Sunday, October 12, 2008

Our Very Own Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria was the largest library in the ancient world. The aim of this ancient Egyptian library was to collect the world’s knowledge. It was said that when foreign ships came into port that their books, and all written material was confiscated, copied, and returned to its owners.

The library was tragically destroyed in a fire. Scholars still lament the loss of this vast repository of knowledge. What would we know if we had this ancient information at our fingertips?

I am old enough to remember the advent of the VCR. The idea that you could tape a show and watch it later or keep it forever was amazing. But even more amazing was the idea that you could watch whatever movie you wanted when you wanted. For a boy like me, who had wanted since the age of five to be a filmmaker, this was not a mere piece of technology, but a gift from the gods.

When Orson Welles wanted to learn how to make films, he screened John Ford’s film Stage Coach over and over again. Before the VCR this required a film print and projector. For most people this was cost prohibitive. Other students of film would have to sit through multiple screenings of a movie in order to study it. And in those days when a film left the theater that was it. There was no cable. There was no VCR, DVD, or Blu-ray. When a film was gone, it was gone. If you were lucky, you might see it on TV. But even then it would be cut up to make it family-friendly and to allow for commercials.

But with the VCR, any young student of film could do just what Orson Wells did. I dreamed how the VCR would advance the craft of filmmaking, because now we all had the history of film at our disposal.

Think of it: the history of film is just over a hundred years old and much of the best work by the best filmmakers in history is available to us. This is our library of Alexandria.

Our teachers can be Eisenstein, Griffith, Chaplin, Keaton, Capra, Ford, Kurasawa, Hawks, Welles, Lean, Wilder, Hitchcock, Wellman, Wyler, Houston, Stevens, Lumet, Ritt, Cukor, Kazan, Bergman, Pollack, Peckinpah, Donen, Logan, Rydell, Le Roy, Forman, Preminger, Penn, Milestone, Minnelli, Kramer, Wise, Lang, Ashby, Zinnemann, Hiller, Vidor, Milestone, Lubitsch and countless more.

Yet I am constantly amazed, talking to younger film students, to find that they have seen almost no classic cinema. They are put off by black-and-white photography or some other superficial quality of older films. Are you going to let something so small stop you from learning from the best? People who study physics still study Newton and Einstein. They understand and respect what those who came before have something to teach them.


Historic 2018Blockbuster2019 Store Offers Glimpse Of How Movies Were Rented In The Past

The Library of Alexandria still has something to teach us: we cannot take for granted the vast store of knowledge we have at our disposal. As filmmakers, why not take the opportunity to learn from those who came before us? It is the best way to go further than they did.

3 comments:

Dog Bites Back said...

Your comment on young students and classic cinema really resonated with me. As a film student, I thought saying you liked Hitchcock would be cliché. Turns out hardly anyone in my class had ever even seen one of his movies.

Great post, will definitely be coming back!

mcnooj82 said...

Young 'filmmakers' who don't even attempt to watch the classics are at a disadvantage. Access to the 'archives of cinema' is SO easy now. There is so much choice and with that much choice comes a lot of noise to distract us. Back in the era you speak of, one had to be truly dedicated in order to gain access to knowledge. There was difficulty, but that difficulty would make victory that much sweeter and more meaningful.

I've read someone write about how he took a cheap audio recorder into Star Wars back when it premiered and listened to it under his blanket at night.

I even look back fondly on editing my movie projects between 2 VCRs. It was a crude pain in the ass but when I thought it worked it was completely gratifying.

It's SO easy and plentiful now. It's something I both enjoy and bemoan. It makes creating really genuine connections to art harder.

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