Thursday, March 17, 2016

TCMFF and Newer Classics

With this week's TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) announcement, I'm sure there are those who are upset with number of post-1960 films revealed. Newly added were one film each from the 1980s and 1990s, four films from the 1970s, three from the 1960s, and one from the 1920s. Here's the breakdown so far:

  • 1990s – 1 film
  • 1980s – 2 films
  • 1970s – 4 films
  • 1960s – 5 films
  • 1950s – 2 films
  • 1940s – 4 films
  • 1930s – 2 films
  • 1920s – 3 films

That's a total of 23 films, just over half of which are 1960s or newer. Now, there are a lot of classic film fans who say, a classic film must be older than 1960. By the way, I'm not one of them, but I'm sure these pre-1960s people are starting to have kittens about now. 

Now, I'm going off on a tangent, so please bear with me. When I was young and walked into a mall or a grocery store, you would hear something called, Muzak. For those unfamiliar, Muzak is elevator music. In practice, it was more or less contemporary music played by an orchestra with lots of strings, so that no one could possibly find it offensive. If you took the time to listen to it, what they were playing were extremely easy listening versions of songs from the likes of The Beatles, Elton John, Tony Orlando and Dawn, etc. 

Now I was raised on album rock, bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ZZ Top, and ELO. By the time I graduated high school in 1980, many of these album rock bands were shadows of their former selves. When I was about halfway through college, a local radio station switched format and started playing New Wave music, bands like New Order, The Human League, Berlin, and Blondie. For me, it was like a veil had been lifted. Instead of bands past their prime limping along on music half as good as what they used to do, there was interesting new music with life and energy. 

So what does any of this have to do with TCMFF and classic film? Frankly, nothing, but now, when I walk into a mall or a grocery store, what do I hear, New Order, The Human League, Berlin, and Blondie. Win for me, I still love this music. And I'm sure there are young people, who like it too. Then again, there are young people who grew up on Hip Hop or Death Metal, who have as much affinity for New Wave as I did for Muzak. 

My point is that time marches on. If you're a 25-year-old classic film fan, films made in the 1960s and 1970s were made anywhere from 10 to 30 years before you were born. Films made in the 1980s and 1990s, you probably never saw in the theater.  You may think that a classic film needs to be pre-1960, but there is a whole generation of classic film fans, who think that certain films made in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and yes, even the 1990s are every bit as classic as those made pre-1960. 

TCMFF is a product, a product that we all love. Or at least, I presume we all love it. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this. As a product, TCMFF offers four things:

  • Classic films shown on the big screen – We could argue all day about what is and what is not a classic film. If you are in a movie theater watching a movie you consider a classic film with a group of people who also consider it a classic, it doesn't matter if it was made in the 1930s or the 1970s. That's a special thing.
  • The gathering of the tribes – Meeting others who share a love for classic films. This could be people you know online and are meeting for the first time in real life or reconnecting with friends from previous festivals. Or even just talking to people on line for a film or at the bar at Club TCM. Being able to bond with other classic film fans over the films we love, for me, this is the best part of TCMFF.
  • Classic film history – Certain TCMFF guests fall into this category. People who are experts on aspects of classic film and can provide unique insights on things like Film Noir or early Technicolor. To a certain degree, venue is included in this category. There's a reason TCMFF is held in Hollywood. Going to events in the same room where the first Academy Awards ceremony was held or seeing films in restored vintage theaters, like TCL Chinese, the Egyptian, or the El Capitan, that's part of the history too. 
  • Classic film people – There are two categories of classic film people. The classic film people themselves and those who knew the classic film people, their children, grandchildren, etc. 
Of all of these aspects of TCMFF, only the last one can be considered a dwindling resource. Sadly, every year we lose some of these people and even their children's and grandchildren's memories of them become dimmer. If your definition of classic film is pre-1960, how many classic film people are left with us, and how many will be in five years or ten years. 

The big announcement this week included the following:

  • All The President's Men (1976) – Both stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman have careers that fall squarely in the post-1960 period. Redford is 79, and Hoffman is 78. I'm not saying, Robert Redford and/or Dustin Hoffman will appear, but if I was running TCMFF, that's who I would be trying to get.
  • Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) – Carl Reiner is 93. His career started pre-1960, but most of the pre-1960 work is television not movies.
  • M*A*S*H (1970)/The Long Goodbye (1973) – Elliot Gould is 77. His career is also post-1960.
  • The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Comings (1966) – Eva Marie Saint had a career that started pre-1960, woohoo! She is 91. 
  • Boyz in the Hood (1991) – This is the newest film announced, and at 48, director John Singleton is a kid compared to the rest.
  • Fat City (1972) – Stacy Keach is 74 and his career is post-1960.
  • Band of Outsiders (1964) – Anna Karina is 75, and with the exception of one short film from 1959, her career is post-1960 as well.

I understand the love for the classic era, before 1960, but the number of people left from that generation of film professionals is small and getting smaller every year. Even the next generation is getting up in years, and while I'm sure we all hope they will have long active lives and careers, there are no guarantees. We need to embrace the next generation of film people while they are still with us. Otherwise, we will be talking to their children and grandchildren instead.

When the announcement of the full schedule drops, I know there will be plenty of pre-1960 screenings to keep us all happy. In fact, I'm sure the choices will excruciatingly difficult, whether it's a newer classics or older ones.

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