Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as MrSmith1939 and 2BorNot2B in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.
This week, the two daydream the ultimate reboot – an entire era of filmmaking brought back to life through the lens of modern directors. What styles should we bring back and homage? It is a good idea to let nostalgia drive us artistically? Will people in 30 years be harkening back to the Abramsian style?
Landon: So Super 8 comes out this weekend, which will bring us all back to our late 70s/early 80s childhood pastimes of chasing mysterious creatures in midwest steel towns. But more importantly, it brings back memories of imaginative, magical Spielbergian cinema from that era. Since nostalgia, especially cinematic nostalgia, is such a powerful force, I thought it’d be interesting to talk about what other filmic eras we’d like to see loyally reproduced onscreen, and who we think might be best at doing the job.
So Cole, what cinematic era would you most like to see back on the big screen?
Cole: If I can simplify it by choosing a decade, it would be the 1950s.
The 1890s is a close second choice, since movies were mostly about falling cats, moons with faces on them, and Thomas Edison smashing lightbulbs on people’s necks.
Landon: I personally think the 50s could’ve used plenty more falling cats. Why that decade?
Cole: One simple reason – variety. We were on the cusp of a major change in movies, heading toward the modern era of the 60s, and while the styles of the past were still in vogue, some directors were already playing around.
Billy Wilder especially.
Hitchcock definitely. Just look at what he did with Vertigo.
Landon: And the 50s themselves were experiencing major changes too with widescreen and a greater push for color movies to compete with TV.
Cole: Exactly. Just take a look at the top grossing films for 1956. Ten Commandments, Giant, The King and I, Crosby in High Society. The epic, the modern drama, the thoughtful musical, and the yesteryear comedy all living together happily on one list.
Landon: Is that something you think we’re missing now? I mean, yes, the 2000s have been very sequel-heavy, but we spoke a few weeks ago about the sheer variety of films being offered this summer.
Cole: Which I definitely appreciate, but there’s less variety than there was during that time. Plus, I’m a sucker for those 50s style flicks – something we don’t get at all anymore unless it’s a “tongue-in-cheek send-up” like Down With Love or something.
Plus, there were levels of film. Actual B-movies. What we have now are bad A-movies or The Asylum.
Landon: And 3D!
Cole: If only that would come back.
What era are you wishing to see reinvigorated?
Landon: Before I start, I just wanted to point out that it’s interesting you brought up Giant and Vertigo, which are both dramas on a huge scale. And that seems to be something about 50s Hollywood cinema that didn’t exist in any other decade: big stories with bigger emotions. In fact, mainstream drama hardly exists at all anymore.
Cole: It’s been replaced by a need to cater to a world market.
Landon: Indeed. So the era I’ve chosen is the late 30s/early 40s. There are a lot of great movies that came out at this time, but I wanted to specifically focus on the screwball romantic comedy: films by Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, George Cukor, Ernst Lubitsch, etc.
Those movies have an enduring magic to them that has been long lost in the mostly cynical and pandering romantic comedies that we’ve seen the past few years.
Cole: So you want a replacement for one of the major black holes of our genre life now.
Landon: Yup. It’s not so much nostalgia as it is a craft people have forgotten.
Cole: It’s a solid idea. I’d rather watch To Be or Not To Be than Kevin James Falls Down Until He Gets the Girl.
Landon: I think that example sums it up perfectly; people would rather write “fat guy falls down” than take the time and effort to really craft great verbal humor.
Cole: And it’s not even necessarily good slapstick either. But I think that speaks to why nostalgia ends up on screen in the first place. Abrams would have been 13 in 1979 (the year Super 8 is set). He was a teen during the Spielberg era. That goes for the romantic comedies of the 60s-70s being influenced by Cukor, Lubitsch and the others.
Landon: I’d add to that that the inherent problem of nostalgia-motivated cinema is that it, like nostalgia itself, works through selective memory. We lament the bad movies of today when compared to the great movies of the past, but in reality there were probably many bad movies in the 30s/40s and 50s (even in the genres or variety of genres we want to see back on screen).
Super 8 basically builds off of what, 2 movies? E.T. and Close Encounters? In order to make that homage, one has to forget 1941, which incidentally was released in the year the film is set.
Cole: But shouldn’t that mean nostalgia-based filmmaking is the best kind? It completely ignores the worst in movies while celebrating the best. Why aren’t we covered in it? – He asked during a summer where every movie ever is set in the past.
Landon: I agree with you. Selective memory, in this case, is beneficial, because we only preserve the best of the best. That being said, while there are plenty of movies set in the past, what would be the roadblocks in seeing the past movies we’ve chosen on the screen again? And who, if anybody, could do it?
Cole: Aside from re-releasing the actual films of the past, there are definitely a few names that can handle the past.
As for romantic comedies, Rob Reiner seemed influenced by the best, and even though he’s made some serious crap lately, you don’t just forget how to tap into Ernst Lubitsch.
Landon: I agree, it’s easy to forget how solid his earlier films were.
To piggyback off that, I’d like to see him collaborate with Aaron Sorkin again, but for a romantic comedy, because Sorkin more than any other screenwriter has the closest equivalent to Howard Hawks-style banter down. And Reiner as a director can bring the pathos Sorkin’s material alone often lacks.
Cole: Haha. I was going to suggest Sorkin for the breakneck dialogue and witty banter. The truth is, we can suggest a few directors to tap into the world of the 40s romantic comedy or the 1950s spread of movies, but it’s writers that are in shorter supply.
Landon: I for one struggle to think who could handle great, big drama.
And Lawrence Kasdan isn’t dead.
Landon: So since Abrams did a Spielberg homage, Spielberg should do a Hitchcock homage.
Cole: There’s no law against filmmakers of the past saving our future. No matter what, it’ll be better than DJ Caruso’s mess.
Landon: Nobody does the past quite like the people who actually worked then. As far as modern drama goes though, indie filmmakers like Derek Cianfrance seem to be the best available, but that’s more small-scale Cassavetes than George Stevens.
I feel like we’re failing here a little bit, and I have to assume that’s part of nostalgia too. How are we supposed to replace Frank Capra with some whipper snapper?
Landon: It’s true. Maybe we should just be happy with the movies we have from back then and hope that new things we haven’t seen before continue to come out in the future.
Even when successful homages are made, it’s never quite the same thing
Cole: True, which is why sometimes nostalgia comes from unexpected places. People said 500 Days of Summer was indie quirk hipsterism, but it reminded me more of a classic romantic comedy/drama than anything in the past five years.
Landon: It reminded me of Annie Hall. Yet Woody Allen still makes movies, and occasionally makes pretty good ones.
Noastalgia and homage can be fun and can make for a good movie, but it’s probably better to build off the past then simply to recreate it.
Cole: So we’ve come to the conclusion that nostalgia is good, but influence is better, and falling cats are the best.
Landon: It’s safe to say no matter what we do, nothing will approach the genius of “People Boarding a Train.”
Cole: Expect a remake announcement within the hour.
Join the discussion by leaving your two cents below and check out more Talking Heads every Friday
Suggest a topic for next week by leaving it in the comments