With DVD sales drying up and streaming services not offering many classics, it is safe to say that the next generation of film watchers and makers will have never seen the great films of the Golden Age of Hollywood. So the question is are hollywood classic films destined to fade from history?
It is widely accepted that the first movie to ever be filmed was in 1896 by the Lumière Brothers which showed the arrival of a train to a station. While it is nothing to gawk at today, its achievement at the time was absolutely incredible and paved the way for modern motion pictures and then Hollywood. As technology progressed so did the film making industry and Hollywood was birthed. Many consider the late 1930’s through the 1940’s to be the “Golden Age of Hollywood” that featured such films as, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Maltese Falcon, and Citizen Kane.
Check out the short film by the Lumière Brothers
Hollywood continued to grow in expertise and popularity and film experienced a growth in creativity with the abolishment of the Motion Picture Production Code--otherwise known as the Hays Code. This strict code of decency had to be followed in order for a film to gain release. With its abolishment, Hollywood was able to tackle storylines and show scenes that would have been considered to violent or sexual for filming during the code era.
Many have argued the good and the bad of the code, but what all do agree with is that Hollywood was fundamentally changed with the codes abolishment. The 1960s through the 1980s saw the release of many classic and memorable films that have gone into the pantheon of film; many of which would not have been possible without the codes removal. The 1980s is considered by most to be the decade that Hollywood grew up; it saw the birth of action stars and action films, the development of the blockbuster movie and the creation of the modern comedy.
As Hollywood moved into the 1990s home video became a massive improvement of the economic model of Hollywood. Whereas before if you missed a movie in theaters it was typically gone forever. Now with emerging home video, films could be purchased and enjoyed over and over again. This also gave rise to the creation of rental stores like Hollywood video (this was my go-to hangout place growing up, ok I’m dating myself) and Blockbuster video.
This trend continued with the invention of the DVD and Blueray, but everything changed in the early 2000’s with the arrival of Netflix and other streaming services. While the Netflix mail order DVD service was popular at first, it quickly began to die out when streaming began to be the new go-to method to watch movies. Streaming film is one of the most convenient ways to watch movies, but when looking at the huge catalog of material that Hollywood has produced, what is available for streaming is small indeed.
When browsing what is offered from the various streaming services, it is sad to see the tiny and ever shrinking pool of the classic films of Hollywood. On Netflix the classic movie section only features 96 films--some of them are even from the 1990s. There are others scattered in different sections but they are few and far between. I have found it sad to talk with many friends who call themselves ultra-movie fans only to find out they have never heard of Citizen Kane or The Searchers.
With DVD sales drying up and streaming services not offering many classics, it is safe to say that the next generation of film watchers and makers will have never seen the great films of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This is truly a tragedy, as we see many of the actors of today such as Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt having taken their cues from the great actors of yesteryear. Movies are expanding out of the United States with foreign viewers having little to no access to films before the 1980s. Domestic viewers seem to be in the same boat, does this mean that Classic Films are destined to fade from history forever? Will they become an old footnote in the dusty pages of history lost to the ages?
I honestly don’t have the answer to this question. I only can truly hope that these films will be preserved in some way for the next generation to cherish and enjoy. Some of my best memories growing up are grabbing VHS tapes from the local Hollywood video store and curling up on the couch to watch Humphry Bogart or John Wayne save the day. My appreciation and love of film and Hollywood was developed by my love of those old classic films. I fear that those growing up now may never be able to appreciate film as I was able to. Sometimes to value what we are, we have to be able to look at where we came from. I will always cherish those nights where I was transported to a world of black and white and I hope others in the future will be able to do so as well.