The other day, I forget why, I was thinking about the movie The Crow. I am of the correct age for that movie to have been a huge deal. It came out in 1994, and let’s just say that my angsty/dark/moody period was just getting started. As a matter of fact, The Crow probably helped it along quite a bit. My husband, however, is a little bit younger than I, and I’m not sure he ever had a dark, angsty period … which means that he’s never even seen The Crow. (Aside: I keep typing “crowe” instead of “crow”. In case you needed more proof that I have a problem. Anyway.) I actually own the movie on DVD, and yet I can never manage to say “Hey, let’s watch The Crow tonight.” I still think it’s an awesome movie, but it’s just not the sort of thing that I’m generally in the mood for anymore. I think that The Crow, as with many other things, is something that I’ve outgrown.
All of that is to bring up the idea of one’s movie tastes as a constantly evolving set of values. I have noticed such evolution to be particularly pronounced in me, and in my life. To wit, I am always astonished by people who still listen to the same music they listened to in high school. I don’t mean the occasional, nostalgic urge to pull Pearl Jam’s Ten off the shelf … I mean all the time. I listen to practically nothing that I would have listened to back then. I don’t even listen to much of the same stuff I would have listened to 5 years ago. I call it my “musical ADD”. And I think that the same holds true for me with movies, as well.
Obviously, one always has favorites. Any top ten list of mine would still include the original Disney Robin Hood, because, I mean, it’s fabulous. And there are certainly movies that I liked as a teenager or a younger adult that I still think are very good. What interests me, though, is perhaps the reasons why I liked something then as compared to now. So let’s explore, shall we? It’ll be fun, I promise.
What do we like when we are children? Bright colors, funny, silly characters, animals, music … happy stuff. Perhaps to a certain degree we like being scared, too, but not too scared. I loved Disney movies. Admittedly, in large part, I still do. However, I like the ones that I liked then, and I tend to roll my eyes and make fun of the new stuff, because it’s not designed to appeal to me. Don’t worry, I’ll be getting my come-uppance very, very soon, though my little Rock Star will also be watching the classics, most of which I own, still on VHS. No worries. But you see my point. Children’s movies are designed to appeal to children, and so that’s what we like when we’re little. There are certainly aspects of children’s movies that appeal to adults too: obviously we still want to be happy when watching movies. It’s a well-known fact that I love musicals. And fantasy never really gets old; I would put forward the success of Stardust (the most recent well-received “fairy story” type of movie) as an example of that.
Our taste in movies doesn’t change markedly for a while as we move through the childhood years. Perhaps at some point we begin to find actual people more interesting than animated Princesses. For me, that meant moving on to Julie Andrews instead of Cinderella. I could watch Mary Poppins over and over … and I still can. I loved The Sound of Music as a child, mostly because of the music, but I think also because of the prominent role of children within the story. I think at this point we begin searching for ourselves in the characters … we can identify more readily with the people on the screen than with the animated owl, or what-have-you. And that appeals to movie-goers of any age.
When I started thinking about how my taste in movies has grown over the years, a pattern started to emerge, and that is the idea of a movie being well-made. I would argue that, regardless of our age, we are, to some degree, capable of recognizing something that’s just good. The movies that I remember from my childhood, the ones I loved, are acknowledged classics, like Mary Poppins or the Sound of Music, or My Fair Lady. Or, of course, Star Wars. As a child, I don’t think we can analyze an actor’s performance, or discuss the nuances of cinematography, but we can recognize the overall affect of those qualities working together to create a work of art. And I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty interesting.
At some point, I think around 12 years of age, I seem to remember my tastes starting to shift. I developed an interest in the epic, and in the highly dramatic. Also in cute boys. This makes for interesting movie-viewing. How many 12 year olds do you know who will sit down and remain riveted by all three hours of Gone with the Wind? Like, by themselves? Civil War drama aside, as a preteen I was also big on The Princess Bride (Cary Elwes was truly the best-looking boy I’d ever seen) and Dirty Dancing (ah, Patrick Swayze). Still pretty good movies, you’re thinking. My love of musicals also remained intact, but I began to have a greater appreciation for some of the ones that were perhaps more serious or adult (Gigi and Lili being two from this period) as well.
I’m not suggesting that I had impeccable taste in movies as a youngster. I can remember plenty of movies that I loooooved from this period of time that, in re-watching, I can admit are less than fabulous. Of note would be the rash of sci-fi/fantasy movies from the mid- to late-eighties, most of which are kind of bad. I’m looking at you, Krull. I refuse to admit that Flash Gordon is anything less than stellar, though. Don’t even try. But the question becomes why we might have enjoyed such movies as a kid, and whether or not the reasons are the same now. I can’t remember well enough to say whether or not I was picking up on the “camp” aspects of some of these films. I definitely thought they were funny. Some of them, clearly, were geared towards older children, like Labyrinth (a classic) or The Dark Crystal, which would account for my enjoyment of them, even if they look ridiculous or dated now. Obviously, there’s also a strong nostalgia factor in play when we still love movies we liked when we were younger. But I think part of the fun of watching those older movies is that one can often discover new facets of them, which can frequently lead to a different kind of enjoyment.
My teen years are where I think my interest in movies becomes interesting. We’re swinging back around into the range of The Crow, now. I really, really liked dramas. The more depressing the better. I can’t even remember most of the movies I watched at this point in time. I think I also watched my fair share of romantic-type stuff (Christian Slater was a favorite), as cute boys (then, as now) were a major factor. Ask me about how my friends and I watched The Last of the Mohicans upwards of five times at the dollar theater. It was not because we were fans of James Fenimore Cooper’s work, I promise you. Ahh, Daniel Day-Lewis’ flowing locks…*ahem* But really, I sought out a lot of pretty angsty stuff that was, admittedly, probably fairly over my head. The only thing I can theorize about that is that I was looking for things that in some way made me feel better about my own troubles? If I’d really been thinking about that sort of thing, I probably would have been in less of a hurry to grow up, but who knows? I think also that such decisions sprang from a need to be taken more seriously, or seen as an adult. The fact that I can’t remember a lot of the movies from this period of time (The Crow, and maybe Heathers, aside) says to me that my decisions were based more internally, and less on what I was watching, and for the movie’s individual merits.
Conversely, as I moved into my twenties and beyond, I have come to be less and less interested in serious, “heavy” movies. These days, I like comedy, I like good rom-coms, classics, still musicals, action to a certain degree … but drama only in small doses. I don’t like being depressed. I like watching movies in order to be entertained, and while I enjoy watching performances and acknowledging a well-written screenplay and such, I’m generally not looking for something that’s going to leave me with feelings of dread. When I do watch a strong drama, I find myself looking more at the technical aspects of the thing, and perhaps trying to avoid the feelings that those movies leave me with. One of the last really serious movies that I went to see in the theater was Munich. Now, I thought it was a tremendous film: the performances were exceptional, the story was gripping, the cinematography was gritty and effective … and my comment upon leaving the theater was “I don’t think I am grown-up enough for that movie.” Perhaps as an adult I don’t feel the need to be reminded of the darkness in the world, and I certainly don’t necessarily look to it for entertainment value.
I find myself (partially because of our AFI project) being more and more drawn to things from the more “classic” era of film. I infinitely prefer the comedies of Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn to those of Katherine Heigl or Will Ferrell. Perhaps I am nostalgic for a more innocent time. Additionally, I think I just don’t find some of the “serious” aspects of modern life to be as funny as many movie-goers do. But mostly, I just don’t think that the movies of Judd Apatow can hold a candle to the works of Howard Hawks or George Cukor for comedic timing or content. Snob? Maybe. But to return to an earlier point, I think that the common thread running through the evolution of my taste in movies is that of construction. I love a well-turned phrase, a perfectly timed delivery, an exceptional shot. I don’t have any training or knowledge of such things, but I do think that they’re recognizable, nonetheless.
To sum up, I think we can learn some pretty interesting things about ourselves by thinking about how our tastes in movies (or books, music, whatever) have changed over the years, and how they’ve stayed the same. How much of what we “still love” is based in nostalgia, versus any intrinsic value? Conversely, are there aspects of the new things we love now that have their roots in those earlier favorites? Clearly, I was exposed to a lot of musicals when I was a kid, so it’s not a huge surprise that I still love them today, and have branched out even beyond the things my mom brought home for us to watch. Perhaps we can trace, to some degree, the evolution of our personalities within what we choose to watch. We certainly have to take into account our real-life experiences; for example, I don’t like awkward or situational comedy, because I was made fun of as a child, and so I am never in the habit of laughing at the misfortunes of others.
What do you think? Am I attaching too much significance to my movie-going habits and tastes? What do you think your favorite movies say about you? Do they describe you as a person, or are do they represent a side of you that doesn’t normally shine through? I think mine are pretty indicative: overall, I like being happy, I like clever humor and silliness, whimsy, the literary, music, dance, and a job well-done, but I’m also willing to admit that life is quite often a very serious thing. I’d imagine, though, that there are people for whom movies represent more of an inner life than the outer. Into which category do you think you fall?