Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The Kid with the Citizen Kane Tape
Neal Gabler, an excellent film writer and historian, had (and probably is having) a dark night of the soul over at the Los Angeles Times last weekend. Gabler believes that the taste for old movies--classic or not--is dying out, and he points a trembling J'accuse! finger at millennials, with their videogame-shortened attention spans and obsession with fashion. They want a new Spider-Man movie, Daddy, because the last Spider-Man movie was ten whole years ago, and only the shiniest iToys will do.
Greg Ferrara points out, in heated fashion, that despairing over the younger generation is an armchair sport that goes back thousands of years and never gets any more interesting or insightful than "Hot enough for you?" At Indiewire, an indignant Matt Singer threw down the gauntlet to his under-30 audience, asking them to come out in comments if they watch old movies, sort of: "Is cinephilia dead? Lazarus, come forth!" He's gotten quite a response.
Still, Matt's comments thread doesn't necessarily disprove Gabler's point. It is often hard to get ordinary people--which we could very loosely define as people who do not show a lively interest in the talkies of John Gilbert--revved up over old movies.
When this topic comes up, as it does, the Siren goes back to the same story.
Some years back the Wall Street Journal ran an article about an infamous incident, when the combination of a huge snowstorm and a wildcat labor dispute left hundreds of passengers cooped up in a couple of jetliners and stranded on a runway for hours and hours. As the toilets backed up and people got restless, the flight attendants asked if anyone had a video that they could use as a distraction. One young man, just starting college, had a copy of Citizen Kane. He'd seen it in a class and had fallen in love with it. He offered up his video and the flight attendants popped it in.
Maybe five minutes went by before people started groaning. "Boring!" "This is black and white!" "Who wants to watch this?" After a little while the flight attendants took out the tape and handed it back to the owner. Most people on the flight would rather re-read their magazines and complain to each other than watch Welles' masterpiece. The young man was crushed, and said so to the WSJ reporter.
Now you could take this as a terrible story about modern taste, and on dark days the Siren does.
But you could also focus on the kid with the Citizen Kane tape. He counts, too.