Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

What’s wrong with young people (part 126)

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with young people. They won’t watch old films any more. I thought about this recently when I was compiling a list of (how quaint) Christmas TV movies for a radio broadcast. My notion was to …

Sun, Jan 9, 2011, 18:30

   

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with young people. They won’t watch old films any more. I thought about this recently when I was compiling a list of (how quaint) Christmas TV movies for a radio broadcast. My notion was to ignore all the obvious blockbusters — available at €3.99 on DVD for the last year — and focus on classic older films that the listener may never have seen or have long forgotten. After all, it’s a long time since the arrival of the latest James Bond film on Christmas Day counted as any sort of event.

Is it Gwyneth Paltrow?

Easier said than done. Even when including the main Sky Movie channels, older films — made, let’s say, before 1970 — were absurdly thin on the ground. The brief Hitchcock season on RTÉ was welcome, but there’s always a Hitchcock season on somewhere. We saw that coming. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon turned up one afternoon. The Fall of the Roman Empire turned up on another. The notion that, considering a score of channels over a 10-day period, I would be spoilt for choice was rapidly revealed to be a sad illusion. It’s nice that Sky Movie Classics and TCM exist, but do we really need to herd black-and-white films into a ghetto?

Now, it’s easy to blame the broadcasters. If I ruled the planet then (before the Earth was shut-down due to my forgetting to pay the gas bill) all TV stations would be required to show one vintage movie a day at prime time. The truth is, however, that the channels are only reacting to demand. As late as the 1980s, the main terrestrial stations would still show a Bogart film or a Garbo picture in prime time. Now, if deprived of specialist satellite broadcasters, the only place you’ll find an older film on in the early evening is TG4 (hat’s off to their dedication, incidentally). To screen an elderly picture is to surrender the evening to Simon Cowell and his shrieking charges.

A measure of this decline can be found on, of all places, University Challenge. Egghead students identify the capital of Burkino Faso, the atomic weight of Californium and the sources of Two Gentlemen of Verona then fail to recognise a picture of Jimmy Stewart.

Buzz!

“Horsepumpkin, Peterhouse”

“Is it Kirk Douglas?”

That sort of thing. There is (kind of) a serious point here. Not too long ago, a knowledge of classic cinema was regarded as the sort of thing any educated cove should possess. Just as it reflected well on a chap to know the difference between Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson, it held you in good stead to tell your Dietrich from your Garbo. Now, such knowledge is regarded as the preserve of fanatical hobbyists. When did this happen?

Anyway, we really enjoyed watching the shiny print of The Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business the other night on Sky Movies Classics. At three o’clock in the morning! What’s the bloody point.

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