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Puppets Behaving Badly

Joe Dante probably didn’t do his studio career much good by surgically removing the cute factor from “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” his 1990 sequel to his Spielberg-produced hit of 1984, “Gremlins.” This time around, Gizmo — the adorably wide-eyed fur ball of the original film — has become a vengeance-crazed Rambo, complete with red bandanna and high-tech crossbow. Surreptitiously released by Warner Bros. on Blu-ray a few weeks ago, “Gremlins 2” remains wildly funny and wholly unpredictable — an exercise in free-form cinema that can stand proudly with the Olsen and Johnson “Hellzapoppin'” and the collected works of Bob Clampett (even though it’s Chuck Jones who contributes the title sequence). My New York Times review is here, along with a brief account of “The Space Children,” a late (1958), suspiciously liberal take on the Red Menace science fiction films of the 50s. Jack Arnold, its director, may have been better known for “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” but the left-leaning sentiments of “Space Children” are a reminder that Arnold began as an assistant to the great documentary maker Robert Flaherty, and had his one brush with Oscar when his “With These Hands,” a reconstruction of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire produced by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, was nominated by the Academy in the Best Documentary Feature category in 1951. I wonder what happened to this 52-minute film, which features Sam Levene, Arlene Francis, Joseph Wiseman, and Arnold himself in the role of “Communist Agitator.” Does the ILGWU keep an archive?

Not so incidentally, Joe and his “Trailers from Hell” colleagues are lauching a Kickstarter campaign to keep their far-too-diverting website — a celebration of coming attractions trailers, with commentary by filmmakers who will be highly familiar to readers of this site — up and running for the foreseeable future. Their proposal — almost as entertaining as the site itself — can be found here.

68 comments to Puppets Behaving Badly

  • Tony

    ‘Gremlins 2’ is an utter delight that one shares with often incredulous friends.

  • Jonah

    The ILGWU papers are at Cornell and they have a VHS (and probably a film, although it isn’t indicated) copy of “With These Hands”:

    There is also this: “Angry ILGWU Ladies Stampede Reagan’s Cattle.”

    P.S. Even in Rambo guise, Gizmo is pretty cute.

  • Rick K.

    Ahem, I think the alien life form from THE SPACE CHILDREN might take exception to your rather freelance description of its shapelessness which, even from a cinematic standpoint, came during heyday of the blob monster, with X-THE UNKNOWN from Britain, THE BLOB from Hollywood (or actually Pennsylvania), and CALTIKI soon to emerge from Italy. And even in that context can charitably add that the noble intentions of this particular blob set it apart from the rest … its convolutions more brain-like perhaps, which I’m sure, to another blob creature, would be beauteous indeed (perhaps all it needed was some of that Paramount Technicolor).

  • Just a few ours ago I got back from The Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä, Finland, where Mr. Dante was one of the film director guests. He talked about his films Thursday morning for two hours in front of a packed audience, and during the week introduced PIRANHA, GREMLINS & GREMLINS 2, the nearly five hour THE MOVIE ORGY, THE ´BURBS, SMALL SOLDIERS and INNERSPACE (some of the films shown in a big circus tent – don’t ask!).

    Mr. Dante even bought popcorn to bring with him into the night showing of MATINEE (“night matinee?”, he wondered), its showing of course held in the old Lapinsuu cinema with its red benches and a traditional red curtain in front of the screen. He also held a Master Class on TO BE OR NOT TO BE.

    I didn’t have time to see all his films there,unfortunately, but now after reading Dave’s appreciation – and festival director Peter von Bagh also thinks that G2 is even better than the first one – I remembered seeing GREMLINS 2 on Blu-ray on a shelf at our local Anttila department store here in Kokkola before leaving for Sodankylä – so guess where I’m heading first thing in the morning…!

    Thanks for visiting Sodankylä, Mr. Dante, it was great to have you!

    “The Walking Advertisement for Matinee”

  • J

    ‘Space Children,’ like the Losey film mentioned last week, is also available via streaming on Netflix.

  • Barry Putterman

    It seems to me that the thin line between humor and horror runs directly through the concept of how unstable and unreliable human identity is, both physically and psychologically. And this is particularly so for children, who are especially aware of how dependent they are on others for nurture and protection. In fact, I recently saw the “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” which was discussed here recently when it came up in rotation on Starz Mystery, “An Unlocked Window.” It very definitely mined that particular vein and I can certainly see how disturbing it could be if seen at a young age.

    And, ironically, cartoons, with its infinite capacity for transformations which need not be explained logically, is the perfect vehicle to explore that theme and the perfect opportunity to scare youngsters to death.

    I’m not so certain that a sweetness/id cleavage between Disney and Warners can be made with certainty. For my money, the most consistently frightening cartoons from the studio era were made by close Disney associate Ub Iwerks during his independent period. Whether it was the supposedly innocent adventures of Flip the Frog (TECKNO-CRACKED) or Willie Whopper (STRATOS-FEAR) , I continually had to turn the TV off in a very disturbed state and ask myself; “Was THAT supposed to be FUNNY!?” And I won’t even bother to go into BALLOONLAND (aka THE PIN-CUSHION MAN).

    But GREMLINS 2, my goodness, what a laff riot!! It never lets up. And I’m still chortling over the “New York, New York” number. I know that the character so beautifully played by John Glover is supposed to be self-evident by his name and occupation. But, to me, more than anything else, he seemed to represent Steven Spielberg himself. A character even more of a self-absorbed id who is innocently unaware of the destruction he causes than the Gremlins.

    Please Joe Dante, come back and explain it all to us. A nation of cinephiles turns its lonely eyes to you.

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry is certainly right about “An Unlocked Window,” which I saw at age ten on its first broadcast in 1965. The show was on late in Los Angeles–10:00 PM, which was way past my bedtime at that age, and it was a school night. But I was awake because my mother wanted some company–my father was out of town. She was ironing as we watched the show together in the dark, quiet house. That show on that occasion is without question the most frightening thing I’ve seen in my life, and I’m still not completely over it. It’s obviously derived from “Psycho,” but I hadn’t seen “Psycho” in 1965. I was not prepared.

    There is indeed a fine line between horror and humor. Pushing the envelope is amusing for a while, but push it far enough and it becomes horrifying. Cartoons are funny while they’re cartoons, but make them real and they’re frightening. That’s exactly the theme of Dante’s “Twilight Zone” segment. In “Goodfellas,” Joe Pesci is a “funny guy,” then moments later a terrifying one.

    There’s no humor in “An Unlocked Window,” but there’s a fair amount in its source, “Psycho,” and there’s a great deal of humor in Joe Dante’s work, sometimes overtly (as in his fine segments for “Amazon Women on the Moon”). It’s my guess that Dante’s most personal film is “Matinee” (1993), an appreciation of the horror films of the ’50s and early ’60s set in Key West during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The kids don’t fully appreciate what’s going on, but the adults do, and they’re scared. Nevertheless the film is primarily a comedy and it works, without selling the drama short.

  • Robert Garrick

    The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire took place in what was then called the Asch Building, now called the Brown Building, 29 Washington Place, 245 Greene Street. Today that building is part of NYU’s Arts and Science complex, and several regular posters here (Steve, Barry, me, and probably a few more) spent a great deal of time on that block, if not in that precise building, watching films and listening to the likes of Noel Carroll, Jay Leyda, and William K. Everson, among others. While I was there, I don’t remember anyone mentioning the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which was then the second worst disaster in the history of New York City.

    I would like to see “With These Hands.” I got a chance to talk to John Agar back in 1993, and I asked him if John Ford was the best director he’d worked with. He said no, it was Jack Arnold.

  • Oh yes, Robert! MATINEE is currently also my favorite Dante film. I had the chance to stalk Mr. Dante in Sodankylä and stutter to him something along the line of “…it’s such a sweet and clever and wise film…”

    I remember him saying introducing the film at Lapinsuu last Friday that it indeed is a personal film and that he had a brother whom he took to see these kind of films the boy in MATINEE takes his little brother to.

    I congratulated him also on his magnificent ability to direct children (in MATINEE as in EXPLORERS (River Phoenix, Ethan Hawke!)and others). He really gets a performance out of them which is so central to the greatness of MATINEE. And also the blending of comedy and love of film and especially putting on a performance.

    There’s a lovely line of dialogue in the film by John Goodman’s William Castle like movie director character which he says to the young boy: – You probably think that grown ups know everything? It’s a sham! We make it up as we go along just like you. Remember that and you’ll be alright.”

  • Robert Garrick

    I have not seen “The Space Children,” but when I read that its central elements were (i) aliens who are wiser than earthlings, and (ii) children who are wiser than adults, I thought: Spielberg!

    And sure enough, Spielberg gushes about this film in TCM’s sci-fi documentary “Watch the Skies!”

    Another interesting detail is that “The Space Children” was the target feature in an episode of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” back in 1998. For some people (not any of us, I hope) this is an association that forever taints a film. Personally I have never watched MST3K except when I wanted to catch a glimpse of the underlying feature. It’s a particularly annoying way to watch a film, but it’s hardly unique to that show. I remember watching “I Walked With a Zombie” back in the 1970s, in La Jolla, California, at a midnight show. The audience laughed at every line. More recently, at the AFI Theatre in Washington, D.C., the crowd was in stitches over “Butterfield 8.”

  • Alex Hicks

    For me one of the great strengths of Dante’s two great GREMLINS films is their strikingly visual ornateness, especially where the baroquely envisioned (bad) gremlins center the film’s visuals. This was, as I’ll always delightedly remember, brought up in the TIME review of one of the films (the first I think) with comparison to Eisenstein’s IVAN THE TERRIBLE duo! To what extent this (dramatically effective) visual splender is the work of Dante, his creatures crew, cinematogapher, production designer, etc., I have no idea, althought I do think that some ample directorial credit for visual merits is typically appriopriate, especially when the visuals markedly work for the good of the whole they certainly do in the GREMLIN films.

  • Mark Gross

    Robert, I think BUTTERFIELD 8 might be one of the most unintentionally funny films ever made.

    In reference to the Triangle Fire, I believe you’re correct in stating that it was on the grounds of what is now the Brown building at NYU, which was the home of undergraduate film production & cinema studies in the 1970’s. Oddly enough, the Main Building on Waverly Place, one block north, where we all registered for non-film classes, had a bronze plaque and a photograph of the Triangle Fire to the right of the entrance. I don’t know if it’s still there.

    I was one of those children, along with Steven Spielberg & Joe Dante, who saw THE SPACE CHILDREN at a kiddie matinee in the late 1950’s. I’ve never forgotten the film, although I don’t know how it would look today. Oddly enough,THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was the second feature at my neighborhood theatre. Is it possible Bertrand Russell was the film booker?

  • “In reference to the Triangle Fire, I believe you’re correct in stating that it was on the grounds of what is now the Brown building at NYU, which was the home of undergraduate film production & cinema studies in the 1970′s. Oddly enough, the Main Building on Waverly Place, one block north, where we all registered for non-film classes, had a bronze plaque and a photograph of the Triangle Fire to the right of the entrance. I don’t know if it’s still there.”

    I recall both from those days (I was in the Cinema Studies program from 1974-1977.) I joined the IWW in 1974 and one of the old time Wobblies, Minnie Corder, insisted that the Brown Building was the site of the fire even though the plaque was at the Main Building.

    Concerning “The Space Children,” for a long time I thought I was alone in liking this movie until Bill Krohn mentioned it with admiration in another discussion about Jack Arnold. And as for Mystery Science Theater, they also did the same thing to “This Island Earth,” another good movie.

  • Brian Dauth

    My favorite Dante: “LOONEY TUNES BACK IN ACTION” whgich strikes me as a beautiful summation of all that is lovely about 1950’s/early 1960’s movies — both high and low.

  • Alex

    Thanks for the LOONEY TUNES BACK” IN ACTION “heads up.”

  • Steve Elworth

    Aha so X is another NYU CS Alum. The last time I looked the plaque set up by ILGWU is at Brown building pretty high up. interestingly no representation that I have seen of the Triangle Fire mentions it was on the NYU Washington Square Campus next door to Main Building.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, considering that NYU seems to be primarily a real estate corporation these days, it isn’t surprising that that this landmark is a tad obscure. Possibly it was swiped by Bob Clampett’s Gremlins From the Kremlin. Still, no harm in contining to look for the union label.

  • D. K. Holm

    Earlier this year I showed Matinée to some college students and they enjoyed it thoroughly. Later, however, I showed them “Homecoming” from Masters of Horror and they were “outraged” that Our Troops could be made mock of in such a way. A few walked out 20 minutes in.

    Incidentally, I also showed “An Unlocked Window,” and some of the kids liked it, others guessed the killer. Most complained, though, that it was “old” and/or in “black and white,” under the impression, apparently, that school existed to entertain them with modernity. This episode if the most Hitchcockian thing not directed by Hitchcock (it was written by James Bridges). Lately there was a “remake” made in New Zealand, based on the original source story.

  • jbryant

    It still boggles my mind/saddens me that so many young people cannot see the beauty in good B&W photography. Of course not every B&W film is created equal, but these kids couldn’t make a distinction between something knocked out in a couple of days by William “One Shot” Beaudine and the best work of Sternberg or Ophuls. It’s all just “old.”

    I may have mentioned this before, but a friend recently told me that a young acquaintance of his claims that she literally, physically cannot appreciate B&W because her eyes haven’t been “trained”–she doesn’t know where to focus without color to guide her. This may be something worthy of study.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘It still boggles my mind/saddens me that so many young people cannot see the beauty in good B&W photography.’

    Situation is different in Japan. Many old things is still respected even if sometimes artist rebels against heavy past achievement from earlier era. Usually there is process of saying not so good, over valued, but then their is appreciation.

    When student I was like that about poetry, only Surrealism was good poetry, but later I appreciated classical Japanese poetry. Maybe American student is like that too.

  • Barry Putterman

    Junko, there is of course a far longer history of recorded achievement in Japan than there is here in “The New World.” There is also a much greater respect for historical achievement in the Japanese national culture than here in the land of “reinvention.”

    However, students are students wherever you go. The cry during my student days was that education had to be “relevant” to the student’s experience. The flaw in that argument is that most students’ experience is so severely limited that an alarming proportion of knowledge simply can’t qualify.

    In theory, as a person’s field of experiences widens, he or she will find more items of interest in the history of human culture, just as you explain in your last paragraph. But, of course, that is just a theory.

  • Tony Williams

    This all depends on the students. I’ve recently completed grading the introductory film analysis section of my Robert Aldrich course and virtually most of the students have come to appreciate the virtues of a noir such as CROSSFIRE from painstaking analysis of the film followed by those now extinct slide sites from the BFI of Place/Peterson’s essay and CROSSFIRE itself. Quite a few have commented on how they have come to appreciate b/w as a result. This time I have no cinema students in a class that reaches out to all majors.

  • When I was spending time with Oliver Stone in 1996-97 for a New York Times Magazine story, one of the projects on offer to him was a remake of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE for Warners, transposed to the modern context of the narcotraficantes. I asked why remake a classic, wasn’t he just asking for it? And he told me I didn’t get it: he’d been touring college campuses (Garry Wills at Northwestern & Peter Kuznick at American University were both teaching American History courses organized around Stone’s filmography), and except for a very small minority, the students he encountered didn’t care about black and white movies. They were old and outmoded, and if a film was in black and white the students didn’t want to see it, much less think about it. So, where he was concerned, taking on an old movie he loved and being able to bring it back in some form so that its concerns would be relevant to the Kids of Today, was something worth doing.

    Around the same time, Manohla Dargis, who’d been teaching at UCLA (I think) told me her students frequently expressed similar sentiments about black and white. The reports here from some of the regular contributors only show that that was the beginning of a real cultural shift. It seems unfathomable– and amazingly small minded of people, even people who say they like movies, to preclude wholesale such a wide swath of amazing stuff. And yet… I can also remember how long it took me to get past the sound of pre-LP era recordings. Those early Duke Ellington records on Columbia and RCA, for instance, are a lot more mindblowing than the stuff on “Blues in Orbit,” or “Indigos,” but first you have to get past the scratchy 78 rpm “sound” in order to appreciate them, and black and white apparently works in a similar way now.

    One of the jokes I still remember from THE BIG PICTURE, a Christopher Guest movie no one ever talks about, is when the young up-and-coming director played by Kevin Bacon is meeting with a studio executive and tells him he’d like to make his film in black and white, and the exec nixes it because theaters don’t have black and white projectors anymore. Also, Oliver Stone obviously never went ahead with SIERRA MADRE, but he has gotten around to the narcotraficante scene with SAVAGES.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jaime, it seems more likely to me that Oliver Stone doesn’t really get it. If SIERRA MADRE is an important movie to him, wouldn’t it be more creative for him to make his own film taking off from the inspiration that it gave him which did relate to what is “relevant” to the Kids of Today rather than just rehash what has already been accomplished? I should think that the Kids of Today would be more likely to follow back to SIERRA MADRE from something original than from a mere remake.

    But again, unless we are working for the movie industry, why are we so concerned about something appealing to the Kids of Today? The Kids of Today are the fogies of tomorrow. The ones who really care about film will have their passion and curiosity eventually take them to pre-historical cinema (aka from before they were born) just as your interest in jazz took you to earlier Ellington and Junko’s interest in poetry took her to what wasn’t surrealist.

    The only real worry would be if older, black & white films became unavailable to those who did develop an interest in them. And the current state of DVD and streaming would indicate that this is not an immediate problem.

  • “I should think that the Kids of Today would be more likely to follow back to SIERRA MADRE from something original than from a mere remake.”

    Indeed yes, especially given the changes Stone envisioned for his remake.

    The Kids of Today who I know do like a very few black and white movies, a handful of silent comedies but also “The Great Dictator.” There’s something universal about silent comedies that I can see that appeals to the Kids of Today, but the enthusiasm for “The Great Dictator” is puzzling.

    An English professor friend of mine also complains about the Kids of Today who’d rather read the latest best seller rather than “boring” books like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Moby Dick” or “The Sun Also Rises” not to mention avant-garde works like “Naked Lunch.” But here again, “the ones who really care” will go on to seek out the classics, and what more can you ask than that?

  • D. K. Holm

    And bear in mind that I was showing these kids films such as Night and Fog and Un chien andalou. They were actually angry and resentful that they had to watch black and white (or partial black and white). They made their displeasure known. They slumped. They diddled on their iPhones-laptops. They vocalized their ire. They wanted to be entertained with shiny things and lights and color.

  • Barry Putterman

    Oy, dese kids today, I tell ya….

    Well, just exactly how many people read “Moby Dick” when it was published? Now, some galoot with a post-graduate degree says you’ve got to read it because it is going to be on the test so more copies are in print than ever before. But it has never exactly been beach reading, even though a lot of it takes place on the ocean.

    And for that matter, I don’t think that there were ever lines around the corner to see UN CHIEN ANDALOU, despite the really cool gross-out scene with the eye.

    I can’t see where the fact that they have never been or ever will be crowd pleasers lessens the value of “Moby Dick” or UN CHIEN ANDALOU. Their merit isn’t measured on the applause meter. There are still enough of us hearty souls who do like such fare to foster a decent conversation about them. But, as we used to say in vaudeville, “you’ve GOT to know your audience.”

  • Mark Gross

    Speaking of Black & white vs color films…

    When I was nine years old, my parents went one Saturday night to the local neighborhood theatre and saw PSYCHO. The next morning over breakfast both of them enthused about the film. Because the posters were tinted, I asked my mother if PSYCHO was in black & white or color. My mother’s response was: “All good movies are in color!”

    So it’s not just the kids today…

  • jbryant

    Sure, “Moby Dick” and UN CHIEN ANDALOU were never crowd-pleasers, but plenty of B&W movies were and are. Therefore, many folks are rejecting films they might otherwise love for their stories, scripts, acting, etc., solely because of the lack of color.

  • mike schlesinger

    A few years ago I encountered one of these punk-ass kids who wouldn’t watch B&W movies because “they’re all alike.” Rather than ask him the similarities between THE GRAPES OF WRATH and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, I asked him to list the differences between SAW IV and SAW V. He responded the way all such schmucks do when they know they’ve lost the argument: he told me to go fuck myself and walked away.

    Were I teaching a film class, I would flunk any kid with this attitude. You can’t appreciate B&W, you can’t appreciate movies. Period.

  • Tony Williams

    Mike, I hope you flunked him for that comment or referred him to his Dean.

  • mike schlesinger

    Tony, the encounter was in a movie lobby, and my quaint phrasing threw you off: “Were I teaching…”, as in “if.” Sorry.

  • Tony Williams

    No problem. That attitude was appalling anyway.

  • Alex Hicks

    Mike Grost,

    But B&W movies ARE “all alike,” like baroque music, Dude.

    Hope that film got you crossed on was at least in English, and a sound film, Dude.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, I guess that all Mikes are alike as well since it was Mr. Schlesinger on the soap box this time. But certainly the gentleman he encountered in the lobby flunked something much more basic than an academic course.

    But, at the risk of sounding like a Dude, let me put the “relax and be happy” case this way. The Jimmie Lunceford and Tommy Dorsey records that I dearly love were, as jbryant might want to point out, extremely popular at the time of their release. They were the music that the Kids of Today were dancing to. Now they would sound like music from another planet to most people. Kind of baroque. And, yes, some people HAVE told me that all swing music sounds alike.

    But, c’est la vie. Eventually, everything popular becomes classical; as in “Classic Rock” and “Classic TV.” Which is to say that everything which was a majority taste eventually becomes a minority taste. And I don’t see where that transition demeans either the art or we hearty band of rogues who still love it.

    Somewhere out there are devotees of baroque music, and Chaucer, and reruns of “Occasional Wife” (alright, alright, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention!) and I hope that they can enjoy their pleasure to the fullest without worrying why their numbers are so few.

    Personally, I don’t see why anybody needs to look over their shoulder to count how many are sharing their passion. Nobody is going to be voted off this island.

  • Peter Henne

    Maybe part of the resistance to b/w is that it has a built-in obstacle to resembling what waking life is like? The world is in color. A black-and-white film signals it is making an abstraction from reality in a comprehensive way. I wonder if a fantastic plot, but one nevertheless in color, can pull away from our understanding of nature as much as the absence of color can. Of course, for a long while movie audiences accepted b/w as the only game in town, and it seems like a very good guess that color tinting was perceived as cleverly adding on gloss instead of approximating natural color. That is how tinted photographs functioned, as well. By the ’40s, with Technicolor starting to boom, enough of a tradition in b/w had developed to keep it remaining in standing with wide audiences for a good while longer. The fact that b/w was the only affordable option for owning a television up to the mid-’60s must have helped. My family didn’t have a color TV until the early ’70s. Nobody ever slighted b/w in my house.

  • Peter Henne

    At least two other broad explanations, in addition to the one I already traced, are:

    1) The Kids of Today associate b/w with old, discarded technology and receive it as something of an embarrassment. They are perceiving b/w not as the sub-media of cinema it is, like silents, Academy ratio talking pictures, etc. are, but as a technical delivery that was hampered for not making a presentation in full color but did its best for the time.

    2) There may be a little truth to “training” your eyes to watch at length and repeatedly in b/w, and learning subtle cues for perceiving gradations, distinguishing objects, etc. The Kids of Today might believe there are meager rewards for taking the trouble to acquire adeptness. If so, it’s up to cinephiles and the Kids’ curiosity to help disabuse them of this falsehood.

  • Barry Putterman

    Peter, I am pretty much on board with all you are saying here. People our age grew up with black and white television and needed no “training.” For everybody who came after us, black and white denoted “history.”

    But I was surprised at what Mark’s mother told him regarding PSYCHO. In 1960, black and white was for “serious stuff.” Color was for fantasy and frivolity (and nature documentaries). Bergman was in black and white. So were Martin Ritt and Sidney Lumet. “Be a Clown” was in color.

    So, there really is a lot to get over for the Kids of Today to embrace black and white. But my understanding of education is that their curiosity has to come first, and then help from the cinephiles later for it to make a lasting impression.

  • jbryant

    Peter: Yes, if there’s one thing today’s young audiences expect from movies, it’s realism. 🙂

    Barry: I never meant to imply that I think all the young’uns should like what I like — as if that were even possible. I don’t like everything my parents or grandparents liked either. But I’ll never think it’s anything but dumb to dismiss countless superior artistic achievements solely because they’re not in color, as though every other aspect were irrelevant. There are plenty of good, understandable reasons to dislike a bad old movie–B&W isn’t one of them. Nor is it, in and of itself, a reason to like a good one.

    Analogies aren’t necessary, I suppose, but isn’t it sort of like hating a perfectly nice person solely because they always wear red? Or disliking an old song because you heard it on vinyl? People are within their rights to do so, of course, but they shouldn’t be surprised if others call b.s. on it.

  • Barry Putterman

    jbryant, I think the analogy is more like not wanting to read something because it is in blank verse. I expect that many would concede that there may be rewards to doing so, but wonder if it worth climbing the necessary mountain to get there.

  • jbryant

    Barry: Our posts crossed. So, re your most recent one:

    I do get that the kids have a lot to get over in order to “embrace” B&W. I guess I was born with the kind of curiosity you mention, and therefore it was never a chore for me to appreciate films and music made well before my time. “Old” was never a dirty word to me. And I had no help from cinephiles, though it probably didn’t hurt that TV regularly played 30s, 40s and 50s films in afternoon and late night slots (and occasionally prime time) as though they were something an average person of any age might enjoy.

    But I realize that someone like me (and most of us) is the exception in these matters. Most people seem to like the things that were produced in their adolescence and beyond, with everything before that being “dated” and irrelevant. And I know that ultimately it’s their loss, not mine.

  • jbryant

    Barry, we crossed again. I don’t agree with the blank verse analogy. A poem is “just words.” Sure, if you don’t like blank verse, there’s nothing else there for you. The average classic film, however, has a story, acting, mise-en-scene, music and many other elements, all of which may be brilliant or bad independent of the choice of palette. I realize this doesn’t mean the someone can necessarily “get over it” when it comes to B&W, but I would hope they’d acknowledge it as a blind spot rather than some sort of perfectly reasonable position.

  • Barry Putterman

    jbryant, if a poem is “just words,” than a movie is “just pictures.” There is a story, acting, mise-en-scene, music and many other elements to poetry as well, for those who appreciate it.

    I expect that the crucial difference between the casual consumer and serious lover of movies and all other art forms is that the former group demands that the work comes to him or her on his or her’s own terms, while the latter group expects that the work will come to him or her on its own terms which he or she must be ready to accept.

  • Alex

    Barry Putterman,

    Dude-i-FUL! You are NUMERO UNO for a Society for Movies as Video Games that MUST BE! Catch the wave!

  • jbryant

    Well, I was being deliberately reductive there, but there is a bit of difference in the way we experience a set of words on a page and a feature-length movie. I don’t want anyone to think I was making a dig at poetry.

    The more I think about it, maybe I don’t want to give blank verse haters a pass either. If they’re dismissing a beautiful poem just because it lacks rhyme, they’re no better than a kid who can’t see the greatness of a film that’s not in color.

    Ultimately, I just don’t understand throwing beautiful babies out with the B&W or blank verse bathwater. This seems to equate aesthetic taste with physical taste. Sure, if you don’t like coconut, don’t eat a Mounds bar. You might gag. But B&W? Blank verse? If those are indeed mountains to climb, then I guess I should just thank my lucky stars that I was born at the summit and never had to face that challenge. And, as you suggest, these opposing positions are generally not arrived at via sincere consideration–it’s mostly an instinctual thing; a kneejerk wariness of anything outside one’s aesthetic experience.

  • Mark Gross

    Buried somewhere amidst the plethora of extras on the supplements disc of the Criterion DVD of JULES AND JIM is a seminar that Truffaut gave at the AFI sometime in the late 70’s. Someone asks him the perfect film school question, “Is there is any difference between shooting in black & white or color?”

    Truffaut answers, “Without black & white films, there is no longer any beauty in the cinema.”

    I’m hoping that just as listening to LPs has become a sign of hipness amongst the young, that watching black & white films will also acquire the same cachet.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, my basic point is that there is really no purpose served by you or Mike or anybody else getting all worked up over this. Our love of the great black and white films (like THE GOLD RUSH, hint, hint) is not diminished by people who have no interest in experiencing them. And one would hope that they have something else in their lives which they care about as passionately as we do these films.

    As those wise people who make Mounds used to say; “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.”

  • mike schlesinger

    Another such quote, from Ford, circa late 60s: “Any guy off the street can shoot color. It takes a real artist to shoot black-and-white.” An oversimplification, of course, but he made his point.

    And it’s not just B&W–anything “old” is not merely worthless but literally bad. I remember when TIME Magazine did an article about Elvis on the 25th anniversary of his death. Three weeks later, they printed a letter from some girl who said, “Why should I care about Elvis? He died before I was born.” I don’t hate these people as much as pity them; their naked prejudices deprive them of so much joy.

  • jbryant

    Barry: Despite my engagement with the subject, I’m not “worked up” about it. As I said in my first post above, it “boggles my mind/saddens me” that so many people dismiss great work because it’s in B&W. But I’m just questioning and criticizing, not stewing or frothing. I don’t understand why they can’t “get over it,” but it doesn’t keep me awake nights. 🙂

    If I was serving any purpose, it was just to have some conversation about a subject that interested me. Mission accomplished!

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes jbryant, and it turned out a hell of a lot better than the Iraq war did!