Should a good movie be timeless? Discuss

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Tramuzgan's Avatar
Di je Karlo?
I remember someone posting a while ago that old movies can't be compared to modern ones because the art of film relies heavily on technology. That's true in theory, but I'm yet to see it apply in practice. For example, Metropolis' effects and set design look dated, but everything fits together so tightly that it doesn't bother you. You can get used to them quickly, like with graphics in a DOS game. Metropolis does stack up against the Dark Knight, just like Duke Nukem stacks up against New Order.


Another problem old movies face is their best scenes fading into cliché. Buster Keaton, for example, was parodied and referenced a million times. I've seen all his gags before, but I still laughed like crazy watching The General. It's not just that the jokes are funny, it's that he knew how to present them. This applies to any genre, not just comedy. Talent can't be replicated, and doesn't age.


There's also the problem of socio-political context. Movies that rely on social commentary can become obsolete after the issues they comment on change or disappear. That's why I hate the yugoslav black wave, but Dr. Strangelove also relies on social commentary and it hasn't aged a day. Is that simply because it has merits outside of social commentary, or is there more to it? I'm not sure on this one


What do you think? Is a truly great movie one that's great for its time, or for all time?



Maybe good movies, no. Great movies, yes.
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My Favorite Films



Movie Forums Squirrel Jumper
Not every great movie is timeless though, I would say. I feel like a lot of good movies that come out today, would not be able to be made 40 or so years ago.



A serious film buff will try to view older films in context with the times that they were made.
I'll take this position as well, though I don't consider myself a serious film buff

Does anybody think Citizen Kane 2020 would really hold up as a great movie? Probably not...but in context....

EDIT: I imagine I'll take some criticism for that stance haha



People who think film quality relies on technology misunderstand film. Nowadays I despise this desire for films to represent hyper-realistic images, we have photography and emphasis on stunning clarity. We have 3D for the sake of achieving "realism". We have performances obsessed with realism and actors undergoing extreme length to achieve this. Scenes play out almost always in real-time at a pace we're comfortable with and feels akin to the real world.

In the meantime directors have forgotten how to actually construct films, how to create interesting images and compositions and tell stories actually using the medium in meaningful ways.
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"Timeless" for me has 2 folders.
Simply Timeless.

Truly Timeless.



I think for a movie to be "simply timeless" it needs to embrace the era it was made.


Jaws. Very 70s.

Ghostbusters. Very 80s.
The Karate Kid. Very 80s.
The Lost Boys. Very 80s.
Back To The Future. Very 80s.
RoboCop. Very 80s.
Cloverfield. Very 2000s.





To be "truly timeless" they need to have something else, something that doesn't actually date the movie... and also have that X-Factor combo of writing, screenplay, acting, story and excitement.

Blade Runner. Truly Timeless.

Alien. Truly Timeless.
The Shining. Truly Timeless.
Psycho. Truly Timeless.
LOTR Trilogy. Truly Timeless.
Casino. Truly Timeless.
Goodfellas. Truly Timeless.
Jurassic Park. Truly Timeless.
12 Angry Men. Truly Timeless.
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...Does anybody think Citizen Kane 2020 would really hold up as a great movie? Probably not...but in context....
Interesting question but I'm not sure quite what you mean? Do you mean a 2020 remake of Citizen Kane? Or do you mean if Citizen Kane had never been made and was released as it was made, but today in 2020?



Movie Forums Squirrel Jumper
I've noticed that a lot of movies nowadays have more plot packed in then before, if that's true? For example if the 12 Angry Men screenplay were come out today, the producers would probably like the concept, but they would say, we need more plot in the murder case, more twist and turns and surprises. Unless I am wrong?



Modern movies are definitely faster-paced. This is probably most evident in comparing comedies across time. That said, every now and then a movie leans into this change and wows critics (if not always audiences) by deliberately slowing things down.



I noticed this post a couple of days ago and didn't reply right away because I wanted to think about it. I guess the answer to the question depends on one's definition of timeless. When I think of the word timeless in association with the art of film, I think of a movie that has stood the test of time, a movie that no matter how along it was made, it is still watchable and still provides entertainment. I also think a timeless movie is worthy of multiple viewings. With that said, there are a lot of movies made over 50 years ago that still entertain me no matter how many times I watch them. On the other hand, there are a a lot of contemporary films, excellent films, critical and commercial successes, that I don't like or have seen once and am glad I watched them, but have no desire to ever watch them again. So I guess the answer to the question is I don't know.



OP: Is a truly great movie one that's great for its time, or for all time?
Very interesting question. For me it is possible to accept a movie as "Great" from outside my preferred genre and time period, but it is a very steep uphill battle for the prospective film. Just as there are people who adore ancient Egyptian art, I strongly prefer Renaissance art. True, Renaissance art must credit its foundations to Egyptian art, but in reality Renaissance is an improvement over the older form. Similarly because a modern film benefits from improved cinematography, I am more likely to watch a modern film of B quality than a great B/W or talkie simply. Many times I have watched an older "Great" film and thought, "That was good, but a modern version would be an improvement." YMMV



It is indeed a good question. I think it needs to be clarified to be answered properly, though.

Generally, I don't think a film can be great if it's only great in its own time, no. But that doesn't mean it can't be dated, or about something contemporary. But to be great, it needs to be about that contemporary thing and something general to the human condition that applies in other times, as well. It's the same principle as fiction, really: The Lord of the Rings is compelling not because we have wizards and magic rings, but because we grapple with the corrupting influence of power. The Social Network won't be as potent when people have forgotten what Facebook is, but it'll still be a great movie because it'll still be about wealth, friendship, envy, and a hundred other things that will continue to exist.

A tougher question is whether it's even really possible for a film to be great in its own time but not others. I don't think it can be great even in its own time unless it's touching on those universal experiences to begin with.

So, my answer is: the themes of a great film have to be timeless, yes, but the specifics do not. And a film can probably not be great in any time unless it connects modern events to those kinds of themes, anyway.



Ami-Scythe's Avatar
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I think I'm gonna go with a video response and get back you with that later because it's a great conversation starter and I have a lot of thoughts I want to share but I'm also working on some films of my own so I don't really have the time to type it all out. Nice thread
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Movie Forums Squirrel Jumper
Modern movies are definitely faster-paced. This is probably most evident in comparing comedies across time. That said, every now and then a movie leans into this change and wows critics (if not always audiences) by deliberately slowing things down.
Yeah that's true, good point. I took a screenwriting course, and one thing they said is that movies have become more plot-conscious than ever before now. They said it like it is a good thing, but is it?



Good movies will always have at least one element that's timeless- basic human emotions like love, death, disappointment, ambition, will always be relevant even if the exact portrayal of them doesn't align with modern sensibility.

An example for me would be Brief Encounter. The world it's set in is very much of its time, the social attitudes are of its time, and yet the central romance and the longing to escape humdrum life for the fantasy of a Hollywood love affair is timeless. Audiences who aren't used to older films often aren't able to lose themselves in the fundamental core because they're distracted by the setting and the style.

Obviously it's subjective- one person might completely buy into the romance of a film whereas another person just finds it cheesy- but I think you do need an emotional truth for a film to be truly timeless.