Out With the Old? Netflix and Rethinking Film

“I’m not interested in this movie. It’s old.”

As a part time high school substitute, I’ve heard many students express this sentiment when I’ve played them a video left by their teacher. One popular variant goes, “But it’s in black and white!” For many of these kids, films are viewed more like newspapers than drama, music, or literature: the movie is only good when it is fresh off the presses.

Of course, there are notable exceptions to this. Some films like Star Wars and Indiana Jones have an enduring quality, but on the whole I believe most movies leave our cultural conscience after a few years–barring a sequel. In this sense, our culture seems to have managed to take a medium that is not consumable and turn it into a consumable good.

With DVD rental services like Netflix and Blockbuster Online, we have great access not just to the latest releases, but also classic films. One of the real benefits of these services is that they can help us to think of film in a much broader way than merely this week’s releases.

Part of our calling is to think on things which are good and worthy of praise, not just new things. While excellent movies continue to be released, there are a lot of older films which are also worthy of our viewing and praise. Here are a few of my Netflix/Blockbuster suggestions. Naturally, this is very far from a complete list of great classic films, but it is a place to start:

  • M – A chilling silent film about a child murderer. Watch it with a friend and discuss the concept of justice afterward. The final scene will linger in your mind for days.
  • The Maltese Falcon – This film noir classic turns the moral universe upside down. Who is righteous? Apparently, not one.
  • Harakiri - Not for the faint of heart, this Japanese masterpiece poignantly explores themes of honor, sacrifice, love, justice, and the value of human life. Simply put, it is haunting.
  • His Girl Friday – Cary Grant shows why he is the male romantic comedy lead. The conversations are strikingly realistic and the director, Howard Hawks, manages to deftly juggle comedy, romance, drama, and action.
  • A Night At The Opera – Possibly the Marx Brother’s best film. The jokes come fast and witty, so be prepared to rewind and memorize lines.

I hope that we will take advantage of the technological services we have to not only enjoy excellent new releases, but to also praise what is worthy in older films. As Rich has already encouraged us, films offer us the opportunity to glorify God in they way that they place us in a larger community, challenge our base beliefs, and show the inherent meaningfulness of life. Recognizing excellence across time might mean we have to become colorblind and deaf, but it is still a part of our calling. Let our statement be then, “Is it a good film? Then I am interested in it.”

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Here are my own top choices for older films to be sure not to miss (I’ve only included English-language films for now, since to include subtitled affairs would grow the list far too large).

    Unfortunately, one of my top choices has not yet been transferred to dvd. A Thousand Clowns is incredibly worth one’s while. One of the best films I’ve ever seen.

    So then: 15 Old B&W Films on DVD that You Should See (alphabetical list):
    12 Angry Men
    Arsenic and Old Lace
    Casablanca
    Citizen Kane
    Double Indemnity
    Dr. Strangelove
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    Lord of the Flies
    Philadelphia Story
    Stalag 17
    The Big Sleep
    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
    The Third Man
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    Touch of Evil

    And here are 5 more recent B&W films that are worth the time:
    Dead Man
    Good Night and Good Luck
    Pi
    Schindler’s List
    Young Frankenstein

  • David Dunham

    Good choices brothers. Casablanca, Philadelphia Story, The Maltese Falcon are some of my all time favorites!

  • http://microwavablemartian.blogspot.com Matt

    It’s unfortunate that many young people in society today have no sense of history or perspective. Their favorite movies are whatever came out last year and their new favorites are what will come out this year.

    In a sea of overconsumption and crappy movies, when we look back to certain movies we realize what the classics are. These days movies seems to be of less quality than ever because people will spend money on just about any movie that comes out.

  • Geoffrey Seven

    Caught Casablanca on TCM last night. Such a great movie. I don’t believe movies have to be explicitly about God, or about Christians, to show us important things about our relationship to Christ, and things like sin, sacrifice and redemption. I am particularly fascinated by the character of Louis. He is a far worse person than Rick. At one point we learn he has tried to coerce a beautiful young married woman into sleeping with him in exchange for the exit visas that she and her husband desperately need. He is not a good guy.

    Yet when appropriately inspired by Rick’s example of self-sacrificing love, something in him changes.

    And the way films is rather like a parable. In Christ’s parables, there usually is no mention of God, because he is represented by the father or the landowner or the woman seeking her lost coin.

    In Casablanca, we have the glowing, “perfect” example of self-sacrifice in the character of Victor Lazlo who risks death and loss with no thought for himself, in the name of vanquishing the ultimate evil of Nazism. And despite the brokenness of the characters around him, they stumble forward, however imperfectly, to be more like him. Isn’t that how we are with Jesus?

  • Rich Clark

    Geoffrey, that’s good stuff. Thanks.

  • http://blog.gregwillson.com Greg

    Totally understand the problem of old movies and high school kids- it’s very frustrating.
    My wife and I got a Netflix subscription because of their massive back catalogue. After many fruitless Blockbuster trips, we decided it was the way to go.
    And don’t forget some of the awesome silent films like Battleship Potemkin and Man with a Movie Camera!

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Greg – I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually finished Potemkin. I paused it after watching through the fabulous staircase-at-Odessa scene to go out for pizza. That was nine years ago, and I haven’t yet returned to it. I feel sad in my heart for that. But only a little. Was it really that awesome?

  • http://blog.gregwillson.com Greg

    Well, for a nerdy film type guy who might be more obsessed with cinematography than story, Potemkin is worth it. Of course, you have already seen the best part. Now you just need to watch it for street cred.


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