Why you should watch old movies, and eschew the smut of the new

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Why you should watch old movies, and eschew the smut of the new

By Antony Esolen


In my last essay for LifeSiteNews, I declared the following: “We cannot allow the television, or the movie screen, or, God forbid, the leaking sewer of popular novels to form our imaginations.” Nor do I retract it. My point there was to assert that the prime fashioner of our metaphysical and moral imagination – the faculty whereby we recognize the beauty of what is, and the goodness of what ought to be done – should be our faith. When we enter a church, when we open the Scriptures, when we pray on our knees, when we sing true hymns, we should be compassed round with a great cloud of beauty. We should be born in wonder.

But we don't linger in church all day long. We have to work, study, play, keep house, cook meals, love our spouses, raise our children, and enjoy the company of our friends. In times past, we might show up with our neighbors at the local playhouse, to watch a comedy routine, or a magic act, or a local repertory company staging Aida, or a traveling troupe of actors performing The Merry Wives of Windsor; and in a real sense it was a popular culture. It came from the people, it affirmed their loves and pieties, it consoled them in their grief, and it led them to dwell upon this confusing life of ours. At its greatest it gave them a solemn glance into the mystery of the world. At the least it gave them innocent amusement.

We can't recreate that world. It requires more than any one of us can muster to revive a truly popular culture. But we can enter that world at a second remove. Consider the difference between films made during the first two or three generations of cinema, and films made now. I'll concede that in the great disintegration of the west, Hollywood will have played its part. But along with its thrust towards dissolution and amorality, there was also, especially in films made before that collapse of Hollywood's self-restraint which resulted in the sleaze-blessing rating system, a countermovement, affirming the goodness of common people and the ordinary institutions of a human life.

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TAGS: Scriptures imaginations popular novels The Merry Wives of Windsor Hollywood human life

[12/25/2014] Print Version

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