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August 14, 2008


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I look at it this way:

Over time, the bad art from any time falls away. It's forgotten. "The Third Man" came out in 1949, a year that, according to the IMDB, had more than four thousand movies and television episodes produced around the world, and that's just what they know of! How much of that is watched now?

Also consider that film output has been greatly reduced. Hollywood takes fewer shots at the target, so it hits it less often.

So I don't think good movies are running in short supply. I just wish, and I'll bet they said this back in '49, that they made more of them.


I agree, you're absolutely right, Glenn. But so was the older gentleman in the bowler hat who walked out of the theater in 1949 lamenting the passing of the silents. And so will be the older gentleman in the tweed enviro-vacusuit walking out of a 4-D holosensogram theater in 2049 pining for a decent film (or "flatty," as they'll be called.)

Big wheel keeps on turning.

Thanks for this post, just looking at that zither puts a big smile on my face.

Owain Wilson

It's just hindsight, as Mink points out above.

Back in 1949, I'm pretty sure no one was shitting themselves at the sight of those names on the screen, just as we don't particuarly tremble in awe at the names GEORGE CLOONEY / BRAD PITT / MATT DAMON at the start of a movie.

But who knows, the generations below us might just revere those names in decades to come, especially when compared to whatever meat-heads are parading around onscreen in 2049.

Still, you can't beat a bit of the old "they don't make 'em like they used to!"


Yeah, given how many great movies, movies that will last long after we're all gone, came out last year, I have a hard time believing that film is as impoverished as you claim, Glenn.

I will admit, though, that anytime I see Matt Damon's name on a movie poster, I actually do shit myself.


Yeah, given how many great movies, movies that will last long after we're all gone, came out last year, I have a hard time believing that film is as impoverished as you claim, Glenn.

I will admit, though, that anytime I see Matt Damon's name on a movie poster, I actually do shit myself.


Totally agree Glenn. There just aren't the visionary directors around these days. Where is today's equivalent of Peckinpah? When Chris Nolan is being heralded as a vaunted auteur you know cinema is in trouble.

Herman Scobie

Would any filmmaker today, working with stars in a studio movie, be allowed to have an ending as devastating as the conclusion of Third Man? Would any director be allowed the time Reed takes to show Valli's approaching and receding walk? One of the great endings of all time.


I honestly think the answer is yes. I don't think it could be seen as common nowadays, but as Dan points out, how common was it really in 1949? Look at "Zodiac" or "No Country for Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood". All had stars, all were studio films, all had unusual endings, and all came out in the same year.

Tony Dayoub

I think that mainstream films (just to stay within the same realm as the ones you brought up) are much more elastic today than they were many years ago. With the evolution of technology, the scaling back of censorship, and the rise of the ambiguous hero in such films, we have many more tools available to us to tell our stories. Yes, many filmmakers don't utilize them properly, if at all.

Two films stand out from last year, for me, that I think will attain "classic" status in years to come: "There Will Be Blood" and "Zodiac"

If I was locked in a room with a DVD player, and my two movies, and your two on DVD, I'd definitely have trouble picking which one to watch first.

Tony Dayoub

By the way, Bill, the synchronicity in your response with mine is significant.

I swear your post wasn't up yet, when I was writing mine.

Glenn Kenny

Looking back, that was a pretty dumb question, and I should remind myself of one of the cardinal rules of blogging, e.g., don't post while melancholy, before I think to venture into such avenues of inquiry again.

Still, it is a pretty stirring image, no?...


"Matt Damon - the natural laxative!"

I agree with the comments above. We should put The Third Man and The Wild Bunch into context with the many other films released in the same year - many of which may be terrible and others might be neglected classics that never received the same attention because of a lack of 'star names'.

Though I also agree that to some extent an indiviudal writer or director is needed to push through classics that just wouldn't normally get pushed through if just the studios were making the decisions but I think we've been in a relatively decent period this decade (and last year particularly as has been pointed out was a particularly strong cinematic year).


Not to knock the thread off course, but having seen "Zodiac", I don't get the love for it. I'll be seeing "Blood" soon, and I'll be curious to see what my reaction is to it, as I'm very off/on with PTA (haven't seen "Boogie Nights", loathed "Magnolia", thought "Punch-Drunk Love" was brilliant).


Though modern cinema is of course immeasurably diminished by the complete lack of zithers!


Dan my reaction to PTA's films so far has been:

Boogie Nights (classic), Magnolia (OK but vastly overextended), Punch-Drunk Love (abominable), There Will Be Blood (a perfect film!)


Oh, and Hard Eight was very good too!


Great image, though it only makes me want to hear the score too.

Sure, you blogged when you were melancholy but I think you're on to something. I can think of maybe one or two films from the past eight or nine years that worked on the level of The Third Man. I don't want to see a return to classicism (which would probably feel forced at this point) but how about a return to modernism, circa 70s? I don't know...

As for the bad-films-came-out-in-'49 argument, that's true but the point is about the cream of the crop. I enjoyed No Country, had mixed feelings about Blood (though I'd like to see it again), enjoyed Zodiac, but were these really masterpieces for the ages? Really good films definitely, and I'm inclined to say No Country may have achieved greatness (although, for my money Big Lebowski was, and will remain, the Coen masterpiece - no kidding, watch it again, it's brilliant!). But I have a hard time putting these films on the same elevated plane with The Third Man.

Wish I'd been around to experience these works the first time around. Glenn, you're very lucky to have lived through such a rich period yourself and experienced it firsthand.

(Don't worry, I'm kidding - you're not that old...)


I think "Magnolia" is brilliant, and "Boogie Nights" is overrated (though still good). "Hard Eight" is underrated, as is "Punch-Drunk Love", and "There Will Be Blood" is bizarre and flawed and brilliant and unlike anything else I've ever seen.



You've got a point about the zithers?

Why didn't you like "Punch-Drunk Love"? I can see why people wouldn't like it, it's a very...specific film. But I'm curious about your reactions.


I'll second the "more zither!" cry, but, speaking of "Punch-Drunk Love," how many movies of the late 40s could derive so much metaphorical value from a harmonium?


'There Will Be Blood' was a magnificent film, and certainly far superior to 'No Country For Old Men'. Just the latest Oscar faux pas in a long list. I picked up the DVD of 'Hard Eight' a few days ago and am now looking forward to seeing it after reading the comments above.


I'm just pointing out the dearth of zithers in recent cinema. :D

I didn't really like Punch-Drunk Love as I have never warmed to Adam Sandler. Since the film seems to function partly as a riff on an 'Adam Sandler movie' in which the normally hidden mental illnesses and asocial behaviour his various characters exhibit is foregrounded it just makes it even more difficult for me to get past its Sandler-y-ness!

Though I do consider this purely my personal opinion and that my reasons given above for hating the film could be considered its greatest strengths by fans!


I would agree it's a matter of personal taste.

I hate Adam Sandler movies too (excepting "Billy Madison", somebody made the excellent point that it's ABOUT stupidity and ignorance, not stupid and ignorant itself), but I like the fact that the pain and rage was foregrounded instead of laughed off or hidden. It makes the character a lot more sincere than most of his work and helps set the tone for the film.


C'mon, Glenn, you're old enough to remember the critical savaging (mostly for its violence and "nihilism") that greeted WILD BUNCH when it was released. It took years for people to realize its true greatness.

That said, even the most gawd-awful El Brendel two-reeler is still superior that anything with the name "Apatow" on it.


I don't really get the Blood cult. I enjoyed Day-Lewis' performance, the photography was great, but the film seemed to lurch from set piece to set piece, often with maddeningly oblique motivation. I need to revisit it because my mixed first impression seems to be contradicted by everyone who adored the film - and they are legion. I increasingly suspect that it's a movie that either gets under your skin and works on an irrational level or doesn't. With David Lynch, I'm always perplexed when people don't "get" it - isn't it supposed to work on a subconscious, visceral plane which tapes directly into your imagination, like a dream? Now I seem to be in the same position as the Lynch agnostics, vis-a-vis Anderson (a lot of people have told they loved it and responded emotionally to its sometimes inexplicable weirdness). I will say, in my defense, that Anderson's film makes much more of an attempt to attach itself to a specificities of character motivation and story detail, so that any flagrant idiosyncracies feel more like a betrayal than they do in Lynch's work.

Or maybe I just deserve to have my head bashed in with a bowling pin.


completely impoverished state? Although I find myself at times feeling the same, I just don't think it's the case. Here are a few titles over the last few years I believe will stand the test of time:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominik)

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Audiard)

Dirty Pretty Things (Frears)

Downfall (Hirschbiegel)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry)

The New World (Malick)


The impoverishment isn't in the movies themselves; it's in the hype surrounding them. Nowadays, there's so much hype in all directions and on all levels over a handful of (generally action-adventure) domestic blockbusters that everything else gets obscured.


Somehow a discussion of the state of modern cinema's become a forum on the relative quality of the works of PT Anderson. Let me weigh in now that I have at least one compatriot: I'm not just being contrary when I say There Will Be Blood struck me as tremendously overrated, not unlike the baffling Million Dollar Baby, which, I'll wager, within weeks of its Oscar win no one among its champions had the energy to pry out of its DVD case. Blood has a lot more to recommend it; it's often beautiful and hypnotic, but Anderson is so conscious that he's fashioning greatness that he creates its striking facade without the backgrounding narrative substance. Ageist though it may be to say, it struck me as the work of an artist too young to achieve what he set out to do. And yes I know how old Orson Welles was when...etc. I'm sure PTA does, too.
Finally, like MovieMan0283, I do think I should revisit it, as so many others have testified to how moved and transported they were by a movie that left me pretty cold. (I'm not watching Million Dollar Baby again, though; that's where I draw the line.)

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