I was recently asked this question in one of my film classes. There were a variety of answers: for historical purposes, as relics, to romanticize the past…but I love watching old movies for a different reason. Sometimes less is more.
In older films, such as those from the 50’s, you have to analyze the scene in order to figure out what is going on. Because of the production code and moral values back then, they had to use symobls to communicate certain acts, such as sex. The meaning is hidden and you have to search for it.
Of course, there are plenty of films that do this now. Obviously I still analyze and read them, or else I wouldn’t write about so many on my blog. But there are many mainstream films that leave little to be interpreted. And by that I mean they are too on the nose. They are too obvious. Everything is on the surface.
I love watching older films, like the old 3:10 to Yuma, and trying to figure out the message. The remake, however, changes the meaning of the film by making Dan Evan’s weakness too apparent. He is disabled with a bum leg. In the original, he was not a veteran who had been injured. He was just bad at trying to get Ben Wade on the train. My point is, older movies showed less a lot of the time and we weren’t given everything, which is sometimes more impactful.
I also love old films because I’m watching them from a completely different perspective than the audience it was meant for. Watching Citizen Kane in 2016 has a much different effect than it had in 1941. You can’t do that with current films. I have a different kind of appreciation for old films because of the time period I live in. It’s amazing to see what directors could do without the technology we have now.
Watching old films gives me a greater appreciation for filmmaking. Seeing these films helps me understand the way people from a different decade thought about and executed films. The writing has to be more complicated and intricate to get around the production code and to avoid inappropriate material for audiences. They also help me understand some of the “cliché” plots we run into constantly now. At one point, these plots were original, as well as camera techniques we are used to. Quentin Tarantino made Django Unchained , which was heavily influenced by old spaghetti western’s such as A Fistful of Dollars.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that classic films are worth watching because filmmaking was still fairly new, and there were innovative and new techniques directors were trying. The way they told stories was unique and interesting. It’s something different to watch compared to the repeated action films that are released now.
Like I said earlier, there are still films that create new techniques and have interesting writing. But I’d rather watch Double Indemnity than the new Pirates of the Caribbean coming out, that’s for sure.