Here is an excerpt from “6 Degrees of Film” due out in February 2012
Recently, I have come across several people (ages 13-30) that know absolutely nothing about “old movies” or “old people’s films”. They don’t know who Paul Newman is or who Greta Garbo was, or for that matter, much of the history of early film and the historical events that surrounded the production of films. This, I suppose, can all be written off as a generational thing, where young people always say that the past is dead and boring.
But in retrospect, I believe it goes deeper than that. Our culture has become so focused on instantaneous communication that those people who are growing up immersed in modern culture cannot identify with a past that seems to them to be stilted and boring. That is the impression that kids convey regarding the golden age of film. And it is far from the truth.
The reality is that motion pictures represented a “cutting edge” technology 100 years ago when film was in its infancy. And the types of films that were created, the silent masterpieces and the Hollywood spectacles, were a vital link from the past to the present.
That is the purpose of this book. We need to study the films of the past and to look at them in a different light. Marshall McLuhan theorized that we are marching backwards into the future by looking only at the world behind us. That is true in some cases but if we look at the past on film, we may get a glimpse of where we are going.
People are always looking for a window into the future, and in films, the future reality changes on celluloid from moment to moment. That is the ever present allure of film. It is an art form that can make a statement 50 years into the future and remain relevant for future generations to discover and to discuss.
The proof that films can transcend time is found in movies made almost 100 years ago. Silent films made in the ‘20’s with Harold Lloyd are uproariously funny today. .People idolized “movie stars” as much or more then stars of today who are fanatically scrutinized. Obsessive fans are nothing new.
The films of the depression and the dust bowl created art on celluloid that is amazingly relevant today. Films developed into different “genres” during cultural shifts and varying trends in the population. Screwball comedies were one genre born out of the depression era, gangster films were another. Science-fiction films were prominent in the fifties era of the cold war –light romantic comedies were also popular. Westerns and war movies were always popular! The films of the forties captured the spirit of wartime America and the beginning of the Cold War. The 50’s genres that were science-fiction and light comedy were paralleled with Cold War politics and the spectre of nuclear war.
The politics of the day were incorporated into the films of the era they represented. For example, corruption in government was a popular theme in the thirties during the depression and similar anti-government sentiment is still found in the twenty-first century.
The 60’s gave us anti-war films that are prescient today.
Starting around 1975, the modern era of Hollywood Blockbusters and independent films started to emerge. And the 1980’s may arguably be the greatest decade in film.
The importance of film in the global village is ever more apparent. And as we go forward, we can assess how the past 100 years of film impact our lives today.