intervening on behalf of a grieving mother made no mention of the fact that around the same time, Marshall had to tell his own wife that one of her sons had been killed in Italy. When it's on now, I'll watch it through the sniper scene then stop.

.... and last but not least ....

It Was Actually Bad All Along -- One of my all time favorite Siskel and Ebert moments was a heated argument over whether "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was bad, or merely mediocre. Siskel said it was the only movie where he got so much hate mail for the review that he thought maybe he wrong so he went back and re-watched it. He hated it even more the second time. Ebert accused Siskel of having a martyr's complex when it came to the film because lots other critics also hated it, but agreed that he was baffled when it was nominated for an Oscar. "Chariots of Fire" is in this genre, too. It lacks so many basic elements of an interesting film that you wonder how it even got green lighted, let alone win an Oscar.

One last interesting footnote. Siskel and Ebert used to lament in the '80s that a lot of their favorite films from the '60s and '70s didn't hold up because the changes in fashion and hair styles. It's interesting that for what ever reason, people watching older films don't care one iota about that and sometimes contemporary film makers even deliberately embrace dated fashion to make a film more eye catching.


Posted: 05/22/2020 at 1:44PM


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