Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2014's Movie Anniversaries

It's not always easy to find something media-related to write about - eventually this flood of movie reviews is going to run its course, and there's not much coming out in theaters for the next few months that I have much interest in. So, digging into the past is a common way to fill column inches and rack up pageviews. Over the past month I've noticed a significant uptick in stories about Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." And over on Reddit, suddenly there was a flurry of posts about the Jamaican bobsled movie "Cool Runnings." Why are these movies being discussed now? "Dr. Strangelove" was released in 1964 and is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. "Cool Runnings" was released in late 1993 and just celebrated its twentieth. Also, the current Jamaican bobsled team qualified for the Sochi Olympics, so that's a nice tie-in to current events.

Other 2014 film related anniversaries include the the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Charlie Chaplin's beloved Little Tramp character, and the 75th anniversary of MGM musical "The Wizard of Oz." The internet generation will be happily revisiting 1994, and I expect lots of chatter about "Forrest Gump" and "The Lion King" to come up as we move closer to summer blockbuster season, and to a lesser extent "The Mask," "Pulp Fiction," and "Speed." "Dumb and Dumber" is sure to get a boost from the imminent arrival of its new sequel, "Dumb and Dumber To." Older audiences may take more interest in some of the other films turning fifty: "My Fair Lady," "A Hard Day's Night," "A Fistful of Dollars," and two Connery era James Bond films, "From Russia With Love" and "Goldfinger." The top grosser of 1964 was "Mary Poppins," which is already enjoying a lot of press thanks to the recent release of "Saving Mr. Banks." And though "Oz" may be the perennial children's classic, there's another 1939 film that also retains a fervent fanbase to this day that is sure to generate some nostalgic attention: "Gone With the Wind."

These anniversaries may feel arbitrary and pointless, but I love them. I'll take any excuse to talk about the classics. Hollywood is often so fixated on the newest, shiniest baubles, that films as little as three years old feel like ancient history. If anniversary years divisible by five are the only times that the mainstream media gets to revisit and discuss a particular film, so be it. Personally, I find it vital to keep looking back at older films in order to have the proper context to form opinions about the ones in the present day. There are precious few satires as biting and effective as "Dr. Strangelove," or children's films as delightful and watchable as "Mary Poppins," even after fifty years. The most popular movies have shelf lives that span decades, and cultural clout that grows far greater than anyone could have anticipated.

The studios take full advantage of anniversaries too, of course. Many of the films I've listed will see special DVD and Blu-Ray rereleases in new packaging for the occasion. "The Wizard of Oz" already enjoyed an IMAX 3D rerelease last fall, had a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and this year will be the subject of an Oscar tribute at the upcoming 2014 ceremony. The "Oz" tie-in media have been coming fast and furious, including a new animated children's film and several "Oz" themed television projects in development. The merchandise, of course, has been everywhere. Poke around on Amazon, and you'll find books, calendars, toys, clothing, collectibles, jewelry, toiletries, and even a special edition of Monopoly with the 75th Anniversary branding on them.

Of course, while the big crowd-pleasing films get the bulk of the attention, smaller films also benefit from celebrating anniversaries. The aforementioned "Cool Runnings" is a fun little Disney sports movie that came and went quickly in 1993, but since it's popped up again in the pop culture consciousness this month, I've come across a couple of good critical pieces looking at how it subverted many conventions and had a fairly unusual narrative for a feel-good commercial Disney product. In the past, anniversaries have raised the profile of older films enough to get me to seek them out, and I expect the same thing will happen again for a few titles this year.

So my dear cineastes, start getting ready for the debates on how the twenty year-old "Pulp Fiction" changed Hollywood forever, and how well the fifty year-old "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" has held up. And maybe finally watch "The Pawnbroker" with Rod Steiger, which marked both the end of the strict Hollywood production code and the beginning of Morgan Freeman's film career half a century ago. It's a special occasion after all.

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