Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Sentimentalist

Since when did it become a bad thing for movies to be sentimental? Some of the finer pieces of cinema to ever be released were sentimental works. Look at any great Frank Capra classic and it is riddled with sentimentality, or even jump ahead a few more years and take a look at something like E.T. Sentimentality isn't a bad thing in films, so why is it always met with so much criticism?

Beginning in about the late '60s, when the New Hollywood movement began, the films being produced were all for the most part dark, moody, and cynical. There were no real heroes, an anti-hero at best; they typically had unhappy endings, and were generally pessimistic about humanity in general. This is evident in many films from this period, ranging from The Godfather, to Taxi Driver, all the way to populace entertainment like Earthquake.

Nowadays we seem to be going through a similar period. Just about every film made nowadays is either downbeat with an unhappy ending, or upbeat with a bittersweet ending, there really aren't many movies made that embrace happy endings. Why? Are the filmmakers afraid they will offend the audience if they give them a little optimism? Is optimism so awful that everything the studios shove down our throats depressing? I don't think so.

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, majority of the finer films from that period were sentimental. It's a Wonderful Life, Singin' in the Rain, even Citizen Kane is a touch sentimental in the end. Have we as filmgoers become so cynical that we can't even enjoy a little bit of sentimentality?

I think it's kind of funny that people will watch these old films that are completely sentimental, and find them wonderful pieces of art, but when they watch something similar released in modern times, it's considered cheesy. Just compare It's a Wonderful Life with The Pursuit of Happyness. The films are pretty much the same, so why does one's opinion differ? Cynicism.

These older films get a free pass. The common argument is that they're from a simpler time, where people were generally more optimistic, more naive. In some part, this might be true. With all that the world has been through in the past fifty years, there is often very little optimism left, and this is where I make my point. If our world is void of optimism, then isn't it our duty as filmmakers to inject optimism back into the world via cinema?

An uplifting film can influence popular culture, and ultimately influence many people and their lives. Look at Star Wars, E.T., It's a Wonderful Life, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all of these films had such a gigantic impact, that some filmgoers claim that these movies changed their lives. An uplifting film can unite us all, not physically, but emotionally. It can give us wonderment, teach us moral lessons, and even grant us hope. When you look at it this way, one can't help but wonder, perhaps what we need as filmgoers is a little bit more sentimentality and a little less cynicism. Just a thought.

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