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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What makes a movie “modern”?

Matrix Keanu Reeves

It’s not worth giving too much time to these folks, so I won’t link, but check out almost any comments section after articles devoted to the new Sight and Sound “greatest films” list (the subject of yesterday’s QOTD), and you’ll see that many many people are complaining that there are too many “old” movies on the list, and not enough modern ones.
Of course, when these folks complain about the lack of “modern” films, all they really mean is that they’re butthurt that The Matrix or something by Quentin Tarantino didn’t make the list — they’re definitely not giving much thought to what makes a movie modern. But I think that’s worth exploring.

What makes a movie “modern”? Is it the use of CGI? Is it blockbusterness (or bucking blockbusterness in the age of blockbusters)? Is it just about being produced after a certain date, and if so, when did the “modern” era of film begin… and what makes that date the cutoff between “classic” and “modern”?

I probably would set the beginning of movie modernness in 1977, with Star Wars. Jaws may have set the stage for the blockbuster era, but it took a few years for that mindset to get hold in Hollywood, and perhaps less modernly, Jaws works so well in part because its FX didn’t: if Bruce the mechanical shark had performed as Steven Spielberg had hoped it would, the film’s beast-villain wouldn’t have been such a wonderful mystery onscreen. With Star Wars, however, the FX were so completely intrinsic to the story that if they hadn’t worked so well, it’s almost impossible to see how the film would have worked on the whole. That film so radically changed everything that Hollywood would never be the same again.

What do you think?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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