Don­ald Clarke says movie trivia isn’t a triv­ial pur­suit

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Just the other day I had a dispir­it­ing ex­pe­ri­ence while watch­ing an episode of Uni­ver­sity Chal­lenge. Dur­ing a typ­i­cally com­pet­i­tive clash be­tween St Snoots, Ox­ford and Bog­nor Uni­ver­sity (for­merly West Bog­nor Polytech­nic), one team man­aged to cor­rectly an­swer ques­tions on par­ti­cle physics, phases of the moon and Latin gerunds, but seemed ut­terly be­wil­dered when asked about films star­ring peo­ple named Hep­burn.

I would have thought that iden­ti­fy­ing the fe­male star of My Fair Lady is a con­sid­er­ably less tax­ing task than num­ber­ing the trib­u­taries of the Yangtze. Yet the first set of un­der­grad­u­ates ap­peared ut­terly be­wil­dered by the movie trivia ques­tion.

Some months pre­vi­ously a fel­low guest at some func­tion or other leant across the canape to ask me what my favourite blackand-white film was. In my ac­quain­tance’s de­fence, he ap­peared to know his Philadel­phia Story from his Adam’s Rib, but the fact that black-and-white films are now re­garded as some sep­a­rate genre is a tad de­press­ing. The cat­e­gory is so broad it barely con­sti­tutes a cat­e­gory at all.

It goes without say­ing that peo­ple who are ig­no­rant about ev­ery­thing will be ig­no­rant about older cin­ema. When a con­tes­tant on, say, The Weak­est Link is asked a ques­tion about Bar­bara Stan­wyck or Bette Davis, you fully ex­pect him or her to scratch a slop­ing cra­nium and al­low an al­ready slack jaw to drop fur­ther. Af­ter all, many of th­ese peo­ple would have trou­ble pick­ing a ba­nana out from a line-up oth­er­wise com­posed of wal­ruses.

The worry is that smart peo­ple no longer feel that a knowl­edge of vin­tage cin­ema is an es­sen­tial part of any pon­tif­i­ca­tor’s in­tel­lec­tual arse­nal. In­stead, fans of black-and-white films are now classed with the same hob­by­ists who give their week­ends over to brass rub­bing or plane spot­ting.

Rather than seek­ing out explanations for the swelling lack of in­ter­est in older films, we should, per­haps, tackle the ques­tion from the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

How come so many peo­ple from my gen­er­a­tion de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in films made many decades be­fore our birth? It’s all to do with tele­vi­sion. If you grew up in Ire­land dur­ing the 1970s you were stuck with a lim­ited num­ber of chan­nels, which, un­like their con­tem­po­rary coun­ter­parts, would show black-and-white films some­where near primetime.

When the only al­ter­na­tives to watch­ing, say, Now, Voy­ager were read­ing a book or, worse, go­ing out­side, you would (if you were me) hap­pily pros­trate your­self be­fore Bette Davis and al­low all that ex­quis­ite self-sac­ri­fice to wash over you. By the time Ru­pert Mur­doch backed up his truck con­tain­ing a mil­lion chan­nels, we were al­ready hooked.

Now, I’m not say­ing that young peo­ple should, like Alex in A Clock­work Or­ange, have their eyes prised open and be forced to watch clas­sics of the 1940s, but . . . Hang on! Who am I kid­ding? That’s ex­actly what I am say­ing. Let the in­doc­tri­na­tion be­gin.

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