I need your opinion on something. Yes, you, who just pointed to yourself and said, “Me?” We hear the word “classic” thrown around in movies a lot and…does it mean anything? See, here’s the issue…
Someone once named Snow White as the best Disney movie ever made because it was the first. I wanted to crucify them upside-down for heresy. You’re telling me that Snow White is better than Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frozen, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and many others?
Classic movies like this one get an automatic “awesome” stamp just for being classics, but do they really deserve it? For me, the answer is both yes and no. I see classics as broken into three categories.
Definition 1: A timeless, top-notch movie.
The most obvious definition. Some films stand the test of time because they really are superb. There’s an artistic mastery, a lingering swell of emotions, something that strikes our hearts and makes us fall in love with cinema. To Kill a Mockingbird may have been set in the ’30s, but Gregory Peck’s acting, the portrayal of children, and the themes of brotherhood still resound. Citizen Kane tops movie charts to this day, but that’s because it’s a masterpiece of storytelling and suspense.
Definition 2: A nicer way of saying “old.”
If you look through the “Classic” section of any movie store, you’ll quickly realize they don’t all fit Definition 1. That’s because “classic” is a nice-sounding word used to keep older movies relevant and worthy of sale. It’s a marketing ploy. Is every John Wayne movie a winner? Not even close. Does black-and-white guarantee timelessness? Hardly. Does everything age well? If only.
I fear that we sometimes use this word “classic” to romanticize mediocre films. There are many wonderful older films, but very few of them deserve that respected title. At least, fewer than V-Stock and Wal-Mart want you to believe.
Definition 3: An important or historical film.
Sometimes, a film gains the “classic” status just by being the first of its kind. This, I think, is where Snow White falls. It was the very first feature-length animated film and the bow of Disney’s steamboat. Without films like this one, we would not have the wonderful Disney heritage we have.
However, we can’t automatically say a “first” of anything is the best. Would you say the 1944 Captain America was Marvel’s best film? Or that Peter Jackson never directed anything better than Bad Taste? Or that The Jazz Singer is the best movie with sound because it was the first? Have you even heard of any of those movies?
We all know many “firsts” that are the best of their respective bunch (The Matrix, Jurassic Park, Jaws) but good filmmakers are always improving. Just because a film has historical significance does not mean it’s greater than its successors. Most people fail again and again before they get something perfect. This goes for all art forms. The Sorcerer’s Stone is not the best Harry Potter book. Picasso did not discover abstract art in his first painting. And the guy who first beat rocks together and called it “music” was not better than Beethoven.
So while I’m not saying Snow White is a bad film, can we all agree that Disney has seriously improved with the years? And that growth and development are good? And that hipsters really need to get their priorities straight?
What do you think? What classics do you think are overrated? Which ones still have merit?