Odds are your mind has a thought for all three. A tall, greenish corpse with bolts in its neck, a sinister man in a black cape standing at the top of stairs covered in cobwebs, and a sinister two-note melody. Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), Jaws (1975): three film classics that have rooted themselves into our culture, so much so that even people who may not have ever even seen the films, still recognize them. That is the nature of a classic; it is a film that is so famous, you don’t even need to see it in order to know it.
Jurassic Park (1993) was one of the most financially successful blockbusters from our generation’s childhood. That initial image of the brachiosaurus walking across the screen while the music slowly plays and the actors in the movie stand transfixed with the same awe as the audience. Not enough time has passed, however, for this film to be deemed a classic. Many critics do not look at Jurassic Park as anything more than just another blockbuster and the film has received little in the way of special honor. For our generation it may be a classic since most saw it as children but for those outside our age, it is still too early to accurately tell.
Now examine Frankenstein. Those who have read the book will know that there is no mention of bolts or that the monster lumbers with arms outstretched, yet both of these things are directly associated with the monster, because of the Boris Karloff iconic film. The film, Frankenstein, was so popular in the thirties that it spawned a number of sequels and planted a seed in our culture that has germinated into an archetype.
It is also interesting to point out that if many of us saw films like Frankenstein, Dracula, Lawrence of Arabia, or Jaws: we may not even like them. Since film appreciation is a subjective art, it is difficult to concretely cement the quality of any film. There are many opinions that some of the films defined as “classics” have not held up over the years and now feel dated and boring to watch. Indeed some of us may even find the best use for a “classic” is to cure the insomnia caused by a stressful night of schoolwork.
There aren’t any requirements for films seeking to become classics beyond being popular enough to succeed. People simply need to see it. This is evident today when looking at what may be the next vampire phenomenon, Twilight. Many would say that the quality of the movie is not sufficient enough to warrant it a place in history but no real argument can be made against it being a prevalent presence in culture. The word “vampire” is starting to have new image associations because of this film, and that is the mark of a potential classic.
Likewise Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy may someday fall under the term classic as it took an already well-established character and propelled him to an unprecedented height of popularity. Many superhero movies are now made with a higher degree of realism in an attempt to emulate the style of Nolan’s films.
It is difficult to predict the nature of the classic. They have become an unusual genre all to themselves, defined by what the public deem popular at the time. To view them is to view an aspect of culture.
For your fix of classic films check out Cineplex’s Fall Classic Film series.