Discussion concerning not seeing films done before a certain date, in the New Yorker Movie Facebook Club
Elizabeth Blakeslee recently posted a link to an article by Ann Hornaday advocating for not "shutting down" films or "locking them away" when they become controversial, but making them subjects of considerable contextualization. She acknowledges our time one where suddenly a lot of the past is "problematic," and sees the mature, grown-up response to this to increase our awareness of these films, to enter the past, even more... and at grander, more prestigious venues, like museums, cinematheques. The problem with asserting this the adult response is that what historians (she's a film historian) usually use to justify their own immersion in history and to leverage their lecturing us on doing the same, isn't as much on the table now as it once was. It is not as evident that human beings are the same now as they have always were, making knowledge of the past self-evidently about furthering our knowledge of our own selves, about uncovering truths that apply to us, a controversial proposition; and as we begin to think of history again as linear, as always progressing, it is no longer as evident that each age contains riches as worthy as any other, either. And when that's more the context you find yourself in, arguing that not simply cutting oneself off wholesale from a unwholesome partner it was implied previously you should keep in touch with but whom you never really did much like, is not actually the more self-realized, the more grown-up decision, seems itself problematic... it becomes incumbent on you to justify yourself, why you spent your life doing what you did, once more. It becomes more on you to explain why exactly you found it so natural/comfortable to immerse yourself in worse times populated by worse people; and more on the films to demonstrate that their ratio of art to foul messaging remains sufficient to not judge them ultimately still company we could do without--films to be scrapped as readily as do statues that contain no art at all, that being the brave act, for it being an honest act that to emerge had to fight back against the common presumption of it as appalling.
The very fact that Hornaday tries to accent what might strike a lot of us as quite a realized moment that's sprung upon us -- that we're finally saying "no" to Columbus and "no" to Andrew Jackson; that we're not just teasing pulling back "Gone With the Wind" but more "Birth of a Nation" obliterating it; that many very progressive people will not only no longer themselves watch Woody Allan films but clearly discourage their children from doing so as well, that we're not just playing at but actually doing -- as only a childish "wishing away," suggests that what could be lost to her if what she revered and gained revered status from loses its hold, is sufficiently unsustainable for her that she's not going to rely on reason to make her case but crass elision and implicit intimidation too.
Let's be prepared to have none of it, and take advantage of this fortuitous opportunity to bravely extend what we have already agreed there is sense in doing. Just as many agree there are patch edits we should make -- no to "Manhattan," but yes to... -- just as many cineastes would argue that we would lose nothing if we did a horizontal exclusion and did without a certain whole category of films within our own time -- Oscar-bait films, perhaps; films that flatter our liberal sensibilities but contain no innovation at all -- we should try out doing a vertical timeline exclusion, and see whether there might be a year that could serve as a cutoff date where before it, we would pledge to never again dip into. If I could see no film done before the 1960s, for example, Richard Brody would say I denied myself both Chaplin and Wells, but he'd also argue I'd made a preference for performers who reflect "a fundamental lack of fear, a sense of impunity regarding the spontaneous and natural inclination—a lack of fear that has been ingrained from early years," and denied myself knowing people otherwise, which sounds like something I could recoup with. Is there a date you might try out? Maybe no film done before when Hollywood agreed that all white wasn't a problem? Or even more recent: no film done before when Hollywood decided it would try out having Asian characters actually played by Asians, so just a year or two ago?