Movies are becoming battles of CGI technologies. The contest of the heaviest, fast-paced actions yet look somehow realistic. Their plots don’t progress much. Watching them in the cinemas has become an experience of fight scenes flashing every 5 seconds or so. It could have been an epic storytelling journey – aren’t these people gods or somewhat super-humans?. The definitive moment of narrative storytelling movies go back to the end of silent films; an era glamorously called Hollywood’s Golden Age. By the time the style matured, the industry has produced many movies that became classics. In the entertainment media, sprinkles of references to these movies are everywhere. Yet, they are hard to watch – at least for us millennials who worship HD screens religiously and hence can’t go back from HD contents. So I have few movies for ya – to help with those pop culture references you kinda but don’t get at all.
Citizen Kane (1941)
This movie is black and white, so bear with me. Citizen Kane starts with Kane on his deathbed, said “Rosebud” and died. The movie then follows a reporter who investigates why Kane, a newspaper tycoon, would utter “Rosebud” as his last word. Citizen Kane then progressed as the reporter interviewed those who were close to Kane, as they recounted their times with him. The reporter then found out Kane’s version of the American Dream; from his family’s poverty to the grooming he received when his parents sent him away to live with his mentor. Funnily, since the recounts are from the people who witnessed the event, the reliability of the events are questionable. Each person injected how they felt about Kane into their own view of the event. Alongside that, the ongoing theme in Kane’s life is isolation; he always ended up alone. The impactful take-home note of Citizen Kane is that material things don’t necessarily make you happy. At the end of the day, having someone to share them with is the most cherishable moment there is.
The release of the movie attracted controversy since it seemed like it fictionalized particular events and individuals in William Randolph Hearst’s life, a newspaper mogul. Hearst and his newspaper warriors even pressured the theatres to boycott the movie. Alas, the movie was finally released on May 1, 1941. The movie, however, went on to be dubbed as the most influential movie of all time. Amongst the long list of movies influenced and/or compared to Citizen Kane are Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, Memento and The Social Network. It did, however, fades away from view until its revival in 1956, 15 years after its original release.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
I’m singin’ in the raaaain, just singin’ in the raaaain what a glorious feeeeling I’m haaaappy again
Now don’t tell me that you didn’t sing along to the lyrics above. You may not know the movie, but you definitely have encountered the song. Singin’ in the Rain is a musical, which follows three performers in 1920s as they transitioned from silent movies to “talkies”, as in sound films or normal movies for us in the 21st century. The movie revolves around the issues tied with the introduction of sound into the film; from strong accents to unsynced conversations. Its charms never fail to amuse me – Gene Kelly’s iconic “Singin’ in the Rain” is timeless. The list of this song’s references in pop culture is endless – from the controversial rape scene in A Clockwork Orange to Glee’s mashup of the song with Rihanna’s Umbrella. It is regarded as the best musical ever made and still stands by its honour for half a century. It doesn’t only account its fame to the song – remember, it’s a musical. In total, there are 12 songs sprinkled around the movie and one of them cost them $600,000 to produce! It’s definitely a classic.
12 Angry Men (1957)
To be honest, this is one of the old movies that I can bear to watch, albeit the absence of colours. 12 Angry Men is set mostly in the jury room; in fact, outside of the jury room was only shown for three minutes of this 96-minute movie. As the title goes, the story follows a jury of 12 men in the jury room. The plot revolves around their deliberation of the guilt or acquittal of an 18-year-old slum boy who is accused of murder. If he is found guilty, he would be given the death penalty. The basis of the boy’s defence is reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is the principle whereby the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The plaintiff only has two questionable witnesses and a claim to a rare switchblade as the murder weapon. The deliberation starts with everyone vote guilty except for one; Juror 8. As the jury has to reach a consensus, the “12 angry men” discuss the facts of the murder and one by one side with Juror 8 until they reach a unanimous vote.
12 Angry Men explores the issues with reaching consensus with different personalities and personal values. The tension felt during the movie arises from personality conflict, dialogue and body language instead of action. Roger Ebert praised the movie as “a masterpiece of stylized realism – the style coming in the way the photography and editing comment on the bare bones of the content”. The movie, however, deprives each of the character’s individualism by referring to each other by juror number, the defendant as ‘the boy’ and the witnesses as ‘the old man’ and ‘the lady across the street’.
You may think that old movies aren’t as good as recent ones, but you may be wrong. Sure, they lack the CGI technologies that we all know and love, yet they progressed the industry so much in terms of editing and most importantly, sound. As the incorporation of sound matured, the industry produced brilliant movies such as described above – and significantly affect the film industry since then.