The kids don't give a damn about your generation's movies
October 6, 2013 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Bringing Up Nick is a show where Revision3's Adam Sessler tries to teach his younger and movie ignorant colleague Nick a thing or two about classic movies and their cultural impact. First up, James Cameron's Aliens.
posted by Foci for Analysis (42 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
That was interesting. I'll watch the other episodes as they come out.

Nick seems to think there's some kind of animal meant to be protected, and I'm surprised that the interlocutor does not mention that in Alien, Ripley does save that cat.
posted by King Bee at 7:28 AM on October 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not a huge Sessler fan, but that was far better than I imagined it could be.

Nick's comments and amazement re: How so many of his familiar video game conventions came from this movie sounds pretty familiar.

I once worked with a guy who had never seen the Godfather. I suggested hew take an afternoon and give it a viewing. He did, and came back with this sudden understanding of where all of these familiar cultural tropes came from and their context. Stuff like "Make him an offer he can't refuse" and "...sleeps with the fishes" and why every comedian does their Marlon Brando impersonation that way. It was a big "Now I understand" moment.

It's a bit like trying to explain to someone why Citizen Kane is so important and why they really should study it.

I'm looking forward to the next installment, because I can't believe there is anyone over the age of 4 who hasn't seen Raiders at least once.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:43 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was sort of interesting but at the same time, given Adam's go-to films, it makes me want to make a show where we watch and then discuss Bringing Up Baby, Sunset Blvd, Kiss Me Deadly, Chinatown, Knife in the Water, Le Trou, Shoot the Piano Player, etc.

Yes, he's probably seen most of them, but I do find it weird how far he isn't going back. Personally, I'm much more stunned when I come across someone who hasn't seen Citizen Kane than I am someone who hasn't seen Groundhog Day (which I love) or Aliens (which I don't) or Mission Impossible (which I wouldn't recommend to my worst enemy).

I work with a girl who's about to turn 19. I hired her when she was 15. I remember a few years ago when Mel Gibson was all over the news and Mackenzie came into work one day and I asked if she heard about what he said to that highway trooper and she said, "Yeah. But who the hell's Mel Gibson?"

Each week, I invite her and her friends and my friends to screenings at my house of what I consider classic films (with the exception of the Godfathers, none of the movies Adam mentioned would be screened at my house though some of them are fine films).

Though I understand how Aliens is a crux film for much of the (bad) action films and video games that came after it, it seemed Nick wasn't really that taken with it. I'm with him. It's pretty meh in my book. But when I screened Kiss Me Deadly for my gang of youngsters--huge, visceral reaction. Same with Bonnie and Clyde, French Connection, Double Indemnity, Chinatown (which became one of Mackenzie's--then 17--favorite films) and many others.

I guess it depends what Adam's point is. If his focus is on showing Nick movies that have directly affected games and movies Nick probably has seen and will see, I suppose the movies are fine choices. But if it's to show him how *great* film can be compare to the shit Nick's being offered by today's filmmakers, his choices seem pretty unenlightening. (Mission Impossible?! Really?!)

Like Thorzdad, I look forward to the Raiders one as I think it's an okay movie so am curious about the kid's reaction. I'm guessing it'll be similar to Aliens even though it's a much better film.
posted by dobbs at 8:01 AM on October 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


I am constantly telling people who say they love movies that they need to watch Casablanca. Talk about an Original Source for so many cultural tropes. Same with The Maltese Falcon. It is hard to understand how influential those two films are unless you have seen them.
posted by hippybear at 8:11 AM on October 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


On the generational thing: as a high school teacher, I have always expected teenagers to hate my generation (X)'s music. I really didn't like a whole lot of the oldies of my mother's generation; I respected it for creating rock'n'roll and for its influences and all that, but I really only liked maybe 25% of the stuff that older people thought was so awesome, and even what I liked I very rarely loved. Motown was about it for me. I knew it was good, even great... but that didn't make me want to listen to it when I had more modern stuff.

But as it turns out, most of the teenagers I've known who like rock actually love Gen X music. They love classic rock and hair rock and new wave and '80s pop. They're quick to shrug and say that today's music sucks. (Admittedly, I'm in Seattle, so there's that...)

It leaves me wondering how much of one's artistic tastes are a generational matter and how much is genuinely a matter of the art itself.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:14 AM on October 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I love the idea of this, and I look forward to seeing Nick's take on what I consider to be classic movies, rather than stuff like Aliens, which even at the time I found pretty lame. Alien was a classic; Aliens demystified the creature (thus making it about 1,000% less scary) and degenerated into a tired old shoot-em-up.
posted by Decani at 8:15 AM on October 6, 2013


Also, on the "teens today" and movies note: When you watch the original Star Wars through a modern teen's eyes, the movie is kinda... slow. Raiders, too, except for the chase scenes. Pretty hard to avoid that realization when you're in a classroom full of high schoolers and they're watching it and getting bored.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:16 AM on October 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


As my ex said upon finally seeing some of my Hitchcock collection: "Oh, I have seen these. They just weren't Hitchcock movies when I saw them."

Everyone's seen Aliens, even if they haven't seen Aliens Aliens.
posted by Etrigan at 8:22 AM on October 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Many's the person I've met who just can't stand Citizen Kane, thinks it's boring, plotless, pointless, and overrated (and the black and white thing trips a lot of people up as well). I say, "You have to give it a chance," but I don't think people are generally used to giving movies chances anymore.

On the other hand, I was really not in the frame of mind to give most movies (other than maybe Woody Allen) a chance myself until I reached the age of 30 (at least). As I get older what I realize is that, despite more movies being available more broadly than they've ever been, there's a whole world of movies I have yet to see and probably will never live long enough to appreciate.
posted by blucevalo at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Many's the person I've met who just can't stand Citizen Kane, thinks it's boring, plotless, pointless, and overrated (and the black and white thing trips a lot of people up as well). I say, "You have to give it a chance," but I don't think people are generally used to giving movies chances anymore.

I think it's more that people have become far more passive in their movie viewing. Movies happen to them. Movies today, for the most part, don't ask the audience to engage on anything higher than a "Don't think about it! Just sit there and watch all this CG flying at you!" level.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:32 AM on October 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was disappointed with Kane when I saw it. I could see it was ahead of its time and hugely influential and it's by no means bad but not Greatest Movie Evah as was it's reputation at the time. And I've watched (and enjoyed) a ton of films from that era so wasn't that I was just unused to the style etc.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:57 AM on October 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


but I don't think people are generally used to giving movies chances anymore.

When they watch at my house they don't have a choice. :)

I have a strict no talking, phones off policy and the films are projected rather than screened on a TV. In my experience, this makes all the difference in the world.
posted by dobbs at 9:01 AM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


dobbs, can I come over to your house?
posted by Ouisch at 9:10 AM on October 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Great find. Its awesome to see someone describe boring movie tropes in aliens as boring because they've seen them in the things that I find ... less refreshing. I actually dig tropes - they can be fun. Story-wise, it is hard to do something unique. It is hard to find a different cut of something that's already been done. Honestly though, its great that he says 'Aliens is boring' - because he's right - those new implementations where you can play and participate are better and more three dimensional than a movie you can only watch, moreover - if we were producing the most interesting work on the first shot, it would be a sign that they shouldn't keep repeating whatever the trope is.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:12 AM on October 6, 2013


Although I recently forced my husband to sit through The Baby (1973) projected to about 100", so I don't know if that makes me a good candidate or a terrible one.

He did, and came back with this sudden understanding of where all of these familiar cultural tropes came from and their context.

This is how I felt while reading the KJV old testament. So many idioms.
posted by Ouisch at 9:17 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Alien was a classic; Aliens demystified the creature (thus making it about 1,000% less scary) and degenerated into a tired old shoot-em-up.

It's hard to remember nowadays, but that "tired old shoot-em-up" turned everything on its ear. 1986. Reagan's America.

(27-year-old spoilers?)

Anti-MegaCorporate.

Anti-Gung-ho, Mindless Military Force.

Pro-Woman.

There were jokes at the time and since about Ripley turning into "Rambolina." That missed the point. This was a powerful woman fighting to the death to protect her (adopted) child. Against, it must be emphasized, another mother fighting to protect her children. All against a backdrop of failed capitalism, failed militarism, and failed machismo.

Plus explosions.

And Sigourney.

What's not to like?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:34 AM on October 6, 2013 [38 favorites]


There's a constant churn of film classics, and the ones we consider indispensable tend to be the ones from our generation as well as the ones the previous generation considered classic. So, for me, the classics were the ones that became classics in the 60s, sometimes as a result of a long process of critical reevaluation. So Stagecoach and Casablanca -- films that previously had been genre and cult films -- entered the pantheon. Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard, which were poorly received when they came out, were now in. It's a Wonderful Life was reevaluated in my childhood and declared classic, while other films by Capra (Meet John Doe, in particular), went from being universally regarded as a classic to being something less than that -- you're not necessarily culturally illiterate if you haven't seen it, although you won't pass muster as a Capra expert.

I love when previous generations pass along their classics to the new ones, because it's interesting to watch this churn. Nobody is sitting this kid down and making him watch The Black Pirate or Wings. Nobody sat down Adam Sessler, as far as I can tell, and made him watch The Blue Angel or Vampyr. We typically end up with a large clump of films that were important to us when we were young and have grown to have critical mass, so to speak (so, for my era, films like Blade Runner and Annie Hall) and films that the previous generation were fanatical about (Easy Rider, Psycho), and then a smaller clump of longtime critical favorites (Citizen Kane), but the other previous eras of classics have fallen away to the point that almost nobody is going to make any fuss about this kid never seeing M, even though, in my world, that makes him even more culturally bereft then never having seen Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I also think things have changed quite a bit now. If you were a cineaste when I was a boy, you learned cinema mostly by going to second-run theaters, and they cycled through a number of really old classics pretty regularly, as the films were cheap and on a regular circuit. So it was sort of assumed that you'd be conversant in, say, The Black Cat or It Happened One Night or whatever the oldsters who ran the theater thought was important. Nowadays, with this sort of culture simultaneously so available and so niched, I think there has been the loss of an idea of a universal canon of classic films, and enjoying, say, the films of Buster Keaton is no longer considered necessary to cultural literacy and instead akin to being one of those old timers who only listen to swing.

And that may be okay. I mean, I think you're a better-rounded person if you're familiar with Artie Shaw, but I am not sure there is an absolute collection of American classics that everybody should know, and I am not sure it is less obnoxious for me to sneer at the ignorance of young people for not knowing the music and film of my youth than it is for me not to know what they're listening to or watching.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:36 AM on October 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


What's sort of sad about Citizen Kane is that so many people are forced to watch it multiple times for school. This is much more the case with film students of course. I ended up watching it at least once or twice per semester, which has the unfortunate side effect of making it seem obligatory, like eating your veggies, which for a lot of people obscures how wonderful and entertaining it really is.

Also, Aliens is brilliant.
posted by brundlefly at 9:40 AM on October 6, 2013


Today I asked my nineteen-year-old students in a Gulf Cooperation Council state if they had seen Star Wars and most of them hadn't, but they've seen The Terminator and all play GTA V.
posted by mecran01 at 9:42 AM on October 6, 2013


One of the things that goes undiscussed in this is that Aliens is, in fact, a film that trades in established film tropes. Cameron really just set a world war II Marines movie in space. I remember being startled at how cliched much of it felt when I first saw it, but then also being impressed by how Cameron tweaked those cliches, both for the sake of this being a science fiction films and also for his own purposes, including making one of the dominant themes of the film that of a sort of militant maternalism.

And that's what Cameron does. He's as much a collage artist as Tarantino, but less showy about it. But his films are, always, in part, conversations with earlier films, earlier film conventions, and earlier storytelling conventions, which he often subtly or radically revises. He was one of the first filmmakers who make what sometimes feel like big, dumb films consisting of strung-together cliches that work in spite of this (he has always been credited for his exceptional skill at lensing action), but I think they actually work because of it. He's a radical working in a conservative medium and a popular genre, and his solution -- and it is a classic Hollywood solution -- is to create films that seem to have straightforward text but have terrifically complicated subtext. I don't know if he is the best at it -- I think Guillermo del Toro excels at this. But he was one of the first I ever noticed, and, after every Cameron film, there seem to be about a million imitators, none of which are anywhere near as interesting.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:48 AM on October 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


I am constantly telling people who say they love movies that they need to watch Casablanca. Talk about an Original Source for so many cultural tropes.

Yes, it's not only "Play again, Sam" (sic, I know it's not really said), and "Round up the usual suspects," and "This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship." What I find remarkable is that there isn't really any other way to express the idea summed up so well by "I'm shocked, shocked, that..." etc. except through that quote. Knowing Casablanca is what knowing the Bible or Shakespeare used to be like.
posted by How the runs scored at 10:18 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


He's a radical working in a conservative medium and a popular genre, and his solution -- and it is a classic Hollywood solution -- is to create films that seem to have straightforward text but have terrifically complicated subtext.

My (much younger) brother and I were debating the relative merits of a Robocop remake the other day, and this is more or less how I tried to describe Paul Verhoeven to him.
posted by Rustmouth Snakedrill at 10:24 AM on October 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


My problem with this is that I generally don't care what teenagers think anymore, both due to direct experience of late (they have no patience with anything -- if it doesn't explode, they won't stick with it) and memories of what I was like at that age -- particularly my late teens.

I wouldn't say I was wrong about everything at that age, but my criteria was. Not that I could have begun to define it. What I was, was hung up on a combination of my ignorance (so much stuff I'd never seen/heard/read before that I had no context for much of what I was encountering) and my classic peer-herd mentality (it mattered way too much to me what others thought about things). So yeah, I could rank Styx as one of my favorite bands, casually dismiss Godfather Part 2 as too serious, and forget anything with subtitles ....

I was wrong.

But come my early twenties (say around the time I'd finished with University for the first time), I was starting to develop a taste for actual quality (both the ability to discern the good stuff, and an increasingly insatiable hunger for more of it). And the same holds true for some of the younger folks I know now. Age 21 and onward, I'm really starting to love the cultural discussions I'm having with them ... and I'm learning a lot.

Speaking of which, what I've learned from young Nick here is less about good/bad movies than the whole relevance of movies anymore. They're just not the "thing" anymore if you're a certain age. I mean, who needs bigger and bigger explosions and death counts when you can get all that with gaming, and actually get to be an active part of the drama, the guy pulling the trigger. And thus I feel more and more firm in my position that we've seen the high water of cinema as an influential cultural form. Which isn't to say there won't still be great and meaningful movies for aeons to come, they just won't matter as much overall, particularly to the younger folk (just as my generation probably didn't venerate novels as much as my parents').

I have the seen the future, and it's happening already. It's gaming. And all those action/fantasy flicks of the past thirty years or so that we hold so dear -- they're just fodder for the various set pieces.
posted by philip-random at 10:24 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also think things have changed quite a bit now. If you were a cineaste when I was a boy, you learned cinema mostly by going to second-run theaters, and they cycled through a number of really old classics pretty regularly, as the films were cheap and on a regular circuit.

This is totally different from my experience as a boy growing up in the UK (though I am not sure how old you are Bunny, I am 42). In the UK a lot of cinemas went out of business through the 1970s. The last one in my town shut down when I was 11 (just after Tron) but most of the UK doesn't have second run theatres in the way that the US does so that would not be an option for most people to get a film education. So most of my film education came via TV, luckily the BBC tended to run lots of films dating from 1940 onwards, primarily British and American. The time slot most memorable for me was Sunday afternoons. It was possible to be make a case to watch the whole thing as there was little for the rest of the family to argue for as there were so few channels in those days. Now of course people have a lot more choice (and the BBC prefers to show cheap shit all afternoon) so kids are less likely to settle on something they don't see as for them. Which is fine, I don't advocate forcing kids or other people to watch but it seems kind of a shame if it doesn't push people to see things that might look more difficult or less accessible but which might be quite rewarding. For me it meant I was familiar with some serious classics as a child and some remain high on my list of favourites to this day, as with 'A Matter of Life and Death' and 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' (more reprehensibly, I also watched a lot of Germans get shot, blown up or otherwise done away with).
posted by biffa at 11:07 AM on October 6, 2013


because I can't believe there is anyone over the age of 4 who hasn't seen Raiders at least once.

Yo.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:13 AM on October 6, 2013


This is totally different from my experience as a boy growing up in the UK (though I am not sure how old you are Bunny, I am 42).

I'm 45. Although I did spend part of my childhood in England, and so was exposed, as you were, to a lot of classic British movies through BBC. I'm actually sort of amazed that Ealing comedies are not treated as being as significant in the US as they are in England, but, then, I probably saw The Lavender Hill Mob 10 times, and repetition makes things feel iconic.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:20 AM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just a reminder: The Story of Film is still going on and will be for a couple more months, and for those of us who get TCM it's a wonderful opportunity to catch up on classic movies we somehow missed. I think of myself as a pretty cine-literate guy, but I'd never seen Vampyr or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, let alone The Crowd or I Was Born, But.... I feel like I'm getting a free graduate education.

(I haven't seen Citizen Kane in a while and am looking forward to giving it another shot. If something's worth seeing once, it's worth seeing several times.)
posted by languagehat at 12:42 PM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cameron really just set a world war II Marines movie in space. I remember being startled at how cliched much of it felt when I first saw it, but then also being impressed by how Cameron tweaked those cliches, both for the sake of this being a science fiction films and also for his own purposes, including making one of the dominant themes of the film that of a sort of militant maternalism.

Ding ding ding! I was kind of disappointed Sessler didn't mention the Space Marine archetypes were straight out of a WWII movieā€”the bloodthirsty badass, the coward, the quiet & decent everyman, the intellectual, the cigar-chomping sarge, the ineffectual officer...

God damn, I love this movie and I love Cameron, and I'll wrassle anyone who feels otherwise.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:52 PM on October 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


It leaves me wondering how much of one's artistic tastes are a generational matter and how much is genuinely a matter of the art itself.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:14 AM on October 6 [3 favorites +] [!]


The amazing stuff right now is happening in TV and video games (not so much the movie-aping ones, the games that embrace their gamineness). Good art comes from artists delighting in grappling with their medium.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:58 PM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yo.

What the? Your RASFW card is revoked, sir. Turn it in on your way out.
posted by Justinian at 2:16 PM on October 6, 2013


Also, how do I get a version of ALIENS with the sentry guns? I saw the bit with the sentry guns ONE TIME. And I don't know where. I love the sentry guns!

related: Is a version of THE ABYSS with the good ending available? I've also only seen that one time. I thought it would be in the Special Edition but that still had the shit ending?
posted by Justinian at 2:20 PM on October 6, 2013


Also, how do I get a version of ALIENS with the sentry guns? I saw the bit with the sentry guns ONE TIME. And I don't know where. I love the sentry guns!

You want the 'Special Edition'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:27 PM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good ol' Wikipedia. I probably saw the television debut on CBS in '89 which it says had the sentry guns.
posted by Justinian at 2:30 PM on October 6, 2013


The great thing about Shakespeare is how many quotes he uses.
posted by leibniz at 2:42 PM on October 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I recently saw Lawrence of Arabia for the first time during a 70mm film festival and there were multiple times I thought "Wow" to myself. The gaggle of 8 or 9 year olds behind me vocalized it each time. I do wish there was a better way to get kids to watch classic movies than dragging them to the theater even knowing they'll probably enjoy themselves.
posted by edeezy at 2:44 PM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


MartinWisse, today is your lucky day! Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably the best adventure movie ever made. Nothing you were planning to do today will make you as happy. Run to your nearest video rental and/or download source as though a giant boulder was pursuing you.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:30 PM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


related: Is a version of THE ABYSS with the good ending available? I've also only seen that one time. I thought it would be in the Special Edition but that still had the shit ending?

I've seen the Abyss with two different endings. The original one in the theaters way back when and the one on the Special Edition.

The original I don't remember that well, except it couldn't have been that bad. I believe it involved the "alien" ship rising to the surface of the ocean and dwarfing everything. Awe all around.

The one from the Special Edition was embarrassing.

I remembering hearing Cameron originally came up with the concept while still a teenager. Makes sense. Whoever had his ear at the time of the movie's release, good job talking him out of it.
posted by philip-random at 3:56 PM on October 6, 2013


I thought it was interesting how Nick says something to the effect of, "oh another space marine story."

I've heard similar thoughts from people reading Neuromancer for the first time. It seems cliche or overly trope-ish, but at the same time you recognize that it pushed some of those cliches into pop culture.
posted by LoraT at 4:54 PM on October 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why can't I get this weird video player to work? Did we just overload their servers or something?
posted by deathpanels at 5:05 PM on October 6, 2013


I recently saw Lawrence of Arabia for the first time during a 70mm film festival and there were multiple times I thought "Wow" to myself.

My god it's great! Isn't it great?

Around Oscar time this past year people were asking me what the best film I saw in the theatre was and I unequivocally said Lawrence Of Arabia--even though I'd seen it probably a dozen times in my life including three in the theatre. It is just an extraordinary picture. I'm tearing up just thinking about the "I enjoyed it" scene.

Anyone who doesn't like Lawrence has never seen it projected. Stunning, stunning work.
posted by dobbs at 6:25 PM on October 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I once had a French girlfriend who had never seen The Wizard of Oz. You want to talk about a film viewing that opened someone's eyes to a whole world of cultural references...

I think the subject came up when we were watching that Blues Traveler video for "Run-Around" where the little girl is dressed like Dorothy and trying to get into the club with her friends, dressed like the various Oz characters. Talking to her about it I suddenly realized she had no idea what was being referenced, it was just a video about a group of people in silly costumes, and a dog running around underfoot.

But just think of the epiphany. Not only that video but everything from Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" to "We're not in Kansas anymore" to Zardoz. Cowardly lions and flying monkeys and munchkins and "Ignore the man behind the curtain" and if he only had a brain and if he only had a heart. Not to mention Toto.

It was quite a moment. Thus were her eyes finally opened.
posted by Max Udargo at 10:07 PM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


While Aliens is certainly cast in the mold of a WW2 movie, it's also carefully aimed at the Vietnam War. A squad of cocky high-tech marines, loaded down with modern weaponry, up against a whole lot of low-tech but extremely determined and persistent enemies who the high techs don't take seriously until they find themselves in screaming retreat? I think it's very much meant to ring that bell.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:16 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


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