Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Classics" that have not aged well

The summer movie series at the Victoria Theater in Dayton goes by the name, the Hot Times Cool Films series, but I and others tend to give it the informal name of the "classic movie series."

Lately, though, I've found out that the word "classic" does not fit every movie in the series. Twice this year, Victoria has shown films many people have called "classics." Yet after watching two titles in particular this season, I can only ask, "Really?"

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: I first saw this film at home several years ago and liked it quite a lot. Seeing it on the big screen, however, seemed to rob it of its luster.

Don't get me wrong. I like the film. It's a  good movie. It has a lot to recommend it. It's beautifully shot by the great Conrad L. Hall, who won an Oscar. (He would win two more, for Sam Mendes' American Beauty and Road to Perdition.) The chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford is undeniable. The scene that constantly gets shown in clip-fests - the jump into the gorge - is a great scene.

However, one scene does not a great movie make. And one of the chief reasons is that practically every frame SCREAMS "late 60s." The chief offender here is the "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." scene. It's cute, but it's the prime example of what Roger Ebert called "The Semi-Obligatory Musical Interlude."
Scene in which soft focus and slow motion are used while a would-be hit song is performed on the sound track and the lovers run through a pastoral setting. Common from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s; replaced in 1980s with the Semi-Obligatory Music Video.
The song won the Best Picture Oscar, and it's the kind of win that rankles me. I prefer it when a song actually serves the movie and isn't just window dressing, or a song to slow-dance to with your sweetie. Sure, "Raindrops" is a fun little tune, but the scene in the film has absolutely NOTHING to do with advancing the story. Zippo. Not only does the scene stop the movie cold, it even focuses on the wrong pair. It's Redford and Katharine Ross who are the couple - yet the scene shows Ross and Newman goofing around on a bicycle. Quite honestly, I think Sam Raimi made better use of the song in Spider-Man 2.

And it's not just the pastoral scene that feels off. The violence at the end, which is quite bloody, seems stolen from Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, which came out at the same time. That's dates the George Roy Hill film too.

I wouldn't necessarily say that Newman and Redford's follow-up film, The Sting, deserved to win Best Picture, but it's a much more entertaining film that doesn't seem quite so musty as Butch and Sundance do.

National Lampoon's Animal House: Victoria dubbed this film a "new classic," but neither word is accurate.   For a comedy with its reputation, I was surprised at how little I laughed.

Part of the problem may be my general distaste for the "drink all night, party every day, screw everything that moves" frat culture. The film revels in it. But another part of the problem is that even though it's set in the early 60s, it looks and feels VERY late 70s, from its flat lighting to its Studio 54-era hedonism. That just doesn't play as well now.

Most of my laughs came courtesy of John Belushi, who was a force of nature in this film (and pretty much everything else he did). But I didn't care about anybody else, aside from Karen Allen. If Victoria had to show a wild John Belushi movie from the same period, they would have been better off booking The Blues Brothers. Heck, they would have been better off booking Steven Spielberg's infamous 1941, which is not very good, but is better than its reputation suggests - and it's funnier than Animal House.

Robin Williams liked to joke that "If you could remember the 60s, you weren't really there." It seems the same is true of the late 70s. Animal House is called a classic mainly by people who say the word "man" after "classic." And how funny it is, I think, is directly proportional to how much beer you drank or pot you smoked in college (or high school).

Now it's discussion time. What "classics" didn't seem so classic when you finally saw them?  Perhaps we could make an anti-classics thread to go along with the classics one I intend to revive later.

Fire away at the overrated!

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