The Golden Age of Films: Just Beginning or Long Over?


Picture this.

You're sitting in the audience of a silent black-and-white film and the only sound in the whole theatre besides the music is the crunching of popcorn.  Everyone feels riveted by the actors' facial expressions and gestures.  They laugh at the physical jokes and get move to tears by somber expressions.  You would no doubt be living in the 1920s, right?  No, you would be at a screening of last year's film "The Artist" -- a movie that is not only a homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood but it is also an outstanding film in any era.  This film practically swept the Oscars, which makes me wonder -- was this film a success because of its novelty?  Even though everything about this film was beautiful (acting, writing, directing, you name it) it was kind of a parody of itself.  Are the real black-and-white movies from back in the day held to this kind of esteem?  Or are they obsolete?

One way to look at this would be to examine the AFI's list of the 100 Best Films ever made.  It used to be two black-and-white classics at the top of the list: Citizen Kane and Casablanca.  But an update of the list put "The Godfather" (another classic) ahead of Casablanca for the number two spot.  In fact, every single black-and-white movie on that list (with the exception of Citizen Kane) was kicked down at least one notch (I'm excluding Schindler's List and Raging Bull; they may be black-and-white but they are not part of the Golden Age).  Is this disrespect, maybe an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new mentality?  Personally if you're going to bump down any classic you should start with Citizen Kane; while the story, acting and cinematography were great the writing is definitely outdated ("I think it would be fun to run a newspaper!  Grrr!").

Another way of looking at this would be that the films from the Studio System era are those that tend to be disregarded.  For those of you unfamiliar with that era it was from about 1925 to about 1950 where Hollywood film studios essentially had a monopoly on the film industry: they had control over the distributors and major theaters, only allowing the film that they wanted the public to see, and would use booking techniques to skim profits off the top.  The pursuit of vertical integration by these studios persisted from the dawn of film sound until 1948 when the Supreme Court ruled that all operational links between theaters chains and the studios be severed.  Maybe this is a driving reason why those films tend to be put by the wayside; they represent on era of Hollywood filmmaking that, while deemed "Golden", really was far from that.

Or may be it's none of the above.  Maybe "The Artist" was just a quality piece of filmmaking that earned the awards that it won.  Maybe it had nothing to do with the black-and-white and it would have been a success no matter what due to it's story telling.  But it certainly seemed all the more refreshing because it was such a contrast to the other films of that year (the same can be said about Schindler's List and Raging Bull).  The odds of any kind of quality film, let alone a quality black-and-white film, getting produced these days are so astronomical that the few that do get made shine all the brighter.  It may not be the Golden Age of Hollywood any more but we can still have our Golden Moments with a worthwhile film.

Until next time, see you in the movies.


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