Films and cultural literacy for Generation W

Reply Thu 23 Mar, 2006 01:01 pm
25 must-see films
by Jim Schembri

TWAS in an episode from the second season of The O.C. that this illuminating exchange took place. Reed (Marguerite Moreau) was telling Summer (Rachel Bilson) how special she was. "Seth and Zach have talent. They could have careers in comics. But you are the Nico of the group."

"I'm sorry," replied Summer. "I don't get references before 1990."

Like a knife through the heart, this was. Yes, yes, it was an emblematic gag of Generation I - that's I for Irony - where ignorance is the new attitude and referencing is the new wisecrack and anything worth knowing about pop culture will be on The Simpsons or Gilmore Girls or Family Guy or South Park.

What was disturbing, though, was not that a member of Generation G - that's G for Google - didn't know of the legendary Warhol protege whose 1967 album with the Velvet Underground launched a thousand bands. It's that she didn't care to know.

This raised in my tiny mind the spectre of something director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, etc) once said. It was OK that he hadn't seen the films of the great European masters, he believed, because the directors he admired had, and that was close enough.

As a film reviewer I've often come across this insouciance from Generation W - that's W for Whatever - when discussing cinema. You say how the original version of Gone in 60 Seconds was far superior because back then they didn't have CGI to substitute for stunt drivers and students look at you funny. "There was an original?" they mutter.

Then you talk to people you hoped would know better and drop a reference to Shelley Winters and Lolita, but it's not until you mention The Poseidon Adventure or the Adrian Lyne remake that they twig. That's when your heart falls through the floor.

What excuse can there be for this? The digital era has turned every DVD outlet into a veritable film archive, the breadth of which cineastes dared not dream of 20 years ago. Then it hits you. Of course. That great paradox of the information age. The more accessible you make something, the less likely people are to access it.

So, how to avoid the Summer Syndrome? Behold, our instant, user-friendly register of 25 must-see, easy-to-find films designed to cure any case of pop-culture poverty. It is, of course, far from comprehensive but it should provide enough great material to inspire further exploration - or, at least, to bluff your way through a dinner party. Beware, though, some of the films are old - made before 1990.

[the original article also contains brief descriptions of each movie -- click on the link to see them]

All About Eve (1950)

Adam's Rib (1949)

The Virgin Spring (1960)

Easy Rider (1969)

City Lights (1931)

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Casablanca (1942)

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Metropolis (1927)

King Kong (1933)

North by Northwest (1959)

Network (1976)

Rollerball (1975)

The Towering Inferno (1974)

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

The Godfather (1972)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Annie Hall (1977)

Animal House (1978)

A Night at the Opera (1935)

Dr Strangelove (1964)

The Sound of Music (1965)

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Love Story (1970)

This article got me thinking about movies and cultural literacy -- the notion that a well-educated person should know something about canonical works of film in the same way that we expect a well-educated person to know something about Shakespeare or Greek mythology. Or, to put it in more prosaic terms, a person should know enough about film to get the jokes on The Simpsons or the references made by Dennis Miller. Such movies don't have to be great, they just have to be well-known enough that everyone should, at least, be familiar with them. So Animal House, therefore, qualifies, whereas The Last Emperor (a far superior film) doesn't. I'm not saying that the above list is definitive (I'd add Citizen Kane and Dr. Strangelove, among others), but I think it's a good start. Anyone else care to add some films that are essential for the well-rounded, culturally literate citizen?
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Reply Thu 23 Mar, 2006 01:12 pm
Strangelove's on the list (1964).

Hmmm cultural literacy is an odd thing. I'd probably add the original Star Wars (AKA episode IV), Singin' in the Rain, Some Like it Hot, It Happened One Night and war films like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape. And what about A Clockwork Orange?
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Reply Thu 23 Mar, 2006 05:55 pm
Because audio/video is replacing literature for so many, I think what you have written is an urgent priority, or should be.
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Reply Thu 23 Mar, 2006 07:59 pm
I like Jespah's choices. Here are a few more:

Blade Runner
The Terminator
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Home Alone
Caddy Shack
The Shining
Being There
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Toy Story
The Natural
Soylent Green
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Reply Thu 23 Mar, 2006 08:41 pm
American Graffiti
Cool Hand Luke
In the Heat of the Night
Field of Dreams
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 07:15 am
Thanks, Joe. I was thinking about some of the dystopian stories that came out in the 60s. Of course Planet of the Apes is out there, plus you added Soylent Green and I added A Clockwork Orange, but there are others. One film that is absolutely a product of its time and fits this minigenre is The Omega Man, another Heston special.

For another trip to the 60s, Wild in the Streets, which has a much sunnier theme.

If M*A*S*H, then what about Catch-22?
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 07:45 am
Well, except MASH was an exceptional film, while Catch 22 was just a mess of a movie.
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 08:55 am
I think Catch-22 is a very good movie, but, in terms of cultural literacy, it's probably more important that someone has read the book than seen the movie.

A few others to add:

The French Connection
Rebel Without a Cause
On the Waterfront
Night of the Living Dead
The Wizard of Oz
Raiders of the Lost Ark
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 09:11 am
"Rollerball" and "The Towering Inferno" certainly look strange on Schembri's list.

The films that have likely brought out this generation are the LOTR trilogy and Harry Potter.

As far as classics, I'd add:

"2001: A Space Odyssey"
"Bonnie and Clyde"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 09:36 am
Wall Street

If movies after 1990 are allowed....

Wag the Dog
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 09:41 am
"A Steetcar Named Desire"
"Woman in the Dunes"
"Lawrence of Arabia"
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 09:46 am
The Jazz Singer (original version)
King Kong (original version)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (for the technical aspect)
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 09:53 am
"Inherit the Wind" (evolution)
"Giant" (bigotry)
"The Days of Wine and Roses" (alcoholism)
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 09:58 am
Speaking of alcoholism, The Lost Weekend.
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 10:04 am
I'm young I guess. For those who have seen A Clockwork Orange, any words of why it's a classic and why everybody should watch it? I'm not disputing it's elevation to classic status, far from it, I've never seen it but I have the chance to at the moment.

Even though I'm not really squeamish watching even some of the harshest stuff in films I've heard about this films brutality and I'm wondering just what else it brings to the table? Seeing as it was mentioned in this topic I thought I'd ask. I have looked at reviews etc but again, given this topics title I thought asking here might prove to be a good idea.

I've also just got my hands on Citizen Kane so that'll be interesting. Just a while back one of my parents got me to watch Gone with the Wind, I became quite absorbed by it, even given my place in Generation W, I realised the excellence of that film. Highly Impressive.
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 10:12 am
Ashers, Don't mess around go watch Clockwork Orange right now. Then go watch;

Coolhand Luke and
One flew over the Cuckoos nest
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 10:18 am
I've got One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, I haven't got round to watching it yet though, too much work. I haven't actually heard of Coolhand Luke (*gasp* :wink: ), I'll go look it up.
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 10:19 am
jespah wrote:
Speaking of alcoholism, The Lost Weekend.

Absolutely although Jack Lemmon manages to deliver the angst with a highly entertaining characterization. Ray Milland never really came close to his performance in "The Lost Weekend" but it certainly represents alcoholism with no punches withheld.

"The Man With the Golden Arm" (addiction)

All these films could be a slap-in-the-face for a potential addict no matter what their choice of drugs.
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 10:23 am
"The Fountainhead"
"In Cold Blood"
"Five Easy Pieces"
"Things to Come"
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Reply Fri 24 Mar, 2006 10:26 am
"The Fountainhead" is ripe for a remake with Russell Crowe as the architect? Kevin Spacey as the newspaper magnate and Jodie Foster as the wife?
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