A couple of people suggested I do a blog about older films. I had no idea what a blog was. A blob? No, blog! Eventually I was guided into the computer world of the 21st century. And I find it’s a very congenial, personal way of communicating with you, where if you’re interested in seeing a movie I’m recommending, you can practically push two buttons and look at the picture, or certainly within a day or so; the same with books I might encourage you to read. It feels more like an intimate one-on-one experience—I’m right here in your own private computer, talking to you.
Well, I’m glad you tuned in: The state of movie culture–indeed, the state of culture in the U.S.A.–is at a distressingly low level. At film schools all over the country, most of the students act as though picture history begins somewhere around Raging Bull. The knowledge of, or interest in, films made during the fifty-year Golden Age of Pictures–1912-1962—is generally either non-existent or extremely spotty.
I was lucky: The late 1950s and most of the 1960s were terrific years for talk and writing about the great picture work that had been made in America, just at the time it all came tumbling down. New York’s prestigious, influential Museum of Modern Art finally did retrospectives on Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchcock in l961-62-63. I arranged them. The directors in my generation–Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, almost all of them–had quite a good sense of older pictures. But that doesn’t seem to be the case much of the time now.
Why should it be so important to see the work that has preceded us? Again, I was lucky: My European father was not only a fine painter, he was a vastly knowledgeable expert on the entire history of painting and sculpture; dealers and museum curators would ask him to judge if a work was genuine or fake. He was also a brilliant classical pianist, and knew the whole opus of the great composers. So I picked up at an early age that if you want to be of some quality in your chosen field, you had better have a damn good idea of all the superb or transcendent work that has been done before your advent. Not for the purpose of remakes, but in order to learn the vocabulary, grammar, the humanity, the art of the craft. Bach did precede Mozart.
Since many of the pioneers in the medium were still around when I first came to Hollywood, I decided to put myself through their university, and interviewed extensively, or got to know, numerous filmmakers of the Golden Age just as it came to an end: John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Leo McCarey, Josef von Sternberg, Raoul Walsh, King Vidor, Fritz Lang, Samuel Fuller, George Cukor, Frank Capra, Otto Preminger, and many more, including some of the period’s most legendary stars, like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn–I directed her last starring role in a feature–and others. Therefore, if I should drop a name here and there, I’ve earned it, and anyway I’m just the conduit really from their spirit through my reports to you.
At Blogdanovich, we’ll be posting at least one piece about a classic film every week—Peter’s Picture Pick of the Week–with five films to start with, five the second week, and generally one a week from then on. In a month or so we’ll be starting a series called The Golden Age of American Talkies: 1929-1962; this will consist of a yearly best films list in order of my preference, together with a section of notes on the choices. We’ll be starting with two years and then do a new year every other week. One other section will feature a selection of comments on relevant films as they appeared in my personal card file, which I kept current on every movie I saw–including shorts–from 1952 through 1970; we will be scanning the original cards themselves, and upload them for you as they actually look. This was another way of educating myself on pictures: I would comment on the given film every time I saw it between the ages of 12 and a half to 31 and a half; many times the opinion of the work would change radically, from dislike to praise, and from veneration to the opposite.
By the way, we’ve arranged it so that if you want to see a picture I’ve recommended, all you have to do is click the image and you’ll be hooked up to Amazon. The basic idea of this whole enterprise is to give you the great pleasure of seeing some of the very best that’s been created on film.