This semester I took an extremely interesting class titled, “Film History” — very original I know! This class was actually super cool and I loved every minute of it because we basically just watched cool movies and talked about them which, if you are new here, is my shit! Well, for our final project we had to write a paper about a film that we would have added to the curriculum and one we would have taken out. I was very proud of how this turned out and as a writer of a pop culture/movie/music blog, I thought I should post it for all you lovely people to read! At the end, I will add the whole list of films that were actually a part of the class for you nerds at home to take a peek at. Hope you enjoy!
When people tend to think of history, we think of wars, conflict, and even sports for some foolish reason, but sometimes it is easy to gloss over the history of the arts and more importantly that of history in film. Films have been around since the late 1800s and have been evolving ever since into what we have now. But why should we care about film history; what is its importance? Well first and foremost, we use film and movies as entertainment. When it rains, you put on Superbad because it makes you laugh. When you don’t want to parent the kids you throw in Finding Nemo to get them off your back and when you are trying to impress the boy of your dreams, you put in The Blues Brothers and assure him you can quote the whole thing — film is a form of entertainment that just can’t be replicated anywhere else. More importantly, other than just entertainment purposes, movies are meant to tell a story that evokes emotion and meaning in the people viewing them. We can learn so many rhetorical things from films based on their history and the way that they were created and lots of people don’t take the time to look past the entertainment aspect.
Film History is a course that has been able to express the importance of history throughout film and has done a fantastic job at providing a set of movies that show the growth over the years and the development of certain areas of film — but just like anything, there is some room for improvement. Based on artistic merit (how the film was made and the components it holds), the place that the film holds in historic values, and the relevance the film holds today, I think the film Bicycle Thieves (1948) should be cut from the course and replaced with the film Clerks (1994).
The movie Bicycle Thieves came out in 1948 and was directed by Vittorio De Sica. When this film was discussed in class, we used it as an example of Italian Neorealism which is praised in film history as kinda going back to the basics of cinema and relating it all back to the common person. Visually, the style was into using natural and contrasting light to make things look more normal to everyday standards. I will say, I think that Bicycle Thieves does a good job at representing that part of film history because we see all of those elements being represented, but based on the factors mentioned, I don’t think it holds its ground as well. First of all, I think that the film’s artistic merit is boring. I know that the whole idea of Italian Neorealism was to be natural but that doesn’t mean it can’t look compelling or breathtaking — there just wasn’t anything exciting there for me. I took a look at some other films under the category of Italian Neorealism and shots/clips from a film called Two Women were very natural and simple but had that extra something that Bicycle Thieves didn’t have.
The historical importance of this film is there to a certain extent. As mentioned above, it does a good job at showing certain aspects of Italian Neorealism but I just feel like there are films that could do it WAY better. The whole reason we praise Italian Neorealism is that it was `doing something that other films were not doing and I don’t see anything special about Bicycle Thieves that is doing anything different than any other film from the 40s. Finally, I think the relevance of this film is extremely lost when being compared to the life that people are living today. The whole story of Bicycle Thieves is that Bruno is working super hard to be able to provide for his family and is going to do ANYTHING to make sure that they have something. Once his bike is taken, he continues to fight to get it back because he knows it is the only way he can keep working — it was his only option to keep supporting his family. Today, there are plenty of programs that help out people down on their luck such as welfare and unemployment; it is sad but there is a large number of people who take these wonderful opportunities for granted and don’t ever try to get back up on their feet on their own. Bicycle Thieves is a true representation of working hard to get what you need no matter what your situation is, whereas today there are just so many handouts, there are more people that don’t have that drive to put in the effort to get back on their feet — the audience this was directed towards back in 1948 isn’t even around in 2022. It is just so hard for me to see anyone looking at Bruno and going, ‘Oh damn! That’s me!’
Bicycle Thieves might have not been a horrible film to include in this class, but is one that I think should be replaced with a film more relevant to film history and that film is Kevin Smith’s 1994 film, Clerks. Right out of the gate, Clerks is just a great movie entertainment-wise; it is funny and witty and overall a well-rounded movie. But when looking at the three pieces of criteria established above, this film covers all those bases extremely well in its own unique style that should be celebrated for what it truly is and how it formed history in film.
Clerks is Kevin Smith’s first movie and one of his more well-known ones — not as good as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back but that is a conversation for another time! The reason that this film holds so close to his heart and should be to all of our hearts is that Smith was a kid with a dream who wrote about what he was seeing in everyday life. The film follows a gas station employee, Dante, and all the crazy stuff that he deals with during his workday; a simple idea with a minimal plot. The artistic merit of this movie ticks off all the boxes for me because of how good it looks, how it was shot, and all the interesting things put into creating it. The movie itself is in black and white not for intentional artistic effect but because of the budget the movie had; it was very low and by recording in black and white the film came out a lot cheaper. First off, that is history in itself because again, Smith was a small boy with a big dream so seeing how he had to climb the ladder to where he is known is definitely one for the books. As the years went by though, everyone knew that this movie was better off in black and white because it helps better tell Dante’s story and give off the emotions of his character — a blessing in disguise! This whole movie was also recorded at the Quick Stop in New Jersey where Smith grew up working. This small detail once again just shows how far one person can go with just a small idea and I think that fact just adds to that artistic merit. Finally, along the line of artistic merit, I think the use of the different camera shots is not only great to look at but are some of the basics which we need to learn about and cherish just as much as those out-of-pocket shots in later films.
When looking at the historical values that Clerks represents, it takes those simple building blocks of film and makes them into something so much bigger — although the film is far from Italian Neorealism, I think it captures that spirit of keeping things simple and realistic for the audience to understand and enjoy. All the other films in class have some crazy angles and shots that are AMAZING no doubt, but taking a look at the way Clerks was filmed really brings light to some of those basic and classic shots that make up the foundation of almost every film. I think it is also an important teaching/historical film when looking at how Smith created it basically from nothing with a bunch of his punk friends. History is there not just to teach us about the past and the building blocks of certain concepts (in this scenario, film), it should also be something that inspires us to keep the legacies going and to keep creating better things. To know this movie was done on a $25,000 budget and was written, directed, edited, and produced by a 24-year-old Kevin Smith who also acted in the film is absolutely breathtaking and should be an inspiration to young people involved with film!
As for relevance, I don’t think that the movie’s plot and characters could be any more relatable for the audience it was trying to target. The whole storyline is very vague and is simply a day in the life of your average guy (Dante) who doesn’t want to be at work and wasn’t even supposed to be there that day! Dante is constantly fighting with customers, trying to actually do his job and on top of that is having girl issues he just doesn’t know how to handle; everyone has one of those things going on in their lives right now and you can’t tell me any different! When watching Dante juggle all this baggage, you are able to relate to the chaos of young adult life and how he just wishes his life was better. Also because the movie is highly based on the life of Smith, the movie is beyond realistic. Now there is a large amount of silly humor throughout the movie, but almost everything could happen to any average joe and seeing characters on a screen going through that same shit as us makes us all feel better knowing we are not alone.
Since I was a little kid, movies have been my escape. When life got hard, I felt safe spending detention with The Breakfast Club or going to find a dead body with my boys in Castle Rock; no matter what I was watching, I was living in that world and that helped me become the person I am today. As someone born in 2001, the classics have always been around for me, but understanding how they got here is something that I have gotten the opportunity to learn about in my Film History class. There have been multiple films throughout the course that have highlighted the beginning of film and how far we have come over the years, but based on artistic merit, historical values, and relevance to the year 2022, the film Bicycle Thieves should respectfully be retired from the curriculum and be replaced with the movie Clerks.
All the films from the course
- The Kid
- Man with the Movie Camera
- The Public Enemy
- Raging Bull
- Bicycle Thieves
- The Watermelon Woman
- Yojimbo (I skipped this one)
- The Hurt Locker (Annnnnnd this one)