East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

That was seventy years ago


Black Narcissus is a movie by Powell & Pressburger, the British film-makers also known as The Archers. It is a gorgeously-filmed psychological drama set during the last days of the British presence in India. It is my favorite Archers movie (with A Matter of Life and Death coming a close second) and it’s the sort of movie about which I can bore you to death forever (did I already do a post about it? If I didn’t, I should). The film features Deborah Kerr and the often overlooked but absolutely stunning Kathleen Byron.

I was boring some people to death about this movie last night, and I got an observation that caused me to pause.

It’s a 70 years old movie. It’s not relevant anymore. We’ll wait for a remake featuring Jason Momoa.

It was a way to crank my handle, because my friends like it when I use rude words and say bad things about their mothers, but it got me thinking. Because it happens, a lot, that I’m told “that’s an old movie”, “that’s an old book”.
I’ve met people that don’t watch black and white movies, or that complain because the effects on Boris Karloff’s The Mummy “look old” or because the animation on some cartoon from the ’70s “is old fashioned.”

I was lucky – I was a kid in a time in which the parish church had a cinema attached, and would show us movies every Saturday. A lot can be said about how little effective that trick was in turning me into a good Catholic, but boy did it turn me into a movie lover. And not just me. I have friends that are soundtrack freaks and can talk for hours about John Barry or Alex North or what have you. I know effects geeks that can quote chapter and verse about Ray Harryhausen and that can dissect Supermarionation to its component bits. Each one of us has a pantheon of favorite authors, a long list of favorite movies, a couple of favorite directors. Talkie or silent, black and white or technicolor, genre or mainstream, we watched it all.

Does that make us better?
I don’t know.
But I feel sad for these people that have such a short memory, and that do not have the curiosity to check out something because it’s seventy years old.
I think it’s a sign of my growing old that I find this lack of curiosity – that often morphs into a lack of culture – rather worrying.

When did people start looking at the release date to decide whether a movie was worth their time or not?

And mind you, I’m not saying that an old movie is inherently better than a new one – but I claim the right to say that a new movie is not necessarily better than an old one just because it’s new. That’s the reaction of the average punter, when you notice they missed some great old flick… that’s nostalgia, or that’s it-was-better-when-it-was-worse. It’s a way to sidestep the argument, to short-circuit the conversation. That’s an old movie, it’s seventy years old, it’s no longer relevant.

How do you know it’s not relevant if you never saw it?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

10 thoughts on “That was seventy years ago

  1. Talking about old movies: I recently found an online catalogue of old movies, nowadays of public domain (we don’t want break the law, right?) which I think you might find interesting. Various stuff created between the 30s and the 70s: old serial films from the golden age, 40s noir movies, vintage science fiction and horror, mystery, gialli all’italiana, various comedies, american tv serie and sceneggiati RAI and other things both in italian language and english.
    I know your policy about links in the comments, but in this case isn’t even necessary.
    Are you interessed?


  2. The age of the movie (or book) doesn’t matter. You just have to overlook the special effects (or antiquated vocabulary words). I also think people overlook subtitled movies that are really good just because it’s “too hard” to watch.


    • In fact in my country we dub EVERYTHING because people (supposedly) refuse to watch subtitled movies.


      • It’s a bit like that in my country. People refuse to watch subtitles. But conversely dubbing is seen as even worse!! You never get dubbed over films or shows here. Think it’s changing a bit with the popularity of Scandi-noir and lots of European dramas are shown here (I’m currently enjoying The Crimson Rivers).
        I personally love listening to a show in it’s native language even if I don’t understand it. So much of the actor’s performance is in the nuance of what they’re saying.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Black Narcissus is one of my all time favourite movies. One of the all gray female-led movies as well. Anyone who thinks it isn’t relevant clearly hasn’t seen it.

    I also love that it is entirely stage shot but the colour and artistry of the backdrops are stupendous.


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