Who Murdered American Movies?

I do not know that I agree that American movies are dying.  But the article certainly asks some interesting questions.

And had success made a vote for Citizen Kane automatic and stale? Did anyone now watch it with the rapt attention that it once commanded? The editor of Sight & Sound admitted that he would not be dismayed to see a new champion.

I watched Citizen Kane about five or six years back.  I can see how it was revolutionary…but I was…underwhelmed overall.  The only reason I have considered buying it is this odd notion that anyone with a serious love of movies is expected to own it.

This is not due to it being “old”.  I count Casablanca among my favorite films.  I think the 39 Steps is terrific.  I find the Great Dictator captivating.  It is something about Citizen Kane itself.  And maybe it is because, as long as I have been aware of movies, it has topped every “Greatest Films of All Time” lists…the film felt like it failed to live up to the hype.

You don’t care? It’s all a silly game, quickly forgotten? Fair enough, but the movies thrive on silly games—how else should we describe going into the dark for two hours to identify with an illusion of reality? Still, the winners had things in common worth studying. They were both a lot gloomier than Fred Astaire or Preston Sturges. Citizen Kane is the attempt by a dying man to find meaning in what seemed a famous and powerful life. It concludes that any answer stays so private as to be hypothetical. You can say “rosebud” until you’re out of breath, but no one hears it, and if they did hear it they would turn it into a sound-bite. Welles’s film is a rueful commentary on humanist hopes and every classical estimate of how we should measure a man. It is a tragedy. And Vertigo is still darker. It is an allegory about the entire process of trying to shape reality to your own dream and vision. It is now widely interpreted as a metaphor for the film-making process, for casting and directing performances in ways that extend obsessive fantasy and crush real life. For Hitchcock, it was his most wounded reflection on the dangers of movie-making itself, and was a flop that he later withdrew. That is something else that the top two have in common: they were failures when they opened.

This is an interesting point, as it suggests we cannot really know what today might be a classic in 50 years.  It is rather interesting that a lot of the “greatest” films were not necessarily recognized as such at the time they opening.  It took decades to get them stuck in the cultural landscape as icons of film.

And therein lies part of the problem with proclaiming the American film medium dead or dying.  All the cited great films in the article have had 30 and forty years on up to cement their status.  Many of them were flops in their own time.  How can we really say that the film industry is not going to or has not produced a Citizen Kane?  At the time of it’s release, nobody cared enough to think it would be an enduring classic.

3 thoughts on “Who Murdered American Movies?

  1. I can’t say that I’ve ever actually seen Citizen Kane. Heck, I was fifty before I watched the entire Gone With The Wind!

    But the Great Dictator is fabulous. So is the General by Buster Keaton.

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