Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Everything Dies, Baby That's a Fact..."

"... but maybe everything that dies, someday comes back."

July 12, 1912 marks the hundredth anniversary of Paramount Pictures.  On that date, one hundred years ago, they released Les Amours de la reine Elisabeth, described by Wikipedia as a "short 4-reel French silent film based on the love affair between Elizabeth I of England and the Earl of Essex." It starred the legendary Sarah Bernhardt.  One hundred years later it's all but forgotten, despite a star as prominent in theatrical history as Bernhardt. The film itself receives an icon on the new Paramount Pictures 100th Anniversary poster (third row from the bottom, fifth icon from the left) but only because they had to.  It was the first and thus, couldn't be ignored. It's rather stunning how much else to which that sense of obligation did not apply.

If you follow the link above to the poster, you'll see a headline describing it as impressive. Uh-huh. What impressed me most was that there are fifteen films from the halfway point and before (1962) and eighty-five films from after. Fifteen to eighty-five. That's quite a disparity. In case you're thinking Paramount was just some two-bit mom and pop outfit before 1962, releasing nothing but 16mm educational films, take a look at their actual filmography here.

Here's the fifteen from 1962 and before that made the cut, in order of their appearance on the poster:

1960 Psycho
1934 Cleopatra
1961 Breakfast at Tiffany's
1956 The Ten Commandments
1933 Duck Soup
1958 Vertigo
1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1939 Gulliver's Travels
1944 Double Indemnity
1912 Les Amours de la reine Elisabeth
1953 The War of the Worlds
1950 Sunset Boulevard
1942 Sullivan's Travels
1954 Rear Window
1927 Wings

Here are some that didn't:

The Virginian (1914), The Ghost Breaker (1914), Ruggles of Red Gap (1918), Why Change Your Wife (1920), The Ten Commandments (1923), Peter Pan (1924), The Great Gatsby (1926), Underworld (1927), The Cocoanuts (1929),The Four Feathers (1929), Morocco (1930), Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931),The Sign of the Cross, A Farewell to Arms, Trouble in Paradise, Shanghai Express, Love Me Tonight, Horse Feathers (all 1932), Alice in Wonderland (1933), She Done Him Wrong (1933), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), The Plainsman (1936), The General Died at Dawn (1937) and Easy Living (1937).

That's twenty-five from the first twenty-five years alone. Coming up with twenty-five or thirty or forty from the next twenty-five years is even easier. The point is, in order to make room for well over twenty titles from after 2000, they left off Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider made the cut, Sternberg and Dietrich did not.

Oh, I know, here goes the old guy again bitching and whining about all the great old movies left off the list to make room for newer movies that a younger audience might better understand and identify. But this isn't about catering to a demographic, it's about celebrating one hundred goddamn years! And if you're going to celebrate one hundred goddamn years don't you think maybe you ought to celebrate all one hundred goddamn years?!

This poster is supposed to be a tribute to a glorious past, only it's a past that barely even exists until the post-Watergate world kicks in. Is there really a cinephile out there, a young one I mean, who will only buy this because it has Justin Bieber: Never Say Never on it (Jesus, I wish that was a joke but, yes, that movie made the cut, while, say, Alfie did not).

Actually, to be fair, I can see including the Justin Bieber movie if that's they're pick for 2011 and they're also picking movies from the majority of all the other years. But they're not. It would make sense to have movies from every year and, frankly, if that's their pick for 2011, so be it (personally, I would have gone with Hugo, a perfect choice for this kind of celebration, and even if they only did international distribution, who cares, they were attached). But again, they're not picking from every year and to get back to my original question, why market this to any demographic at all? The harder it is to identify the movie, the more fun the poster is for everyone. A true cinephile as young as twelve would rather have to go figure out what that icon from 1932 is, the one with the silhouetted beauty with her hands on her hips, than see a bunch of icons from movies with which she's already familiar (if that icon were there). I was a twelve year old cinephile and I can tell you from firsthand experience, discovery's the thing. It's about looking at every movie you've never heard of and when you hear of another one, something from the forties or the thirties that you've never seen, stopping everything until you can find it, sit down and watch it.

Look, we're all be dead one day and in a hundred years, during their bicentennial, it will probably take a miracle to include even twenty movies from this poster for their 200th poster, no doubt filled with movies from 2100 on. No one's going to remember me or you or anyone you've ever known. Most of the biggest celebrities and world leaders will be either completely forgotten or mere answers to a trivia question, with perhaps a few seismic shakers still studied in Pop Culture 101. Perhaps. That's why it's important that the studios, holding the past in their vaults, celebrate and remind every new generation of that past. The new releases and the summer blockbusters are where the industry makes its fortune. The posters and the clip montages at the Oscars (almost completely lacking last year in films made before the sixties) should be where the industry teaches and reflects and reminds. The movies may be in the past but learning about them and seeing them brings them back to life for a new generation that discovers a past as mesmerizing and hypnotic as any present they know.

Oh, and Happy 100th Birthday, Paramount. It's been a phenomenal 100 years. Let's celebrate each one of them.