I can’t decide whether I have a legitimate reason to be annoyed with the opening sentences of this post by Diane Ellis Scalisi over at Acculturated, or whether I’m just being a snob. My default assumption is the latter, but you be the judge.
Let’s take it line by line.
This past summer, I set out to watch old films from the 1940s and 50s and to write about how they speak to universal themes and circumstances even today.
I hadn’t realized that anyone was in doubt that the films of the ’40s and ’50s are relevant “even today.” Admittedly, I had a film-intensive upbringing, but this sentence should be jarring even to people who didn’t. There are many ways to define what it means to have a “conservative” approach to culture, but I have to think that one fundamental requirement for all of them is not being surprised that art from fifty years ago still speaks to people. For Pete’s sake, this is our grandparents’ generation we’re talking about, not the Middle Ages. Lauren Bacall is still alive—heck, she’s still acting. Liberals go all goggle-eyed at how “modern” the plays of Noel Coward are and how much sex there is in film noir, but we should aspire to be more mature than that.
This is equivalent to saying that The White Album and Dark Side of the Moon deserve to be heard by a new generation of music listeners. I can understand categorizing Gentleman’s Agreement as obscure, but Sunset Boulevard is basic literacy. I wouldn’t waste my time talking about movies to someone who hadn’t seen it any more than I would talk about pop music with someone who’d never heard of Elvis Presley.
I don’t mean to pick on Diane Ellis Scalisi, so to demonstrate my good will, here’s a tip for her future reference, free of charge: Next time you write about a Preston Sturges movie, don’t try to summarize the plot. The man’s signature style involves, among other things, having a storyline so implausible that its failure to make sense would be positively obtrusive if the action didn’t move so quickly. A full recap of a Preston Sturges movie is generally too convoluted for the average reader to follow. Great movie reviewers have tried; all have failed. Just state the basic premise—“Betty Hutton is married and pregnant but can’t find her husband or remember his name,” or “Joel McCrea wants to make a movie about suffering and to that end becomes a hobo”—and then say that wackiness ensues and leave it at that.