Magic

     This semester we have watched many memorable movies. Some I hated, some I loved, and to some I was indifferent. The most recent of the bunch was made in 1973, and that was of a very old play. Never before in my life have I watched so many old movies. In my past experience, most classic movies I have seen are old war movies and silly monster flicks. I had not once seen a single one of these movies before I enrolled in this class. Now, at the end, I can leave with a new understanding of these vintage films and feel somewhat edified by the messages they were trying to get across.

     I totally hated William Wyler's 1939 film Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontė's 1847 book. Yet, looking back, I see it in a new light. It is a timeless tale of love and hate and greed and pride. It is a story most anyone who has ever been in love can relate to. This does not mean I love the film. I am sure I will never watch it willingly again. Yet, I have respect for it now, that I did not when I first watched it and most especially when I was writing a paper on it. It was a noble effort; and the performances were good, according the standards of the day in which it was made. The point of this is that it is transformations like this one that leave me feeling more intellectually broadened at the end of this class.

     I noticed that most of the films we watched have to do with relationships. Some are epic romances; others are about one's coming to terms with one's past or self; still others are about rising above one's fears and becoming a better person. Some of them made me laugh; others made me bored; a few made me think. I have met people like Blanche DuBois, living in a world of happy denial. And I have met people like Eliza Doolittle who have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and fixed their lives, even while others jeered them and told them they could not do it. I have been in love, and consequently fallen out of it, yet still been pierced by its thorns, like Heathcliff and Catherine. After seeing these films, I have decided that these early film makers knew something most of their contemporary counterparts do not. They have an understanding of human nature that I have seen in only the slightest few movies made recently. Perhaps it was because back then movies were not quite the booming industry they are now, and directors could afford to make a movie about what it was actually about rather than making one to make millions of dollars. I will not say that the quality of movies has changed, because just as there are turkeys these days, so were there in the days of the silver screen.

     Still, today's movies lack the essence of those we have watched. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that these movies were all based on a literary work. Perhaps that backing provided for a more sound script and better storytelling technique. I am not sure. It is a very hard "it" to describe. The best way I can find to describe it is magic. Those old films were magic, in one way or another. And apparently that magic was fleeting. Most of our current films lack that dramatic air, or emotional burning, or artistic flare that these films had in gushing amounts. I cannot say why that is. There are no doubt countless reasons. It was simply magic: magic in the hands of the directors who headed these projects, magic in the hands of the actors and their incredible performances, magic in the pens of the writers who wrote the original play or book on which these films were based. All the elements were right. Add the dramatic and lovely black, white and gray hues of the movie screen, and you have got a recipe for cinematic magic. Some might say that recipe has been lost. At the least, it is in short supply.

     I have learned a lot from these movies. Human nature is a very difficult thing to write about, yet these authors and playwrights have done so skillfully and their works have been translated to film equally well. I can walk away from this class with a new understanding and respect for these old films. I am a post-Gen-X'er, and I have grown up in a commercial culture with no depth or meaning to it, except those defined by our corporate gods. These old movies touch something in my mind, a deeper part of me, a sense that feels. I do not have to like those old movies, but I still feel. There is still an awakening in my mind that says, "Yes, I understand this"; and it is telling me how we, as people, are in truth. I do not find that in the big-budget summer blockbuster movies. This class was good for me. It taught me that cinematic art is not dead, not as long as we keep these movies around. While I will never be a huge fan of the classic movie genre, I now know it exists, and know that there are some remarkable pieces within it. The next time I see an old movie on TV I may stop to watch it, to see if it has that indefinable something, that makes it great.

     I call it magic.

Dan Bush

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