28 June 2009

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past Are Missing Out

I suppose for a lot of people anything that happened before their lifetime doesn't really matter. I came across two examples of this today, the second of which I'll address at length.

In the first instance Sports Illustrated's online edition had a list of the ten most memorable moments at the Wimbledon tennis championships. Wimbledon has held its tennis championships since the 1880's, yet Sports Illustrated is apparently of the opinion that nothing memorable happened until 1970. Evidently those first 80 years were pretty tedious.

The second list appeared in today's local rag, the San Francisco Chronicle and offered the 10 Best Screen Mobsters. Every single film gangster that this writer deems worthy of mention appeared in a film released in or after 192.. The same is true of the six runners up he offers. Evidently the author has heard of neither DVDs nor Turner Classic Movies.

This poor bloke has missed out on some stunning James Cagney performances. How else to explain his omissions of Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) or Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)? He might also have considered Cagney as Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) or as Eddie Bartlett in The Roaring Twenties (1939).

He's also evidently unaware of a certain fellow by the name of Bogart, Humphrey. He's thus been deprived of seeing such gangsters as Duke Manttee in Petrified Forest (1936), Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941), Bugs Fenner in Ballots or Bullets (1936) to name but a few.

Then there's Edward G. Robinson who played some pretty nasty gangsters himself. Because Eddie G had the bad luck to be born in 1893 and thus had a film career that was all but over by 1972, the author missed him playing Rico in Little Caesar (1931) (photo above), Johnny Sarto in Brother Orchid (1940) and Johnny Rocco in Key Largo (1948).

Am I making myself clear?

Here's the deal, I've named 10 gangsters using just three actors. You want me to name another ten from before 1970 using different actors? Go head and dare me.

No one who believes that the dawn of mankind was in 1970 should be taken seriously. Motion pictures have been entertaining us for about 100 years. To to make a list that purports to have the best of something yet totally ignores the first 60 years of that something's existence deserves nothing but contempt. And the same goes for SI's silly list which pretends that tennis legends like Don Budge, Althea Gibson and Bill Tilden didn't exist or that any match they were in had to be a yawner.

As someone who taught young people for 20 years I'm all too aware of the how little respect recent generations have had for the past. We need not only remember our political history but our social and cultural pasts as well. You want to fully understand and appreciate a sport, music, paintings, film or anything else, recognize if not study its past. I'll spare you a long winded spiel on how the past shapes the present because I'm hoping you know that. But before I step down from my soapbox I'll say that if a person makes an individual decision to enjoy only gifts from the present or very recent past that's their business and their loss. But to publicly ignore those blessings is an affront and needs to be called out.

"History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity." - Cicero.


Skitch said...

Oddly enough, your post is very topical as friends and I were laughing about some things that happened recently.

1)Bill Maher had Meghan McCain on as a guest and she was "debating" Paul Begala as to when our current economic problems started. Someone posited that certain issues arose with Regan, others with Carter and even some as far back as FDR.

She stated that those things happened before her time so she didn't know about them. Without missing a beat, Begala responded with "Well the French Revolution happened before I was born but I still know about it."

2) Some game show happened to be on where an older gentleman was pitted against a younger man in his 20s and they had to name the films of Dustin Hoffman. The younger man claimed that he should know them as he worked in a video store.

Know who won that round? Three guesses and the first two don't count.

It's really sad in a way that people fail to have appreciation for the past, whether it be movies, music, politics or anything else in the world. Too many are concerned with the here and now. One wonders if we paid more attention to the past, we might have some answers for the future...

Another great column!

The Mad Hatter said...

Couldn't agree with you more. Not that I'm above assigning newer titles a bit of neo-classic status, but you're right that when it comes to a medium as old as film, one really has to step back to get the whole picture.

I'm willing to bet the person who compiled that list wasn't over 25.

Cliff Aliperti said...

I've re-written this answer a few times before posting, but will finally just say, that's not a list I agree with.

You may have missed it, but he even mentions White Heat before disqualifying it, though that's perhaps more damning.

The fact that the article leads about Johnny Depp as Dillinger before going on to DQ "free agents (such as Dillinger's gang)" has me shaking my head a little more.

I guess we'll just have to chalk it up to the writer not being a classic film fan.

Millie said...

Oh, I ALWAYS get angry when "Best of" lists are made and only include new films.

Last year at Christmas time, I was outraged when I heard a radio host mention that George C. Scott's version of A Christmas Carol was "the original".

Ha! What about Alister Sim? Or Reginald Owen?

One thing though, my generation usually gets a pretty bad rap (and mostly deservedly). But, you have to realize there are some of us who do remember the past!

I'm not even sixteen and I LOVE classic film and everything related to it far, far, far, far more than I do modern day offerings.

Good post! -Millie

Cholgosh Swindlehurst said...

To be fair, the writer called his list "10 of the greatest "trouble boys" to ever grace the screen, small or big." rather than "The Ten Best Screen Gangsters" as you write.

I agree that he's missed the mark, and that he's left out some great gangsters (and his rules are pretty wonky, Bonnie and Clyde certainly should have made the list, IMO), but lets be accurate.

Anonymous said...

Tens of thousands of years of human development and civilization were but a build-up to today. Everything that really matters had its dim beginnings in the 1960s. We have now reached the zenith of hipness, the apex of cultural accomplishment. I don't know much about anything that happened before I was in high school, and after all, it's not really relevant, is it?