Essays · Movies

A Guide to Properly Hating Old Movies

The perfect template for all your #problematic needs.
By  · Published on October 28th, 2016

The perfect template for all your #problematic needs.

I was really looking forward to writing about Event Horizon today. I had this whole thing traced out that would detail the complicated production history of the film and its place as one of the best big-budget horror flops of the nineties. Instead, I get to write about The Guardian. Yesterday, The Guardian published a piece on The Shining with the typical complaints issued against classic films. The film wasn’t as good as the expectations placed upon it. People who like it like it a little too much for the author’s taste. And the film manages to whiff on social issues that were still a work in progress for Hollywood producers at the time of its initial release. If you are one of those who plays film critic bingo, The Guardian’s article should be good for at least two of the corner spots.

Now, I’m not against criticism of The Shining. Quite the contrary. Plenty of smart people hate movies and movie stars that seem unassailable to our eyes; just this past week, BuzzFeed published a brilliantly unflinching analysis of Tom Hanks’s career that finds him lacking in ways I had not previously considered. If you draw on a big enough pool of cinephiles, you are guaranteed to find someone who can write an intelligent and thought-provoking hit piece on The Shining or Lawrence of Arabia or any other classic film. What’s more, when done right, these articles can be some of the most fun pieces of film criticism to read. Approaching my favorite films from the opposing viewpoint always helps me better articulate why I fell in love with those movies in the first place. If your appreciation for a film cannot withstand a little bit of criticism, then perhaps that movie wasn’t all that good to begin with.

This, though… this ain’t that. There are interesting ideas floating somewhere beneath the surface of The Guardian’s article, but whatever insights might be offered are lost in the all-too-typical emphasis on personal experience as objective analysis. I’m open to reading an article about what The Shining lost during the adaptation process, or why Wendy Torrance is a disappointing female lead given the horror genre’s history of progressive female characters, or even how a movie like The Shining transitions from a disappointment to a work of genius in just a few decades. Instead, we get two very familiar and, frankly, boring arguments: I Was Personally Unimpressed and This Film’s Audience Is Annoying.

But you know what? I’m a helpful guy. If authors are dead set on publishing these types of pieces, then the least we can do is take a moment and work out the perfect template. This way, the argument gets made, the author gets paid, and audiences can breathe a little easier knowing that they aren’t actually missing anything if they don’t click. Film criticism moves a little closer to its future as a perpetual motion machine that chugs continuously on without outside interference. Let’s give it a shot.

There are films you read about your entire life, and then there are films like [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE]. I’m not quite sure how I avoided seeing [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] for so long. Maybe I had always been subconsciously turned off by the film’s negative approach to [SOCIAL ISSUE]; why waste your time on a half-baked attempt at representation when modern movies like [MODERN MOVIE] are better worth our consideration? What I do know, though, is that by the time I finally sat down to watch [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE], I was looking forward to seeing the masterpiece that everyone else described.

Yeah, no. Look, I know that it’s not fair to approach a movie released in [YEAR OF RELEASE] the same as a film released today, but I’ve spent years hearing about how [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] was responsible for bringing [SOCIAL ISSUE] into the twenty-first century. Is it wrong to expect [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] to tackle [SOCIAL ISSUE] with a little bit more [CONTEXTLESS READING OF SOCIAL ISSUE]? I’m not saying that [DIRECTOR] had to completely reinvent the wheel, but at the very least, he could have [IMPOSSIBLE FILMMAKING CONCEIT GIVEN HISTORICAL CONTEXT]. Maybe things would have turned around a lot sooner if they’d thought for ten minutes about how they were telling the story.


Is [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] still a good movie? If pushed, I can understand why people feel the need to defend it. Scenes like the one where [DESCRIBE THE CINEMATOGRAPHY] set the stage for future filmmakers, and it’s probably fair to say that without [CLASSIC MOVIE DIRECTOR], we wouldn’t have the work of [MODERN MOVIE DIRECTOR], one of the best in the business and the real successor with regards to the vision that [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] tried to execute. But when it comes to [SOCIAL ISSUE]? I don’t think so. All you need to do is point to [PROBLEMATIC SCENE] as proof that the film wasn’t quite the Hollywood turning point that we all accept it to be. Nothing frustrates me more than fans of [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] who call the film as [STRAWMAN]. That is not the movie that I saw, and if we’re being honest, that is probably not the movie that they saw either.


In the end, [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] will probably be remembered as the [DECADE OF INITIAL RELEASE]’s version of Birth of a Nation [NOTE: IT’S ALWAYS BIRTH OF A NATION]: a movie whose technical accomplishments were briefly ‐ and inappropriately ‐ overshadowed by critics who claim that the film got [SOCIAL ISSUE] right. Here’s hoping that the next time someone sits down to watch this movie, they’re ready for something a little nuanced than the film that I saw.

So there you go, friends. Just copy and paste the template and switch out the block text as needed. And remember to focus on films that are seasonally appropriate. Nobody wants to publish your article on why The Shining or Carrie actually sucks in April, nor would they want to read your essay on the problematic journalism displayed in Spotlight in the middle of July. After all, if we’re going to do this, we might as well do it right.

Related Topics: , ,

Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)