August 9, 2020

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The Coronavirus of 2020 has fueled interest in older films, as current film production has been reduced. The Movie Shrink is principally interested in current films but significant films from the past, often now considered as classics, can also speak to us.

There were of course many significant films in the past and the history of cinema. In fact, one can say that the history of cinema mirrors the evolution of the 20th century, as cinema began with the beginning of the century itself.

In looking at these significant films of the past, movies which helped us look at the bigger picture of those times, we must however account for the fact we are, in part, looking at them with the eyes of the present. But that does not mean they only have the meaning we can see in them today. They were also very much part of the period they appeared in.

There is no doubt, for example, that The Godfather trilogy are significant films. In trying to find some of the underlying themes of these classics, we may be going beyond its thematic of the American mafia, and look at the films as a description of the gradual disappearance of the family as a dominant economic entity. All through the 20th century, corporations are taking precedence, ever since the landmark legal decision of Salomon v. Salomon (1896) split the personal responsibility from the corporate one, a decision which encouraged individuals to take a larger amount of risk in business, as they were not necessarily deemed to be personally responsible for all its corporate actions of the future. Large impersonal corporations with multiple shareholders, in other words, the modern corporations, evolved from this decision and other factors going in the same direction.

In Godfather I (1972), the head of the family is still immersed in his immediate environment. He does not want to deal in drugs, because it would disrupt the neighborhood. But, as the family grows its business from small enclaves of New York City to Cuba, La Vegas, and later Italy, the family progressively dissolves, to the point that the Corleone new boss and heir has his brother killed. During that process of enlargement of activities, a type of violence of another scale appears, a more impersonal and cold violence.

And so, the film may in reality be about growing organizational scale in North America and the world, as much as about the evolution of the mafia itself.

Dances with Wolves (1990) is another significant film. One of its most revealing scenes is when the North American Indian tribe members look sadly at a slaughtered buffalo herd, realizing that these animals were often killed only for some of their body parts, leaving the rest of the dead bodies to rot, a kind of metaphor for the advancing white culture and its accompanying specialized tunnel vision, so detrimental, according to Deep ecologists, to our environment. The conquering attitude of the original settlers, and the ensuing decay of the environment, was the elephant behind the film.

It is with these classic films that we conclude our August 4, 2020 entry for Revisiting Classics.