A Mini-Treatise on the Films of Modern Hollywood

Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”

They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Every time I watch a classic film I come away with the same impression: why can’t Hollywood do this anymore? This question was most recently prompted by Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelley. Now I will admit that it may be unfair to compare anyone to Hitchcock. He is in a class by himself and then is born out by the success of his films and the number of big names he was able to work with (e.g. Stewart, Kelley, Carey Grant, Ingrid Bergman). But even still, today’s generation of movie makers has its shining stars and still none of them can touch even some of the lesser film makers of yester-year (with the possible exception of Ed Wood).

In what I call the “old guard” of film makers, who have created timeless films that even today’s viewers can enjoy, you will find the likes of Hitchcock, Cecil B. DeMille, Michael Curtiz, Frank Capra and a healthy handful of others. The great films of these monumental movie makers are unlike anything that Hollywood and modern contemporary moviegoers have yet to see.

The greatness of these films lie not in grandiose production or even eye-popping special effects. Even those films whose special effects were considered groundbreaking seem laughable in light of today’s high-tech CGI techniques. No, the real magic of those classic films is their story. They do not need explosions, they do not require computer-derived graphic eye-candy. In fact, these classics do not even need profanity. Yes, they are that good. And I do not mean to say that every classic movie was, well, classic. Surely there were plenty of bombs just like there are today. However my contention is that today’s audiences are satisfied with a lot less. The Lord of the Rings consisted of an epic story (though the film makers in this case did not create the story) that was completely set apart from most modern cinema and was a definitive cut above the rest. In economic terms, the trilogy was a tremendous hit, but so was The Fast & the Furious, which was unquestionably a lower caliber film though it was wrought with action sequences and stunts. Today’s moviegoers have come to expect less from entertainers rather they know it or not.

On the other hand, Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography consists of stories of espionage, forbidden romance and murder with settings that range from foreign countries (The Man Who Knew Too Much), to single rooms (Rear Window) to the top of Mt. Rushmore (North By Northwest). The storylines rely on twists and unexpected occurences to create suspense, fear, excitement and laughter. No explosions, no CGI, no profanity, no vulgar inuendos. Furthermore, consider the epics of William Wyler’s Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments by DeMille. Like The Lord of the Rings, these films are based on previously written material, however the level of storytelling and imagination can in no way be rivaled by Bruce Almighty or many other modern films.

Then there is Casablanca, arguably the greatest cinematic achievement ever. The depth of its characters and the way the storyline ties their lives together is astounding. There is also a reason this film is the most quoted film of all time. There is no wasted dialogue here. When Rick says something, he means it. Words are not wasted on cheap laughs and crude comments. Casablanca is a story of people trying to survive and still do the right thing in the midst of a whirlwind of political, social and military upheaval. In this film one sees the struggles of two individuals as well as entire people groups in one fell swoop. There is no film in recent memory that rivals the greatness of Casablanca in story, character development, or script.

All of this is not to say, however, that there have been no great films since the 1960’s. The modern era has seen its share of greats. I can not say that I have ever seen another Hitchcock or DeMille, but some modern filmakers have carried on in the same spirit and love for the art. M. Night Shyamalan tops this list and ever since his major debut with The Sixth Sense he has proven his worth as a director, a writer, and a storyteller. His use of plot twists is remeiniscent of Hitchcock. Steven Spielberg is another mainstream film maker who has always worked to take his films to another level. More recently Christopher Nolan, with Batman Begins and The Prestige has effectively used story and characters to engage his viewers.

Lacking in interesting dialogue, engaging characters, and meaningful storylines, modern Hollywood has lost its ability to truly entertain. The current trend instead is to use shock or silliness to capture audiences. And furthermore audiences have become used to this treatment and expecting nothing more from Tinseltown. However when modern viewers take the time to explore yesterday’s movies, they will see how the art was perfected and how modern cinema has fallen short (with the exception of a few stars). So the next time you crave an engaging film that will keep you talking and thinking about it days afterward, pass on the modern flick and rent or purchase a classic. I have listed here some films that would be a great place to start on discovering these forgotten cinematic masterpieces.

Josh H.

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