Siskel & Ebert were trail blazers. I met Siskel, never Ebert; but if I had the chance to ask them together, I would have asked their opinion about the epic shift [circa 1950] from “movies” to “films.” Throughout the Depression of the 1930s and the War of the 1940s, Hollywood mostly made movies which used broad cinematic brushstrokes to convey national images/myths/legends The basic idea was to entertain us with collective “lessons” about our nation.
Lessons about our past colonial and frontier greatness [Cecile B DeMille and George Stevens were the masters] and lessons about our current greatness [Mickey & Judy tributes to family values, Frank Capra odes to the common man, and John Wayne’s GI bravery]. While some today condemn those early efforts with the ultimate curse “corny,” the best of those efforts collectively uplifted us as a nation.
With the postwar 1950s our world changed, and so did Hollywood. With the competition of free television, Hollywood kicked it up a notch with more “films” than simply “movies.” They felt the need of the market for more serious themes and grittier plots. Directors now more than ever thought about their work as art as well as entertainment. The results include searing story-lines which often reject upbeat themes, two-dimensional characters, and happy endings. The studios saw a darker world out there, and they made sure their stories reflected every shade of darkness possible.
Instead of lessons by DeMille and Capra there were more experiences by Hitchcock and Spielberg. Audiences didn’t leave the theater smiling so much as frowning. After all, “art” is considered a more sobering endeavor than “entertainment,” right?
I’m not the expert. Siskel and Ebert were. Which is why I always wished they had spent more time grappling with this pre/post Fifties subject. But then we now have television — Hollywood’s former rival –
serving up pre-1950 “movies” night after night. Giving you and me the chance to play Siskel & Ebert on this subject.
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