It was supposed to be cozy and comforting to loll in bed on a gloomy, rainy Sunday reading the NY Times. Why must A.O. Scott depress me?
The Harvard-educated NY Times film critic has in essay in today’s paper declaring what I already know and feel (at least most of the time): “Film is Dead? What Else is New?” In it, Scott rightly taps into some strange psychic phenomenon that has movie lovers in a malaise, lamenting some lost magic to moviemaking that has dampened dreams of escape. We used to go to the movies and feel something. What happened?
The past is full of glories, whether black-and-white jewels of the old studio system (“Casablanca” and “All About Eve” come up a lot), imported treasures from the 1960s (Antonioni! Godard!) or rough diamonds from the brief splendor of the New Hollywood in the ’70s. Whatever your preferred golden age, one thing is certain: They just don’t make them like they used to.
Sometimes they do, but mostly they don’t. When is the last time an onscreen couple sizzled like Bogart and Bacall? Or bantered like Hepburn and Tracy? Ugh, I know, it’s so cliche—how can I even write such things? But the simple truth is that the two best movies I’ve seen in the past six months are “To Have and Have Not,” released in 1944 (with Bogart and Bacall) and 1963’s “Charade,” starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Are they narrative and technical masterworks? I don’t care. I loved them because they gave me exactly what I needed when I went to watch them: When I was missing a love, “To Have” brought him back; and when I wanted to travel with him “Charade” brought us to Paris. Even when he’s gone, those movies will be there, as medicine.
“It can be hard to escape, and even harder to argue against, the feeling that something we used to love is going away, or already gone,” Scott writes. “This is less a critical position or a historical insight than a mood, induced by the usual selective comparisons and subjective hunches. Back then (whenever it was) the stars were more glamorous, the writing sharper, the stories more cogent and the critics more powerful.”
“Are movies essentially a thing of the past? Does whatever we have now, digital or analog, represent at best a pale shadow of bygone glory?”
Perhaps, if “Twilight” is a meant as a current rendition of “The English Patient”. But even so, a good movie doesn’t have to be an emblem of masterful filmmaking; technical skills and style are not often the elements that stir our souls. Movies are best when they transport us, sometimes deeper into ourselves, sometimes away from the harshness of our lives.
Sitting in the corner of a dark theater last night, when I needed to believe in the impossible, “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” provided just that. When young Bella becomes pregnant with a half-human, half-vampire child whose rapid growth and supernatural strength threatens to kill her – and miraculously, she survives! – my own troubles seem as ominous as vanilla ice cream.
So glamorous black and white is over. The cinematic experience is not. Movies can still serve as an entry into ourselves and an escape to another world. Where vampires and humans can fall in love, and despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and painful compromise, make it work.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life was that way, too?