Modern Times: Technology, Family, and Film Education

Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
October 23rd, 2010

Rain slams up against a closed window in a dimly lit living room, as if it were a group of captives trying to break out of a glass container.

A Christmas tree stands to the left of a full length couch, naked of any sort of gaudy bells or whistles.  A bald man sits, anxiously rocking back and forth as the opening credits of the day’s movie begin to roll.  An impressionable young child lies on his belly, head in his palms, equally anxious to see what is on today’s cinematic menu.

A VHS copy of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT begins to roll, in all of its grainy, low-fi beauty.

Just another day at the John Van Weiren film school, better known as the average day with my late great-grandfather.

Be it the various classic Disney animated films I would spend days watching and re-watching, all under the watchful eye of the statuesque man who single handedly shaped who I was and who I am today, or the screwball comedies that would get his aging body shaking with laughter, I can’t help but say I’ve been a lover of film ever since I can remember.

Sure, it might have helped given that my mother and father refused (or couldn’t afford) to take me to daycare (they were only 20 and 19 years old respectively), but I can’t help but think this was some sort of divine intervention.  I was blessed with two great-grandparents, and a great-grandmother, who not only cared for me, but also thrust film after film, be it a silent Charlie Chaplin comedy like MODERN TIMES or a sci-fi action film like the original STAR WARS trilogy, directly at the wide-eyed youth that I was.

However, my brother is different.

My brother didn’t get this treatment.

To my brother, films don’t matter.

Over the past decade or so, as the public and more particularly scholars, begin to look at the effects of new age technologies ranging as specific as something like Facebook, or as broad as the growing use of technology by younger and younger people, the focus may be on their input into society as a whole.  Afterall, the growth of technology is not only changing how we interact, but it’s changing the entire concept of interaction at its core.  We are moving from a deeper society, looking for more depth in our social interactions, into one that looks for the broadest of relationships, where we learn a little about everything that makes up a person, instead of a lot of some things.  It’s the Facebook profiling of modern society.

However, how does this affect film and the way one gets educated about it?

In many ways, that goes hand in hand with the way it is affecting the idea of family and the relationship between members of the said group.

Today’s world is becoming less and less family focused.

With divorce rates at an all-time high, the relative normality of divorce and the subsequent fracturing of the family entity is at the root of today’s apathy towards classic cinema. While relationships with parents may be at the core of a divorce, it’s the younger generation’s relationship with those members of the respective family’s older generations that both foster the most interesting and extensive cinematic knowledge growth, but it’s also the biggest victim of a broken series of familial relationships.  As younger generations begin to be sent to daycare centers around the country, the older generations don’t have the opportunity to see the youth generation, let alone inform them about cinema from their own youth.  It’s this entire series of eras, starting with early silent films and roughly running up until the kick start of the French New Wave, that has seemingly been lost to an entire new generation.

Throughout my life, all 21 years of it, my insight into classic cinema has not only been outlets such as Netflix or the average interest list on fellow writers’ Facebook pages, but it has and always will be my relatives.  As long as I can remember, I’ve had long winded discussions with my grand-mother about the merits of this silent film she told me to watch, or this underrated ‘70s classic she tossed to me by VHS.  This sense of true cinematic passion is hard not to get addicted to and strive for.

However, this is becoming increasingly rare.  Not only as younger generations begin to take interaction online more and more, the lack of stable and singular family to interact with ultimate plays villain to any possible cinematic passion.

That said, some of today’s most popular films are those that hit all “four quadrants.” Films that can get males, females, both young and old, into the theaters, are ones that will ultimately get the most money.  More often than not, these are the films that will get the families together, and back into the world of cinema.  However, this may not be quite the way that that should be happening.

I love Pixar films as much as the next cinephile.  However, this idea that the broader the film, the better, is ultimately the scariest, and most prevelant thought.  Foreign films are becoming less and less popular amongst modern filmgoers, with any successful foreign release almost automatically being optioned for an English language remake.  At this stage in the game, the only thing seemingly more of a turn off to filmgoer would be something in black and white.

The idea of a black and white film nearly takes on a symbolic meaning with many members of the youngest generations in society.  As a society, we in turn give meaning to these symbols (it’s symbolic interactionism 101, according to the concept stated by George Herbert Mead), and these meanings are often not good.  Most people see black and white films as viscerally unappealing, thanks to the idea that they are somehow inferior to those that have color in each frame.

This in and of itself also has to do with the ever growing world of technology.

Last week’s big box office winner, JACKASS 3D, is not only based on a beloved TV and film franchise, but joining the impressive use of 3D is the first prevelant use of what is known as the Phantom camera. A massively powerful piece of camera technology, the camera is able to shoot at 1,000 frames per second, with the ultimate result being some of the most breathtaking 3D slow-motion footage you’ll ever see.

This is the type of world we live in.

We live in a world where a film that started at the most modest of launching points (watch early Jackass skits, you’ll feel as though you’re in a time machine to a much different age) can take a relatively low budget ($20 million according to reports), and be given some of the top tier technology we have to date.  Anyone and everyone can make a film, thanks to the outlet the crew behind JACKASS helped pioneer, YouTube (they are to me, the first true “youtube sensations,” but that’s another editorial for another day), and it’s hard for people to truly enjoy watching films that are of lower visual quality than the ones made with their mom or dad’s pro-sumer camera.

However, technology is ultimately making social interaction, and thus the spreading of film knowledge (particularly the promotion of classic, foreign or genre cinema), lazy.

Based upon the Social Penetration Theory, posited by Altman and Taylor during the 1960s,  as we begin to have more intimate and personal relationships, we must have a combination of depth of knowledge of one or more people, as well as a breadth of knowledge of that same person.  Simply put, we as humans, to have healthy and intimate relationships, must not only rely on the idea of reciprocity of self-disclosure, but we must also learn as much as we can about a person or group of people, throughout multiple facets of their respective life or lives.

That’s ultimately impossible throughout much of today’s social landscape.

With the onslaught of outlets like Facebook and Twitter, we are becoming more and more a society focused almost singularly on knowing as little about a lot of things that make up a person’s personality.  Where they are from, how old they are, where they live, what are their favorite books, and in the case of Twitter, what are they doing exactly at that moment.  It’s forcing society and social interactions to not only become more based in the websphere, instead of the public sphere, thus making relationships less fruitful and viscerally tactile.  This deconstruction of interaction ultimately leaves classic films without a new generation to play to, and subsequent fewer generations to truly play its champion.

Granted, not all is lost.  While it may be a bit of a bias on my part, no one tries to buck this trend harder and with more success than the geniuses over at The Criterion Collection, who, for example, will be releasing the masterpiece of silent comedy that is Charlie Chaplin’s final Little Tramp film, MODERN TIMES, not only on DVD, but stunning Blu-ray as well.  Other outlets are following suit, such as The Warner Archives, who are the physical manifestation of the ultimate idea that was put into my head by my late great-grandfather, and the rest of my family.  These, along with other companies (Kino is another example of a staple amongst us cinephiles), are singlehandedly trying to keep the art of true cinematic discovery alive.  We also still have voices among the public.  Just last Thursday, the Library of Congress played host to a presentation of 10 previously lost American silent films, including 1923’s THE CALL OF THE CANYON, and the Wallace Reid starring 1919 films, YOU’RE FIRED and VALLEY OF THE GIANTS.

Just look at the Criterion release of Jean Painleve’s SCIENCE IS FICTION.  A series of short films spanning science based documentaries to research shorts, animated to experimental; SCIENCE IS FICTION is a release that often goes free of discussion.  However, Criterion deemed it worthy of a full-fledged release, thus giving the public the opportunity, if savvy enough to search it out, to bear witness to some of the most stunning pieces of nature based documentary filmmaking this planet has ever seen.  However, again, this must be fostered through something many films find themselves relying more and more on these days, word of mouth.  That said, it’s a different word of mouth.  It’s a word of mouth surrounding a film that, based on the symbol it’s become as a series of foreign science research documentary short films, is not welcome amongst the YouTube, ADD-laden world that we all currently live in.  Now, maybe if it was made in 3D with an explosion or half-naked woman popping up on screen every 25 minutes, it may be the bestselling DVD on the planet, but as it stands, it’s one that is going to be lost in the shuffle, and unjustly so.  It’s a genuinely stunning piece of visual filmmaking that is a must see for anyone who likes themselves a documentary, or just a film that is going to open their eyes to an entire world of filmmaking.

That’s not an experience that is quite popular amongst this superficial, Facebook-profile of a world we live in.  Technology and it’s allowing of the deconstruction of true social interaction, putting superficial grandstanding and face value relationships in the place of deep intimate interactions that foster reciprocal relationships breeding not only true relationships, but also cinematic growth, is at the root of the issues surrounding modern filmgoers and their disdain for anything older than their last meal.  Toss in the growing deconstruction of modern familial relationships, particularly those held with older members of a given family, and you have a perfect root cause for the growing idiocy amongst modern filmgoers with regards to classic cinema.

Without my family I don’t know where I’d be right now. I sure as hell wouldn’t be writing for Gordon And The Whale. As the world becomes more and more based around superficial social interactions, and as people begin to spend less and less time with their family, particularly the older members, there doesn’t seem like there will be smooth roads ahead for classic films, looking for a new generation to play to.  Without a reemergence of not only family, but visceral and tactile social interactions, I don’t know where the film world is going, but it sure as hell is going to be an interesting ride.

But it’s one that I hope changes, this time with a cinephile’s mentality sitting shotgun, giving directions.

Other articles that you might like:

Commenting Rules: Comments are intended to open up the discussion to our readers about the topics at hand, and as such should be offered with a positive and constructive attitude. If your comment is not relative to the above post or is disrespectful to the authors and readers, we reserve the right to delete it. Continued abuse of our good nature will result in banishment of the offender. Additionally, if you have any burning issues to point out to the GATW crew - typos, corrections, suggestions, or straight-up criticism - please email us instead of commenting here.

  • Recent Post