Glenn's Nitrate Lounge


By • Oct 8th, 2017 •

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A recent survey taken among FYE store customers revealed a) that “less than a quarter of Millennials (Customers between the ages of 17 and 30) have watched a film from start to finish that was made in the 1940s or 50s”, and that b)  millennials find black and white films “boring”.

Now, who are FYE customers? Enter any FYE store, which is found mostly in shopping malls across the country, and you will see it’s a place, where you can buy, trade and sell used CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays. Recently made movies and music are heavily pushed and displayed. Much of the FYE crowd will be in awe of IMAX and Spotify but will yawn at VistaVision. Not all millennials shop at FYE.

A lot of this imagined “anti-classic movement” among millennials is due partly to exposure. So much of current Hollywood and mainstream media can be found online or on TV, overshadowing indie films and the classics. Flip thru your cable channels and most everything is product filmed within the past few months. You have to hunt through the airways for that Akira Kurosawa marathon or that silent film festival. Teenagers during the 1970s had minimal choices of what to watch and listen to. Looking at a New York City TV Guide from 1977, I saw that on one random Sunday, the New York City-based TV channels showed a total of twenty movies. Out of this twenty, ten were produced between 1931 and 1959. Four were made in the 1960’s. The remaining six films were more recent to 1977. Two of them were foreign films with subtitles. This is before home video and cable, so if you were a teenager catching a movie at home, the majority of films available to you were in black and white. Most of us 1970’s teenagers were cool with our intake of Abbott and Costello, Clark Gable and Bette Davis equaling our intake of the then current moviehouse icons like Burt Reynolds, Hans Solo and Sally Field. Before we got to college, even non-film fans thrilled to Humphrey Bogart’s falcon and Baby Jane Hudson’s surprise din-din. This is because we chose to take in the thrill. Nothing was forced on us. Today, gigantic posters in FYE depicting Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Spiderman and THE FATE AND THE FURIOUS dwarf and overshadow the few Hitchcock films and MGM musicals collecting dust in the FYE DVD rack.

Classic movie fans on the internet lost their cool over a recent game show which featured a college-aged girl being quizzed on who was the female lead in the 1938 ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. She was given four choices – the top film actresses of 1938 – Olivia De Havilland, Joan Crawford, and others. She blushed, saying “I never heard of any of these women!” Well, internet – this young woman is not stupid, she was never introduced to these actresses. Another culprit is the way classics are often forced upon kids. Teachers and parents will say to a young viewer – “The movie I am going to show you is not like that Spiderman crap you watch. I’m going to show you CITIZEN KANE.” Well, the young viewer is now predisposed to find fault with the tale of good ol’ Charlie Kane.

A friend of mine who falls into the Millennial category watched, on his own, THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMEN, a silent 1928 serial that was recently released by Sprocket Vault DVD. The Mysterious Airman is “Pilot X”, a homicidal flyer sabotaging the efforts of an honest air freight company. He even has a trained monkey who can sneak into headquarters and steal secret plans. Beautifully restored, with a musical score by that terrific silent film accompanist Dr. Andrew Simpson, THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMEN is an exciting view of primitive and often highly dangerous early aviation.

“MYSTERIOUS AIRMEN was just so cool! The psycho in the air with his evil monkey! ” my twenty-something friend exclaimed, while he checked the latest sports scores on his phone. “It was exactly like THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA – but with airplanes!” This friend, who also loves video games, is very politically minded. He took up my suggestion to watch Frank Capra’s MISTER SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON.

His girlfriend told me – “He was yelling at the screen!” He soaked in evil senator Claude Rains siccing his crooked political army on honest Senator Smith (James Stewart). “He was all into the movie, talking back to the 1939 image – ‘He’s a nice guy! (meaning Stewart) Why are you bastards being such assholes?!”

I recently hosted a Halloween marathon of classic horror films at the clubhouse of a senior living facility. The most recent of the films was Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. At about the time Vera Miles was to find the real Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar, a very young nurse wheeled her elderly patient into the clubhouse. They sat next to me, and I noticed the young nurse’s puzzled reaction to the film that was all new to her.

“This is PSYCHO,” I told her. “Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movie.”

“Who is he?” she asked. Rather than school her with “Well, you’ll be surprised to learn that there are films older than THE MATRIX,” I said nothing. Then I put on the next film.

“This one stars Abbott and Costello.” She never heard of them. Then I started ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Within ten minutes she was laughing away.

“How do you spell them?” she asked as she started to bring up more Abbott and Costello videos on her phone.

(Editor’s note: I teach film history at The School of Visual Arts, and everything Glenn is saying is true.  Each year, a dozen or more icons of the past slip into obscurity.  I find it exhilarating because with any luck I can bring them alive again, and it’s such a thrill to see students reacting passionately to these phantom images of the past.)


The politically minded “mill” will root for Mister Smith in Washington, and the “mill” with the overbearing job will laugh along with Bud and Lou. Don’t force it on them. Millennials do get it.

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One Response »

  1. Glenn,

    I have found this kind of thing to be true over and over. People saying, “Oh yeah, my grandparents talk about that movie” or whatever and I insist they they watch them. Those who do ALWAYS voluntarily run back to be saying “That was great! Do you have any others!”

    Movies today are technically great but generally terrible as emotional or dramatic experiences. Nobody knows how to direct with passion, or cut with aplomb, and composers just generally lay down synth beds. Add to that witch’s brew of pathology the fact that many actors put before the camera have no stage and very little screen experience. producers now seem to believe that dressing up the right-looking face is enough. They can get from here-to-here, but not here-to-THERE. They have no range, for the most part, and there are many great people on stage and elsewhere who cannot break in because movies are now made people people and their friends, not people and other people who are right for the job..

    Harryhausen once perfectly described to me how the actors were “created” by the studios in Hollywood’s heyday in the 30’s-50’s: they would hire all sorts of promising people. Give them a reading and maybe a screen test. Put them under contract, and then train them while watching out for what they happened to be good at, whether those contract people knew it or not. Best writers in Hollywood on off-days were ordered by bosses to write this kind or character or that for screen tests. Countless stills: does he look good in a tux or as the sheriff of Nottingham? is she a teen heartthrob in a cheerleader’s dress, an elegant gown or as a damsel in 17th-century France? Hair up or down? Blonde or red/ And every day they punched a timecard (this comes from Ann Robinson) and rehearsed every day for scenes never intending to be shot. Training the actors….. and among the women, once in a while someone would run in crazy with excitement saying something like, “I’m going to have four lines with Cary Grant!” And they all loved it. They worked hard, and no quite pampered, but taken care of; they did’;t need to worry about next month’s rent.

    Cinematographers were not austere people who reached through and agent. The best showed up for work every day, and when not shooting a feature they were expected to shoot screen tests and otherwise hone their craft and make sure all was ready for the next feature on which they were assigned. The ones who loved it were kids in a candy shop, and they enjoyed themselves and did first-class work besides.

    Once the studios began to fall under television, then independents who were not good enough to make the grade al derived the “Hollywood machine”. A machine that just happened to produce the greatest motion pictures in the history of cinema. And the directors were the bosses on-set. producers rarely showed their faces 0- calling people into their office is how they showed their power. So the factories were in many ways supporters of the arts, because they made it all possible.

    Now what do we have? producer’s so disconnected from then process that they believe the old adage that for good composition in movies, people should study comic books and they sometimes hire comic book artists to direct – with disastrous results because the form and structure of a comic book are totally different from cinema. First-hand experience: on one high-profile project I was on, a number of the storyboard artists were exactly that; comic book people, and they ultimately had to be taken to watch “Citizen kane” to get a better sense of cinema while some of the rest of us were truly horrified; this project was spending a lot of money, and I mean A LOT of money.

    Actors today come from nowhere are are called “brilliant” when they are delivering second-rate goods. perhaps if they watched old BAD movies they would see themselves and work a little harder on their craft. Cinematographers in motion pictures do work barely above that of average TV dramas – literally – and cannot learn to do better because there is no creative support mechanism the way the Hollywood studios had and the unions have so overprices everything that there is no time to learn on-set. When you consider how magnificent some of the work was back in the days with genuinely primitive tools and how today’s work rarely if ever reaches those apex moments with tools ten times more convenience and 20 times faster, you can see that the problem lies not in money or tools, but poor-trained artists in a world of so many poorly-trained artists that it;s difficult to separate the geniuses from the hobbyists.

    But the independent world is really the hope, now, because at least they are away from the true Hollywood machine, which is more or a threshing machine now than it ever was in hollywood’s heyday. If the independants can just be successfully urged not to just appreciate old movies, but strive to meet those great achievements, maybe motion pictures will be real experiences again.

    When a kid walks out of a movie theater after watching a motion picture made for $200 million and forgets about it 10 minutes later while on his iphone, then the problem lies not with the kid or the iphone, it lies with the motion picture.

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