Friday, July 8, 2011

Old Movies

I read an obituary today in the NY Times for one of my NYU film school professors, Robert Sklar.

The course I took from him was called, I think, Hollywood and Its Alternatives. The idea was we saw Hollywood films side by side with some classics of foreign cinema. I remember Anna Magnani running after the truck after the Nazis have taken away her lover in Rome, Open City. And Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped -- an almost entirely dark movie, filmed in a prison, and yet it made you hold your breath with suspense. On the Hollywood side I remember The Asphalt Jungle and The Big Heat, where Gloria Grahame has hot coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin. (I remember The Public Enemy, too -- Professor Sklar really had a thing for gangster films.) Above all I remember how stirred the class was by these films as we discussed them. They might be 50 years old but they were brand new to us. Each film was like a continent, rediscovered after being long-lost, and all our own. And there were those films that were hardly ever shown -- cult movies and potential cult movies -- over which we asserted bragging rights, like birdwatchers listing rare species.

Today you can get Rome, Open City on Netflix or watch the coffee scene from The Big Heat on Youtube. I think that's great, honestly. I count the hours I spent sitting in the Kentucky Theatre watching Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock as part of my education. But it was a hard-won education, full of gaps, and anything that makes great movies more easily available is a win for our civilization. But kids today will never know the thrill of making an effort to see a classic movie -- earning it, in a way -- and they will also never see the movies as I saw them -- on an enormous silver screen in black and white that could be satiny smooth or gritty as reality itself.

In tribute, here is Anna's famous run, yes, from Youtube. (I can't seem to get it to embed, so I'm just going to link it.) It's in Italian, but you won't need subtitles.

1 comment:

Mary Aalgaard said...

Oh, yes, that brought tears to my eyes in less than a minute. Great refection on the art if movie watching.