Monday, June 22, 2015

What makes a classic a classic?

Last week, I asked the question, what makes a film a film?

Today, I twist that question a little, and ask what makes a classic film a classic?

It's a Wonderful Life is counted among the ranks of classics. But why?

It would be easy to simply say that if it's black and white, it's a classic. But that's not necessarily true, either. I've seen some really bad black and white movies. But there are others, like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and (God help us) The Sound of Music that have achieved classic status in all their Technicolor glory.


So while a lack of color helps, it's not definitive. So what else is there?

First, I believe a classic, in most cases, must be considered a film. I have defined what a film is in an earlier post, so I won't go into it very deeply here. But here are the highlights. A film should do one or more of the following:
  • Makes you think
  • Contains several messages/morals
  • Demands an emotional reaction
  • Leaves you speechless
  • Makes you want to take action for or against something
  • Makes you ask questions
  • Sometimes you are afraid to answer those questions
There are, of course, movies that don't fit into this category, and yet become classics. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story are two movies (but probably not films) that rank right at the top of the list of movies to watch every Christmas season, right there with It's a Wonderful Life. Rocky Horror Picture Show is another movie (not on the Christmas list) that is considered a cult classic.


So as you can see, it's not a simple answer. Yet in a way, it really is. Because what all of these films have in common is a sense of timelessness and relate-ability. Multiple generations can sit down together and appreciate these movies and films and relate to the characters. 

Most boys can relate to Ralphie's desire for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and "this thing which tells time" That desire for a BB gun is timeless.

Every family has that one crazy person in their family that makes Christmas entertaining....or less than entertaining. I have been told that this person has been me in years past. Sometimes we see ourselves or people we know in Clark Griswold and family.

So timelessness and relate-ability: These parts constitute the lynch pin that defining a classic. What do you think?