FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is not unsophisticated. You are.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is not unsophisticated. You are.


From Russia With Love was released almost 50 years ago.

I point that out not to make anyone reading this feel old (or young), but because I revisited the second James Bond picture on a big screen recently, in a small but packed Manhattan theater, and it made me painfully aware that for a good many people, movies aren’t art or experience, they’re product. And products date.

Some of the patrons seemed truly, deeply, un-ironically into the film, but many more seemed to be treating it as a nostalgia trip. The very qualities that made the film seem modern and exciting when it came out amused them. The film’s lack of newness prevented connection with the audience.

Scratch that. It wasn’t the film’s fault. It was the audience’s.  

I hate to be the guy who says “You’re watching it wrong,” but these people definitely were.

There might be a lot of factors contributing to the viewers' failure to engage (surely including lack of film literacy), but ultimately, that’s their decision and their loss.

It’s up to the individual viewer to decide to connect or not connect with a creative work. By "connect,” I mean connect emotionally and imaginatively—giving yourself to the movie for as long as you can, and trying to see the world through its eyes and feel things on its wavelength.  

That wasn’t happening here.

I heard constant tittering and guffawing, all with the same message: “Can you believe people once thought this film was daring? It’s so old-fashioned.” The arch double-entendres; the bloodless violence, long takes, and longer scenes; the alpha male attitudes toward women and sex; John Barry’s jazzy, brassy, borderline-hysterical score: all these things elicited gentle mockery. They laughed at Sean Connery’s hairy chest. They laughed at some obvious stunt-double work. When Bond flirted with the secretary Moneypenny and put his face close to hers, a guy a couple of rows in front of me stage-whispered to his friend, “Sexual harassment!”

I saw From Russia With Love with my good friend Stephen Neave. He’s a huge James Bond fan. The audience pissed him off. Afterward he told me the two young men in front of us were snickering and joking so much that he wanted to smack them across the backs of their heads.

“Why pay twelve bucks to see an old movie in a theater, then sit there the whole time and act superior to it?” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. If you act that way, you’re wasting your money. You’re not getting everything out of the movie. You’re not experiencing it. Plus, this is not a black-and-white subtitled movie about sheepherders. It’s James Bond!”

I know what he meant.

I don’t think highly of many of the Bond pictures as movies. With few exceptions, they don’t have much in the way of emotional content, and they don’t knock themselves out trying to create nuanced characters or tell coherent stories. They’re pure escapism—action scenes strung together by cheesecake, gadgets, and banter.

But if you meet them on their own terms, even the worst Bonds are, or ought to be, watchable, if only for their surface pleasures: the clothes, the cars, the explosions, the scenery, the hero’s brawny chest and cruel smile, the curves on the women. From Russia With Love has two of the sexiest images I’ve ever seen: the opening credits with the names projected on belly dancers’ writhing, whirling bodies, and the scene where a bare-chested, towel-clad Bond enters his bedroom and finds Tatiana Romanova in his bed. Images like that aren’t cute. They’re primordial. The Jean-Luc Godard quote “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun” sums up the franchise in twelve words. Films like this are cheeky erotic daydreams. The idea of somebody sitting through a cheeky erotic daydream with a smirk is just sad. Why not engage in some daydreams of your own?


I like imagining myself seeing From Russia with Love for the first time in 1963 while on a date with a woman I fancied, having no clue what shifts in technology and morality the future would bring, and maybe thinking something like: Hey, the movie just made a joke about oral sex, and then it cut to a close-up of the Russian agent’s lipsticked mouth. It’s filling up the whole screen! I’ve never seen a movie do that. How did that get past the censors? Hey… Look at that. My date isn’t embarrassed. She’s laughing in a sort of delightedly nervous way. She’s cool. Maybe we can get a drink after this.

The 2012 IFC crowd’s reaction reminded me of an experience in college circa 1988. My film history teacher, an associate professor from NYU who’d just arrived on campus a month earlier, kicked off his very first film history course by showing Singing in the Rain. Most of the students laughed and joked from start to finish. They thought it was hilarious.

I expected the professor to shush them, but he didn’t. He later told me that he was so disturbed by the students’ refusal to engage that he wanted to let it continue so he could study it.   

He opened the post-screening lecture by asking the crowd to please tell him what was so funny.

“This movie is a musical comedy,” he explained, “so I expected laughs, but the laughs were in what seemed to me like strange places,” he said. “I picked this movie to open my fall film history class because I wanted to open with something accessible and fun, and it sounds as though a lot of you didn’t think it was either of those things. And I’d like to know why.”

A young woman raised her hand.

“Well, it was just funny,” she said, “because they’d just, you know, be talking, and then they’d start singing, and you’d hear this orchestra suddenly start playing out of nowhere, and then they’re dancing these really elaborate routines.”

Another student volunteered that the characters talked in a “corny” way and smiled so much that their performances didn’t seem “natural.”

Another said that, compared to videos that aired on MTV circa 1988, the film seemed “really primitive and kind of unsophisticated.”

The teacher shifted back and forth on his heels, staring at the ground, weighing words in his head.

Then he looked up and said, “I don’t know if I can ever explain this to you in a way that makes sense, but I just have to say that it disturbs me that you would think a movie like Singing in the Rain is corny and unsophisticated. Music videos can be works of art in their own rights, but they’re not necessarily more sophisticated than Singing in the Rain. In fact, I would argue that a movie that has people standing around having conversations with each other, and then suddenly has them singing and dancing to a score that appears out of nowhere, then goes back to having them talk, asks more imagination from its audience than a music video. You have to decide to be OK with whatever the film is doing at any moment. You have to decide to accept it as normal, and decide to care about what’s happening even though it just suddenly turned into a different kind of movie. It’s like when you’re at a play and you just decide to pretend that the characters are wherever the play tells you they are, rather than looking at the stage and seeing a couple of actors in chairs pretending to be people they aren’t. Any work that would ask something like that of an audience cannot be called unsophisticated. It’s sad to think that there was once a time when Hollywood released dozens of movies like this each year, and millions of people went to see them, and enjoyed themselves, and laughed, and sang along, and got wrapped up in the story, and that if the same kind of movies were released right now, people would laugh at them and call them unsophisticated. That so many of you could sit there and snicker at Singing in the Rain for being unsophisticated depresses me beyond words. This movie is not unsophisticated. You are.”

His contract was not renewed.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the co-founder of Press Play.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The volume of response to this piece sparked the writer to publish a follow-up, which you can read here.]  

59 thoughts on “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is not unsophisticated. You are.”

  1. I applaud this piece. Too often when I go to the local Cinemark for a re-release of a classic, the audience is full of too-cool-for-this hecklers. I’d say that the film is more to blame for being outdated, but even newer films require the viewer to bring something to it. The commentary isn’t spur of the moment, it’s an effort to be superior to the show. It’s why so many people watched Sharknado The Sequel, and it’s cynical showmanship on part of people too lazy to give anything of themselves to what they’re watching.


  2. They've always been around.
    Robert W. Paul, father of British Cinema, even parodied them.


  3. Why pay twelve bucks to see an old movie in a theater, then sit there the whole time and act superior to it, when you can act superior to those around you instead?


  4. If you are looking for blame for the 2 example above:

    James Bond – Blame Austin Powers. The movies literally lampponed everything that made these movies dated. Young people cannot appreciate old bond films anymore because of the Austin Powers franchise.

    Singing In The Rain (and other old musicals) – For some reason, the adult audience has become way to cynical for musicals. There are still out there, though. They are just children's movies. Think Lion King, Tangled, etc. There is a reason college students think is unsophisticated and corny. Their only reference is the kids movies they watched as a child. Blame Disney? Nah. Blame a cynical society that can suspend disbelief for a bit of entertainment.


  5. Of course his contract was not renewed. Schools today don't want to challenge their students and tell them they have to reach, that they may not know anything when they walk in the door. Schools today tell students they're already terrific. That gets them to take more courses, write more checks, and think they're wonderful and smart when they graduate. They aren't educated, but they think they are, so they're happy. The school gets its gold coins, so it's happy. The only problem is, no one is really educated. But that's a minor detail.

    This is what happens when liberals–and I'm not a conservative, but this is largely a liberal phenomenon–destroy and urinate on artistic canons.


  6. FRWL has one of the great hand-to-hand fights ever. The life and death battle between Shaw and Connery on board the train is chilling and a nail-biter. Only one better was in Saving Private Ryan.


  7. I saw FRWL three times (triple bill with DOCTOR NO and GOLDFINGER, no less!) in one week at a revival house in the mid 70s. While the audience about crapped its collective pants during the 'animated map of train's path' bits (stuff that actually WORKED in RAIDER 5 years later, everything old is new again I guess), they were totally into the movie, laughing in the right places, deadly quiet when Grant has Bond down on his knees. They did laugh (or at least make 'this is weird' kind of noises) during the scene where Bond checks his hotel room for bugs, not because the action was corny but because some nimrod of a sound tech had done the shittiest job imagineable on the sound mix, which had the JB theme ramping up and down in the most annoying way possible (I find FROM RUSSIA to be the perfect Bond movie, but that one scene has always driven me nuts.)

    When I don't like a movie or feel inclined to make fun of it, the LAST place you'd find me was paying money to see it in a theater. So why these folks queue up to something they're not going to give the benefit of the doubt to, I just dunno.

    I mean, I absolutely HATE the casting of Craig as Bond (acts like Timothy Dalton — that parts okay, I LOVED Dalton's Bond, very Fleming-esque — but looks like dogmeat.) It's why I skipped CASINO ROYALE in the theater, cuz he looks like he should be playing the villain's second henchman, or Felix Leiter AFTER the shark got to him. Face it, the guy looks like Taylor Negron in LAST BOY SCOUT crossed with Gollum. That ain't Bond of the books or the movies, not by a long shot.
    Even now I still think he is lousy casting, even though I enjoyed QUANTUM (hey, somebody had to) and have a relatively good feeling about SKYFALL, due in no small part to the involvement of cinematographer Roger Deakins and the fact they're using miniatures again for some stuff instead of CG for everything. But I didn't go into the theater playing QUANTUM and make noises about how hard the guy is on the eyes while watching the movie (even though I was only seeing it because I was doing an article about it.) I'll save that kind of acting out for when I'm on the internet, so you don't have to listen if you don't want to.


  8. Maybe the teacher would have had his contract renewed if he followed up "This movie isn't unsophisticated. You are." with 'But that's why you're here, and that's why I'm here. Hopefully as the class progresses you'll develop a more sophisticated approach to movies and to life.'


  9. I just wanted to say that the paragraph about fantasizing about going on a first date with an easy '60's gal to go see From Russia With Love ranks just below the novel "The Sweet Hereafter" on lists of "Saddest Things I Ever Read." I think the paragraph itself may be proportionally sadder because it's so much shorter, but the cumulative effect of the novel was ultimately slightly sadder overall.


  10. Not really sure what to make of young movie-goer's today. Seems to me that they are more interested in CGI, and far-out stories, (nothing wrong with that, btw) than something that tells a straight story, with action and adventure thrown in. James Bond to me, especially the Sean Connery era was about action, mystery, and even though glamorized, the inner working of MI6, CIA et al.

    Many things got past the censors then, blood was not one of them. But the scene in FRWL on the train, still ranks as one of the most brutal, yet suspenseful fight scenes in cinema.

    I really think that many films of today,(not all) are not about characters and story, but more about blood, gore, and over the top CGI…which, in some cases does not look any better than the matte work and animation of old.

    Sadly, I really think that in some instances I recall, if I explained the picture, and really SOLD it…the young folks I knew viewed the film in question with an open mind.


  11. Re Alex comment…

    "Students must be prepared to open themselves up to the time of the film €”as a popular medium, movies are tuned to the time of their making but as decades pass, we notice that acting styles and production methods look dated, €”but we should be able to adjust our sensibilities to allow for that or the stories of yesteryear will be forever shut off from new audiences and students will grow up living in a bubble of contemporaneity where they only like what they've seen in their brief lifespan."

    I totally agree. You have to make certain allowances when you see an old movie. You have to accept and appreciate the era in which it was made. I think Star Wars is a lousy film, I did in 1977, but I can still appreciate how ground breaking it was in its time, and I would certainly not voice my issues as immaturely as the audience at the FRWL screening. You may not like the movie but you cannot make fun of it just because it may be restricted by technology or attitudes of the time. Maybe it is an American thing but you would never get the same reaction in a retrospective in the UK.

    Staying with science fiction, I am sure the audience would have had equal disdain for The Day The Earth Stood Still , or Forbidden Planet, yet they are rightly regarded as classic movies despite the Disney animated effects of the latter and the 'man in a rubber suit' robot in the former.

    It is a really mystifying way to behave. Would they react the same to a Dickens novel because the language is not modern. It does not read like a comic so I refuse to entertain it? That implies a worrying closed mindedness, which as Alex points out, will prevent them from ever learning from historic movie and literary moments.

    However back to the movie in question. no one in their right mind could consider FRWL as a parody. It is simply one of the best thrillers of its day, and is by a short hair (OHMSS comes second) the best Bond film in the series to date. It has a style, intelligence, wit and sheer class that cannot be created or bettered today exactly because it is a product of the people and the era in which it was made. That is why the Hollywood pre-occupation with remaking old movies is always doomed to failure (The remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still is a case in point) they can improve the special effects but everything else suffers, and special effects do not a good movie make! In summary, if you are not mature enough or interested enough to treat the movie with respect, stay at home.


  12. I wasn't a film major at Northwestern University, but I took the intro course for fun. Our film professor (shout out to Scott Curtis) also showed us Singing in the Rain on the first day. My class definitely acted in the same way this blog describes. The difference is that our professor was understanding instead of condescending regarding our perspectives and used that to teach us something about the movie. I love Singing in the Rain now. Good teacher.


  13. You are being overly critical of your fellow audience members. I agree, why pay out twelve bucks just to snicker at something, but 50 years from now young people will snicker at 'SkyFall' and other movies of our current time. It's the nature of the beast unfortunately. As for those who watch it for nostalgia, all the better. I often will go see a movie from my childhood when they have a special showing at a big screen and often do so purely out of nostalgia. This doesn't make me appreaciate it any less. If anything, I often appreciate it far more when I leave because I remember the era and come to realize how educated and sophisticated the writers and producers were about their subject matter before the internet made us all instant geniuses on any subject.


  14. “Why pay twelve bucks to see an old movie in a theater, then sit there the whole time and act superior to it?” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. If you act that way, you’re wasting your money…"



  15. Sorry boris, From Russia With Love was NOT a tongue-in-cheek parody. It was an adventure, mystery spy movie that took itself extremely seriously in silent periods (the first in the series that became a trademark) and also sprinkled in comedy relief to break that tension as well. Contemporary audiences and critics may not appreciate it like we did when it came out, but it was wholely serious when released.


  16. From Russia With Love is a tongue-in-cheek parody. It exaggerates all the most ridiculous aspects of the spy movies that came before it. It practically invites you to laugh at how corny and absurd everything is. All of the contemporary critics recognized this. I don't think it's fair to say the people laughing at the cheesy parts of the movie were not engaging with it properly.


  17. I wasn't at your screening, but being a Bond fan and an attendee of many Rep Screenings, etc. in NYC I feel like your audience doesn't sound that bad. I even have doubts on whether the audience was enjoying it as ironically as you claim they were. And it feels weird and nitpicky to be upset with someone about smirking through an "erotic daydream" when you describe an oral sex joke scene that I can accept as eliciting reactions from knowing laughter, to nervous laughter, to smirking, to shock today and in 1963. It sounds like they were enjoying the film. In reading your piece and Devin Faraci's piece on old movies over at BadassDigest I find that I'm more concerned with you guys and how it sounds like you're putting yourselves above the audience and dictating how to watch the movie. Maybe that's going a bit far. But I'm a huge fan of Bond, a big fan of movies, a lover of Singin' in the Rain and sick of Irony, and reading these pieces makes me feel like if I'm laughing at a movie I'm gonna upset you guys if we're in the same theater. Sometimes I laugh with glee at how good the movie is. Like I found myself laughing during The Master at just how goddamn good it was to see Joaquin Pheonix in that dept store and to have a movie feel like a movie. Maybe someone thought I was laughing at the movie. Hope not.


  18. Interesting piece, and a subject well worth exploring. I'd add, though, that people who are equally closed off to appreciating 'new' or popular movies are being just as closed minded as those who don't let themselves enjoy these more dated ones. Snobs can be every bit as smug and annoying as philistines. It's something that cuts both ways.


  19. There have always been those who enjoy tearing down the past in order for themselves to feel "superior" to what has come before. What has changed is technology. This takes a few different forms. Cinema by its very nature is more susceptible to this more than other art forms because it depicts fashion, architecture and yes, technology so clearly on screen in ways literature, theater and painting can more easily hide. And, the physical act of making & projecting movies is also far more tech reliant than other mediums.

    All that said, the snark quotient has increased exponentially over the years. Some of it is the growth of the hipster culture, but, I have my own pet theory: The rise of Home Video.

    Before Videotapes, Cable & DVDs, movies were seen only chopped up on tiny TVs or at movie theaters (including fairly rare revivals). There was a certain randomness to the selections you had access to, so you were exposed to a variety of genres, styles, and most importanly eras. But, with the advent of home video, virtually any movie could be accessed and viewers could become more and more selective in what they watched. If they only really cared about 70s grindhouse films – they could watch them over and over and "live" in that period of cinema. We have a couple of generations of viewers now who have grown up watching the same 100 or so films that they grew up with (usually only made during THEIR lifetimes). To me, it's little surprise that those with such a narrow view of cinema find anything outside their narrow scope of movie0watching to be not worthy of their full respect.


  20. What's is funny is that most film snobs don't seem to understand that filmmaking – like any art – evolves. It is very rare for a specific instance of art to stay relevant. Although there are many masterpiece paintings, music and literature that can endure the years in the hearts of arts aficianados, it is rare for them to keep their appeal to the general audience.

    Case and point of irrelevance: The original Manchurian candidate is an exceptional movie that is still an exciting, heart racing watch – with one troublespot. The fight scene between Henry Silva and Frank Sinatra is LAUGHABLE by today's standards and was embarassing to even watch.

    Moviemaking has evolved, pioneering works become dated.


  21. "Afterward he told me the two young men in front of us were snickering and joking so much that he wanted to smack them across the backs of their heads."

    So, forgive me if I'm misreading the sentiment here, but are we to understand the impulse to violence as the appropriate response to the reactions of human beings thirty years removed experientially and culturally from you and your friend's perspective? Fantasies of recourse to physical violence are somehow more "sophisticated" than tittering at culturally distant fictional situations?

    Seems like you should be directing your sophisticated desires more toward the failed educators of these younger people than to the younger generation of moviegoer. Or maybe you should direct your energies toward doing a better job of educating them yourself?


  22. The refusal to meet a film (or any other work of art/entertainment) on its own terms is something that does indeed irk me; and I have encountered it more times that I care to recount.

    Some years ago, when a restored "El Cid" was playing at a revival house (now long gone) I jumped at the chance to see an Anthony Mann film on a large screen. I wanted to experience the film, but not so a couple of fellows across the aisle a few rows up to my left. All these two clowns could do was make snide remarks about just about anything & everything in the film. Charlton Heston came in for particularly cruel jibes. My question, in such situations are, why are you here? and what were you expecting?

    "Time, culture lag," is something an old prof used to say about such things–especially when running some Griffith. While that it explains some of the disconnect, there is an unearned, smug, superiority that I often feel from people when it comes to anything "old." Maybe I'm just old, I don't know.

    I watched the "Singin' in the Rain" Blu-Ray a couple of weeks ago–it was anything but unsophisticated.


  23. Stories like this make me think that the irony we use to distance ourselves from experience is a form of cannibalism.


  24. 'The Jean-Luc Godard quote “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun” sums up the franchise in twelve words.'

    It's actually (basically) a D. W. Griffith quote that JLG stole.


  25. American culture is becoming more shallow than I ever would have predicted 30 years ago — and I predicted that it would get pretty damned shallow.


  26. In 1996 I went to see 'Night of the Hunter' at the Castro Theater on Castro street in San Francisco. It was a weekend matinee showing. The auditorium was packed for the showing. The audience reacted as described in this beautifully-written piece by Matt. Now I admit that I think Charles Laughton's 'Night of the Hunter' is a film masterpiece that plumbs the depths of what's best and worst in humanity, and it scares the shit out of me every time I view it. As the audience was leaving the auditorium after the showing was over, I sat there in my seat, unable to rise, stunned by their derisive behavior and their unwillingness to appreciate this masterpiece. I began crying, I couldn't stop myself. I realized that these audience members who behaved so badly were dead inside. Never have I felt so alienated from the rest of 'humanity.' I was in emotional shock.
    Out in the lobby of the Castro Theater, I walked out still crying and happened to be seen by 2 elderly women that I passed closely. They were strangers to me. We three exchanged looks and I explained why I was crying. These two white-haired gals who had been young nymphs during World War II then asked me to accompany them to a nearby coffeshop where we all sat with coffee and treat and gave each other comfort with words. Thanks to them I was able to pull myself together.
    I haven't viewed a film in a movie theater since August 2002. Using DVDs from my public library (including extensive Inter-Library Loan services), since my experience at the Castro Theater I have vastly expanded my film literacy, scope and knowledge, which was already extensive at that time. I have been a dedicated and serious student of film for the past 42 years, but the last five years have been especially enriching. No matter how deeply I study film in all its manifestations and eras, there is always an undiscovered delight still awaiting me. For example, incredibly, only within the past 36 months did I discover Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger; the works of Jacques Becker, and the body of work by actor Jean Gabin. An unwillingness to appreciate, understand and engage with films of all eras denies such deeply enriching experiences to those who are unwilling.


  27. I have an 8 and a 10 yr-old. They've seen Hunger Games, Avengers, some stuff that's a little more intense than we probably should have allowed. For family movie night we put on Hitchcock's the Lady Vanishes. I remembered it as being sort of a cozy thriller. Sure enough they shifted around for the first part, what with it being all black and white with a crackly soundtrack. Long story short, it scared the heck out of them, a lot more than it did me. I think it takes a certain number of years (say, 18 or so) and some self-consciousness and fear to build up so much resistance to something made for the sensibilities of a time other than your own.


  28. idk i guess it depends for me, i remember watching the third transformers movie in theaters with my cousins and i was just cracking up throughout the whole sorry but it was SO TERRIBLE…then some other time i go to a screening of vertigo and the audience is a much older crowd and i thought everyone was going there to immerse themselves in the film, nah instead everyone was too busy laughing at how scott ferguson really likes his drink or how sick he becomes after he lost madeleine….and that just got me so mad because that damn movie is so damn good


  29. I don't believe there is a wrong way to watch a film. I've seen all the Bond films and been absorbed by them, yet as they are often playing on TV I can watch a scene or two of one with friends and laugh along. Seeing a film at the cinema is a group activity, so you have to side with the mood of the majority. It's a risky move to watch a favourite with others, as you may not like the reaction, but it doesn't make it any less valid. If someone is in the mood to laugh along with friends, you can't berate them for their lack of sophistication. It is you who is lacking in flexibility


  30. Imagination is the issue here for sure. All movies require a degree of suspension of belief. I recently enjoyed a celebration of Gene Kelly's 100th birthday viewing a different movie each week for several weeks. The final film finished with a skype Q & A with Patricia Kelly. Each film finished with applause. Our supporters of course are film fans and love all types of films. I believe that our youth today as any generation take for granted having the technological advantages we have today. Silent films, talkies, technicolor, cinimascope, stop action animation, and now CGI are only as good as the story they tell. If one ignores the story due to the format of how the story is told, then I doubt if they will ever be true film fans.


  31. I had an almost identical experience when I went to see the re-release of The Exorcist at a local Seattle theater a few years ago. Some of the most disturbing scenes in the movie – primarily ones that involved Linda Blair swearing or being menacing, and the iconic head turn – were met with outright laughter from what I would call a majority of the audience. The people in the theater even laughed at innocuous things, like every time the doctor mentioned Ritalin.

    I was so infuriated that I left halfway through. The Exorcist is one of the most disturbing horror movies of the century, and the people in the theater chose to crap all over it rather than immerse themselves in it.


  32. Unless I'm confusining it with something else, I was stunned at how "dark" the message of SINGING IN THE RAIN was. I had no problem "getting into" its message.


  33. As I've grown more film-literate I've been more successful in the attempt to watch older movies as though I was the ideal audience (that is, contemporary to the movie's original release). This ability goes hand-in-hand with a more general empathy that hopefully develops as we mature. But I must also admit that many years ago the sight of Barbara Stanwyck going incognito by wearing sunglasses inside a grocery store in Double Indemnity sent me into hysterics at my university theater, to the consternation of several others. Given this insight, I can say with some confidence that the audiences you write of were 1) too young to have developed a naturally empathic response mechanism, and 2) probably stoned.


  34. The irony is that Singin' in the Rain is a film that allowed 1952 audiences to snicker at the 'old-fashioned' filmmaking styles of the late 1920s, by caricaturing their most alien aspects, and by mythologizing spurious history. (John Gilbert's reputation has yet to recover!) It's a delightful film and probably a masterpiece anyway, but its existence practically proves this 'new'-centric approach to older films goes back more than just a couple generations, even if the mile markers for 'newness' change.


  35. Gosh, was just talking about this same thing last night over dinner. In a time when more movies are more easily available than ever, we have a generation who's actively opposed to experiencing anything but The New.


  36. Well, the teacher didn't do enough pre-emptive lecturing, perhaps? When I'm about to show an older film in class, I like to use a bit of reverse psychology and say that "maybe some of you are not going to get this/understand this/follow this" or "maybe some of this will seem old" etc. This usually taps into a defensive mechanism and they then refrain from that kind of stuff. I show Vertigo, La Jetee, Meshes of the Afternoon, and they always end in great discussions.

    On the other hand, it was watching "Blow Up" in class where I realized the things that people found offensive or "daring" at the time (free love! drugs!) are not the things they do now–instead it was Hemmings casual and cruel sexism (for which he is never punished for) that shocked the students. It was their viewing that helped me re-see the film.


  37. Agreed, it was a "teachable moment". But I don't think what he said was an insult. It was a hard truth that those kids need to absorb and understand. I would have followed "This movie is not unsophisticated. You are." with, "But that's why you're here. If you already knew all this stuff, you wouldn't need this class."

    I've met young people who won't watch any movie made more than about ten years ago, because they can't wrap their little heads around the fact that fashion changes with time, and that it's not important. (And anything made earlier than their personal memories start is meaningless to them.)

    (Seriously, had that girl never seen a musical before?)


  38. Disagree, Kenny. If a film is shown to a class to learn something from it, or if a film is shown in some arthouse revival setting, a noisy and immature response from the audience defeats the whole purpose more often than not, whether or not anyone is a geek or nerd or young or old. When people go to the symphony to hear Beethoven, the tendency is to respond respectfully. No one laughs because timpani is used instead of a hip-hop dance kit. People who don't like romantic classical music should probably not be in that audience, and if they are there just to ironically laugh at the music, maybe their home stereo would suffice for that type of enjoyment. But I doubt it would, it's possible they need to be seen in public being derisive, to show how clever they are. That's more like behavior on an internet comment board then, where people like to throw around shallow sarcasm like it's going out of style.

    And your last sentence makes no sense, otherwise I'd respond to it since it's seems to be directed at me.


  39. By this logic, any bad movie is the fault of the audience, not the lack of craftsmanship on the part of the filmmakers. If you didn't like, say, Scary Movie 4, or Watchmen, or Battleship, it was because of your own lack of imagination. You, the viewer, chose to not consider it a good movie.

    The real problem was that the audiences weren't culturally literate enough to appreciate it, although it's hard to imagine anyone finding a Bond film challenging.


  40. I wasn't sure how I was going to react to this article and I wholeheartedly agree with it. It is a fine and thoughtful piece. Audiences today seem to have a provincial attitude towards film…even those who sign up for a college film class it seems. Many have no frame of reference or historical perspective on where film has been or how it got where it is today. Is Hitchcock cliche because you've seen the train going through the tunnel a million times…or seen people dangling from national monuments…or dodge a variety of aircraft while running through an open field….Nevermind that Hitch created the cliche that has been appropriated by film makers of every stripe since. That those works are alternately classified as an homage or derivative or just plain rip offs. Even From Russia With Love is guilty of the Hitchcockian nod with the Bond dodging the helicopter in the pivotal escape scene. For my money, FRWL remains the best Bond film ever made because it embodies the exotic and erotic textures of the times. To those modern (read young and uninformed) audiences that can't see beyond their MTV I paraphrase Shakespeare (someone else whose work can be considered cliche after a mere 500 years of performance)…the fault lies not in your stars (and their movies) but in yourselves.


  41. When someone says 'I hate to be the guy who says….', they usually mean the precise opposite. Perhaps that's the case here. I love both Connery-era Bond films and 'Singing in the Rain' unequivocally and without irony, but telling others that they need to enjoy them 'like I do' or 'for the reasons I do' smacks of the archetype of the sullen, frustrated teenage geek who takes it as a personal affront that the rest of the world doesn't accord some cherished cultural touchstone of theirs sufficient reverence.

    The world's a big place, big enough for people who pay for tickets to 'From Russia with Love' to have an ironic snicker at its expense if that's the way they want to roll. After all, those ticket purchases contribute to making such a screening financially viable in the first place.

    But if invoking film history class as a justification for the superiority of your way of experiencing art and entertainment makes the experience that much more enjoyable, go right ahead!


  42. This has little to do with the movie(s), and almost everything to do with two generations that have been raised to believe that anything old is bad, as well as possessing an innate and unearned superiority that looks down on anything that doesn't match their own level of ironic detachment. Neil Gabler recently opined that kids today go to the movies not to actually enjoy them but so they'll have something to talk about with their friends. The constant pandering to an audience that doesn't care about, well, anything, is as good a reason as any why most movies today are rubbish, and why the classics of the past are being relegated to the dustbin of history.


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