Thursday, May 30, 2013

Feel Good Movies (but not that kind)

I just got back from seeing 8 1/2 at the AFI Silver and the audience was made up of dozens and dozens of twenty-something guys with trimmed beards who seemed very happy to be seeing 8 1/2.  I've been to countless movies at the AFI at this point and usually the audience is quite diversified but if it skews any way, it generally skews middle age through sixties.  So I wondered, are there movies that have a reputation that appeals to a younger set, a set that wants to see the "right" films?

Last week I saw La Grande Illusion at the AFI and the week before that I saw Black Narcissus.  A couple of weeks before that I saw The Big Sleep.  At each of those showings was what I would call the average AFI audience, the one described above that skews middle age to sixties.  A while back, at the annual showing of Nosferatu with live, overbearing musical accompaniment, it was again a younger crowd, seemingly there because it was the "right" film to see.  The music pretty much ruined it for me but aside from that, the film itself was as great as ever and I got to wondering, are there films that have that reputation, the kind that attracts younger cinephiles?

The reputation? I would define it as a movie that appeals to a person into classic cinema but only as far as the biggest names in the game go, and wants to see those films they feel are important enough to be seen.  So while La Grande Illusion may have a great reputation, it's not going to come up in classic movie conversation the way a classic Fellini or Bergman might with younger cinephiles, but I don't know.  I experienced something like this myself in college.  I wanted to see everything, and had a couple of friends who did too, but most were only game for the "big" ones, like a showing of Citizen Kane at the old Key Theatre in Washington, DC.  When I wanted to get them together to see Carmen at the same place (d. Carlos Saura, 1983), I got blank stares (who's going to bring that movie up?).

Of course, the gratifying thing about this is that all of them in the theatre for the showing of 8 1/2 seemed truly taken with the film and the applause at the end was both spontaneous and sincere.  And with a movie as big as 8 1/2, why wouldn't a lot of cinephiles want to go see it?  But why didn't Howard Hawks and The Big Sleep attract a younger crowd?  What is it that separates the two?  Or Black Narcissus?  I think there are just some movies, like 8 1/2, that have such an outsized reputation (one I feel is fully deserved, by the way) that they serve as primer films for the canon of film history.

When I first started fulfilling my cinephilia, I started with all the big ones first.  It's only natural I guess and I sorely wish there had been an AFI around where I could have seen those big ones but I'm just happy that it's here now.  And I'm even happier to know that the big movies still attract crowds that don't just skew towards the older set.  It's gratifying to know that great cinema will always produce new generations of fans.