MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Classics Versus New Releases

There are too many damn movies.

As a cinephile, I feel it is my duty to see as many films as possible. But unfortunately, Hollywood won’t just give me time to catch up on all the ones I’ve missed since they keep churning out new films every year. So I try to see somewhere between a hundred and fifty to two hundred new releases in any given calendar year. I try to see the films that aren’t good too, because I feel it’s important to gauge a film year and the films in it only after you’ve seen what that year had to offer. So, no, I didn’t need to see Legion, but I think it helps me to appreciate films like Red Riding even more.

Regardless, my commitment to the new releases and being able to stay abreast of what’s going on in the culture right now makes it difficult for me to find as much time to dip back into the classics that I have yet to see. I’ve seen the majority of the “important” films like any good film geek, but I have some gaps in my cinematic knowledge because it’s harder to find the time to watch some of the older films. Life gets in the way, to be sure, but it’s also because so much of my movie-watching time is devoted to watching a lot of crappy newer films. It’s enough to make me consider rethinking this devotion to seeing what’s out there now.

But the great thing about the months of January to April is that it gives me a lot of time to catch up on some of the classics. There aren’t as many films coming out in theaters right now that I feel the urge to rush out and see, so I often spend a lot of these winter months watching films that fell through the gaps or sometimes films I hadn’t really thought of seeing, but seem interesting to me. Basically, I feel like a kid in a candy store, seeing if there is anything in the next week that I can DVR on TCM (best channel on television) or if there are older films that I can stream on NetFlix. And then when April rolls around, I wind up doing a lot of catch-up on the films that I missed during those first four months of the year.

The point is that I had such a wonderful movie night a couple days ago, taking in a double-feature of The Ox-Bow Incident and Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai. I hadn’t seen either of those pictures before and I enjoyed the hell out of both of them. Henry Fondaand Dana Andrews are both excellent in the former picture and I loved Orson Welles’ Irish accent and Rita Hayworth’s short blonde haircut in the latter. They were both such pleasures to watch because I just really wanted to watch them and since I’d heard of them and read a bit about them, I knew they must be pretty good. Besides, anything directed by Orson Welles or starring Henry Fonda sounds like a much better use of my time than seeing Leap Year.

I want to talk a little bit about both of those films, but first I just want to say that the film media does a terrible job of remembering its past. There is such an emphasis on what is coming out now, due in large part to the marketing department and the diligence of many PR people. So often what we wind up reading has to do with what’s out in theaters right now or what’s new to DVD, but there are so many outlets now that cover the same releases. And all these different outlets didn’t exist fifty or sixty years ago.

So while it might be easy to find 200 reviews of Shutter Island, it’s much more difficult to find a lot of different points of view on some classic films. Even worse, there are hardly any modern points of view on these older pictures. I understand why the emphasis is on now, but I think there should be more film writers willing to talk about the films of the past. Especially films that aren’t named Citizen Kane or Casablanca or anything else on the AFI Top 100 list. There are so many good movies that are somewhat acclaimed, but don’t get the attention.

Take The Lady from Shanghai, for example. It’s not a perfect film, the last ten minutes are a little hokey, but it’s a really entertaining and thrilling film that holds up well against the thrillers that have come out in 2010. I’d rather re-watch The Lady from Shanghai over watchingEdge of Darkness or Shutter Island again. It’s much more taut and exciting than either of those films, although it does have the resolution problems that the Scorsese picture does. I think it often gets lost that Orson Welles was a terrific actor in addition to being a world-class director and in Shanghai, he is able to flex both of those considerable gifts. He creates a heroic character who says from the beginning that he isn’t a hero, but who might be the only character who actually has a moral compass in the entire film. He is surrounded by wealthier folks who have no integrity, but he’s a man who is rich with it. We understand this man. And Welles does an Irish accent that, to my American ear, seemed pretty impeccable.

The Ox-Bow Incident is, I feel, one of the strongest arguments against capital punishment that I have ever seen. I think it makes a stronger case than Dead Man Walking did, to be perfectly honest. It’s all about how we can compromise our humanity in the name of justice, a theme that applies to the world we live in today where we routinely torture suspected terrorists and hope for torture for the ones we haven’t caught yet. The argument in the film is about whether or not these three supposed killers deserve a fair trial or if this posse should just lynch them immediately. But if they’re wrong about these suspects, then wouldn’t they just be murderers too? It’s a slippery slope to enact justice. And Henry Fonda is great as always, but I found the performance of Dana Andrews to be especially moving. There are some problems with the film, including a potential love interest that seems kind of shoe-horned into it, but the evocation of emotions and the truths it unearths about human nature are just top-notch.

I hope that this column encourages all of you to seek out not just these two films, but all classic films that seem to be of interest to you. Don’t get caught up in the hype of the new releases or let your friends drag you to see Cop Out because you heard it was really funny. You don’t have to be a film snob and stay home and watch The General, but there are so many hilarious films that have come out since cinema was invented and it seems silly to see a comedy just based on the fact that it’s the one playing on a big screen in a theater. In other words, you have more options than what the marketing gurus want you to believe. So, before you pay your eleven bucks for a movie ticket, think long and hard about whether this would be the best way to spend your time.

And then maybe watch The General.

Noah Forrest
March 1, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon