The Old Movie I Love Would Never Be Made Today

Vintage movie theater

"There is no way that movie could get made today." I hear this claim quite a bit from people who are close to my age. It is accurate for many of the films I have enjoyed over the years. I can often relate to the sorrow experienced by the person pointing this out. But while true and (sometimes) unfortunate, it is also less than half of the story.

It is not hard to identify films that could never be made today. If we each select one of our favorites, it is easy to feel nostalgic. Our choice enriched our lives in some way, and that is valid. We ask ourselves, "What if that film had never been made? Wouldn't that be a shame?" It would, but before we get too sad over this state of affairs, there are at least two things we need to recognize.

This Might Be Evidence of Progress

Social values change over time, and this isn't always a bad thing. Suppose a film we liked contained derogatory language targeting members of oppressed groups. Social values change over time, and this isn't always a bad thing. How disappointed should we be that a film like this wouldn't show up today? Wouldn't we recognize that as progress?

I can't claim to be a fan of Breakfast at Tiffany's, but I know many people who consider it a classic. How should we feel about its racist depiction of Asians? Is it an embarrassing reminder or something we want to see more of in modern films? Isn't the fact that we would no longer expect to see this sort of thing a sign of progress?

One can enjoy a film from one's past that would not be made today without being guilty of its sins. Certain scenes might make us wince, but that reflects how far we've come. It doesn't have to mean we can't find value in the rest of the film. I still enjoy Revenge of the Nerds, but I do find it odd to see a film using a rape scene for comedic effect.

Remember the Mel Brooks classic, Blazing Saddles? There are more scenes than I can count of white people using a racial slur. And even though the film aims to depict them as morons, it is hard to imagine any studio giving that script the go-ahead today. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. It seems to be a measure of progress.

Many Modern Films Couldn't Have Been Made Back Then

This is the other thing we rarely consider. Many current films would never have never seen the light of day back then. The nudity, violence, and gore of modern films would have excluded them, but there's so much more. We tend to forget what things were like back then.

Toilets have been a common fixture in our homes for some time. Filmmakers did not use to be able to show them on screen. They had to film around them. How quaint!

How many studios in the 1950s released films critical of Christianity? How about films critical of capitalism? Even if they had wanted to do so, the consequences would have been dire.

We have films with Black actors today. We have films that depict LGBTQ people being intimate with one another. We have films where women not only have the lead role but kick male ass throughout the film. The audiences of the past never had access to any of this. They missed out on so much!

And consider what might be the most obvious example of all: language. It wasn't that long ago that films contained zero profanity. Remember how unrealistic that often seemed? The main character was mad and couldn't say anything stronger than "heck." When was the last time you saw a modern film like that?

Where Does This Leave Us?

We all have our favorite films. Some of them would not be made today. That sucks. We like those films, and we wish there were more like them. And yet, most of us are also happy to have made progress in the many areas we have. We recognize how insensitive some scenes in those films seem today. Audience sensibilities have changed, and that's often a good thing. It highlights our collective progress at a time when it can be easy to miss.

Consider too how the audiences of the past would never have allowed much of what we take for granted. Some of our favorite old films were controversial for things modern audiences wouldn't even notice. Was that a bed? Did that married couple's bedroom only have one bed in it? Gasp! My guess is that we'd be reluctant to return to more sanitized times.

We need to balance our fondness for some older films with changing attitudes. It is okay to continue to enjoy our old favorites. But we can't expect younger viewers to experience them the same way we did. We can't even expect ourselves to experience them the same way we used to.

Image by author via NightCafe