"In the age of all-availability for those who know where to look, the most paradoxical reevaluation is of classic-age Hollywood overall. What came to life as a love of the art of directors who worked within the studio system has largely morphed into a fetishism of studio styles as such, its main signs being a fascination with actors, a close focus on the minutiae of studio business, and a celebration of any directorial identifying marks at all. Auteurism started as the recognition of vast inspiration packaged in commercial formats; as the availability of revivals expanded, it academicized itself to taxonomizing any degree of directorial personality at all; today’s neo-classicism often involves seeing past mediocre direction to the far greater personalities of stars and then ascribing a modicum of those merits back to the journeyman directors in their service. If the recognition of great artists in the business had to fight upstream against the daily distortions in a nationwide company town, when Hollywood seemed, as Norman Mailer wrote, like “a mother-in-law’s mother-in-law,” now the love of the old involves those who (like me) had no experience of a monolithic ballyhooey Hollywood in the age before the independents were around both to counterbalance and to reinvigorate it. Even the mediocrities of yore are adored because nothing new will ever be mediocre the same way again. What started as a love of the exception has become a love of the rule — with all that this implies. So what’s the problem? The more love, the better, no? Except that the rampant devotion to old styles is a built-in counter-taste against the truly new, a bulwark of condescension by the knowledgeable against the original, if not simply by the older against the younger. Where partisans of the earlier arts formerly condescended to the cinema, partisans of the earlier cinema, nostalgic for what they never experienced, condescend to the contemporary except in its most conservative forms, to the modern. I’m reminded of a passage from Joseph Heller’s “Good as Gold”: “…Gold’s father would move after dinner to the television set in whatever home he had decided to be driven to that evening and begin watching old movies with the energetic vigilance of a custodian of dead souls."
Richard Brody on the trend of re-evaluating old bombs.