04 March 2009

Never Heard of Him

I am second to no one in my appreciation of the world's greatest website, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). It is absolutely, positively the most comprehensive film website in existence. It's the first place I go after watching a movie (unless I really need to use the bathroom). Want to learn more about the director? Check IMDb. Want to figure out where you'd previously seen that the guy who played the ranch hand? Check IMDb. Looking for reviews of the movie? Check IMDb. Trivia? Alternate Versions? Release date? Awards won? Filming locations? All on IMDb.

How about TV shows? IMDb is your one stop source. Fancy a discussion on a film or TV show? Try their discussion boards. How about if you want to get out of the house? (To see a movie, of course. ) You can find showtimes for theaters near you without leaving the comfort of the good ole IMDb.

Want some news or gossip from the film world? Guess who's got it.

Why they've even got links to some really cool blog posts (occasionally from this very site).

Yes ladies and gentleman, meine Damen und Herren, naiset ja herrat, signore e signori, Mesdames et Messieurs, señoras y señores, the IMDb is practically the only surfing center you'll ever need for everything and anything cinematic.

So what's Mr. Grumpy here got to complain about, then?

A "seemingly" trivial matter. Every day IMDb presents a poll asking readers a film or TV related question such as which is your favorite Paul Newman film or how many movies do you go to a year or what was the best film of the 1980's. The answers may sometimes astound you.

I enter into evidence today's poll question: "Only three directors have won the Academy Award for Best Director three times or more. Which one of these guys is your favorite filmmaker?" The choices were, of course, these notables:

Frank Capra (pictured above) (It Happened One Night; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; You Can’t Take It with You)
John Ford (The Informer; The Grapes of Wrath; How Green Was My Valley; The Quiet Man)
William Wyler (Mrs. Miniver; The Best Years of Our Lives; Ben-Hur)

Guess who won. No, go ahead, guess....If you said the leading answer, with an astounding 36%, was "I am not familiar with these directors" you are correct.

Not "familiar" with the directors of The Letter (1940) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) My Darling Clementine (1946), Dodsworth (1936), Meet John Doe (1941), Stagecoach (1939), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Roman Holiday (1953) and many, many more? Sacrebleu!

This is a classic example of the abyssal ignorance you come across on the IMDb. There is a huge number of little tykes, or people with the brains of little tykes, who come on the site and vote.

Another feature of the site is that for each movie and TV show you can assign a rating from 1-10. All films thus have a composite rating and you can look up what age groups and genders particularly liked or disliked a film. IMDb also keeps track of its top 250, the ratings leaders. Of all movies ever, guess what's number one? The Shawshank Redemption. A nice enough film, but number one? Ever? The Dark Knight clocks in at number six! Of all time! Two installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy grace the top 20. Gran Torino, which popped in and out of theaters a few months ago is somehow number 82. Who even knew it had a cult following? Another recent Clint Eastwood offering, The Changeling, appears on the list as do The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and the recently released Caroline.

The top 250 is not surprising heavy on films released in the past ten years.

I am reminded of last year when I was still toiling as a middle school history teacher. I told the class I was going to show them a movie about a mountain man, called Jeremiah Johnson (1972). One student asked if there was anyone famous in it. When I replied, Robert Redford, she smirked "who?" as if I had told her Pernwickle Pennyllcker was the star.

So what we have here is a crotchety old man complaining about all the young whippersnappers who know of nothing pre MTV. Right? Well yes but it goes a lot deeper. Not so many years ago when I was a lad (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth) us young uns knew all the old baseball players and movie stars and even many of the long deceased presidents. Despite the efforts of such teachers as yours truly, today's younger set not only doesn't have a clue, it doesn't much seem to care.

So I could now launch into a lecture on our disposable society, but I think if you've made it this far you get the point.

Anthony Hopkins in the role of John Quincy Adams in Amistad (1997) said, "who we are is who we were." Our culture is in very serious trouble if the younger generations have no awareness of what built it and no appreciation for what those building blocks were. Whether in film, music, sports or politics, to recognize and appreciate those who came before enhances the appreciation of those around today. We are moving so fast so far so recklessly that we are leaving behind some very precious memories. Thank God for DVDs and Turner Classic Movies (world's greatest TV station) and the reverence many sports institutions hold for the past. Still I fear that it is too many of us old fogies who are fondly remembering and enjoying Jimmy Cagney, Benny Goodman and Willie Mays. We need to get our young people on board. For their sakes and the sakes of future generations. We lose something of ourselves as a culture when we lose links to our past.

Now will someone help me down off this soapbox?


R. D. Finch said...

Sorry, Riku, but will you help me UP onto the soapbox? When I was in college and wanted to learn about movies, the film courses I took were largely about film history. They taught us how movies came into being, how they evolved, and who the great directors were, both American and especially foreign. Today there seems to be a lot of young people who are passionate about movies but know NOTHING about film history and apparently are not inquisitive enough to find out. Unbelievably, this even seems to apply to some professional film critics. How can anybody judge a current movie without placing it in the context of cinema history? I wonder if any of those who didn't know those three great directors will be inspired enough to turn on TCM or go to the video store and rent one of their movies. If just a few do, maybe the results of this poll won't be so dismaying. And will somebody please start teaching cinema history, especially to high schoolers?

Phoebe said...

Art can be appreciated on many levels; I think it's nonsense to claim you need a historical/academic context to enjoy a film. That said, I do believe film should be taught in school just like literature.

If you'd like a new angle on film beyond IMDb, you might have a look at Jinni (http://www.jinni.com): our search-and-recommendations are based on the Movie Genome Project.

Richard Hourula said...

You think it's "nonsense"? Oh my...

Eleni said...

The insolent philistines! If only IMDb weren't so damn comprehensive, we wouldn't have to deal with these casual movie fans. IMDb: Please, stop being useful!

I understand that the ignorance of the casual IMDb user must at times be infuriating to the serious movie buff. (I may have the brain of a "little tyke" compared to you, but even I have done battle on numerous occasions with the IMDb whippersnappers). But that's what happens on an accessible website. And I don't look at the IMDb user ratings as a measure of movie greatness--they're just a measure of how much IMDb users like the movies. It's a middle school popularity contest. No reason for concern.

Now I'm going to go find me some John Ford for my film edification.

Richard Hourula said...

Eleni, You are doubtless a young woman of many talents. Unfortunately sarcasm is not one of them. I hope you enjoy John Ford's films (unless that was another attempt at sarcasm, who could tell?).

Anonymous said...

That I am your child is evident in the fact that I have seen and enjoyed many of the films you list in this post, but if you asked me who directed them I wouldn't have a clue. And you are right, I don't know because I don't care. Maybe I won't ever truly appreciate films until I care who directed them. I do think you bring up an important issue about the lack of interest in our cultures past, but I'm also not going give up the future of civilization just because I have a few friends that wont watch movies in black and white.

Eleni said...

I really do like your blog, Riku. I'm sorry that my first comment on it happened to be one of such poor sarcasm. I promise it wasn't meant to be mean-spirited or anything. I agree with most of your post, but in light of the fact that I have somehow never seen a John Ford film, I felt some compulsion to defend my honor.

But I was serious about looking up his films. Any recommendations of where to start?

Eleni said...

Though for what it's worth, I myself am unsure how much if any of your post is sarcastic... Perhaps you were not genuinely belittling my brain and I was wrong to fight back in the first place. It would seem you stepped down from your soapbox at the end, so maybe some of your words were just fueled by the temporary furor of standing on the soapbox.

Richard Hourula said...

Eleni, With Ford I would start with either Stagecoach or The Searchers. The first is black and white from '39, the second a color film from 1956. Both terrific Westerns but very different in tone and mood. Also don't miss The Grapes of Wrath.
Don't worry about my oft times belittling tone, remember I'm one heck of a grouch. I've seen your blog and I like it and think you're a very good writer. In your initial comment I couldn't separate the sarcasm from the points you made which is perhaps more a reflection of weaknesses in my brain and than on your writing.
Thanks for your comments and keep up the good work!