What Makes a Classic Film?

08 Aug 2018 BY Eli

6 mins

What makes a classic film a 'classic'? Is it because, years after its release, people still love to watch it and share it with their friends? Is it because it was groundbreaking at the time it was made? That it still has the power to make you laugh, cry, or feel stunned? Perhaps it's all of the above?

To celebrate their 15th anniversary, classic film distributor Park Circus hosted a screening day to showcase films from years gone by. We sent reporter Eli - also aged 15 - along to watch the film selection, chat to a few experts, and try to put his finger on exactly how a film earns the distinction of becoming 'classic'. 

In the early hours of Wednesday 30 May I made the journey to the Curzon Cinema in Soho, London for Into Film. I was there to watch three classic films that were being shown to celebrate 15 years of the distribution company Park Circus - Die Hard (1988), Fail Safe (1964) and The Apartment (1960) - and to take part in a discussion about the place of classic films for a modern audience.

Die Hard (1988)

We started the day briskly with the high tempo, action-packed Die Hard. It was a fantastic way to begin and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although not as old as the other films being shown, I think that Die Hard can be considered a classic. It's 132 minutes of sheer enjoyment, packed with great one-liners, gruesome special effects and a classic romance.

After Die Hard was the panel discussion, led by five classic film screening professionals. Many great points were made, including that not all older films still have an audience, whether because their subject matter is no longer relevant or they just haven't stood the test of time. However the films we call classics will still attract an audience, often through sheer reputation. It was a very level discussion and overall an incredibly informative debate that was only improved by the great speakers.

Fail Safe (1964)

In the afternoon we watched Fail Safe, a film from 1964 starring Walter Matthau and Henry Fonda. It looked at the terrifying possibility of what could happen if America lost control of its nuclear weapons during the Cold War. This was one of the tensest films I have ever seen and I absolutely loved it. I think it deserves to be a classic but it doesn't have the reputation or love behind it that the other two films do, and it wasn't very popular on its original release as it was competing with Dr. Strangelove, a comedy tackling the same subject. Hopefully Fail Safe's quality will shine through to reach a new audience.

The Apartment (1960)

The final film of the day was the Billy Wilder romantic comedy The Apartment from 1960. It's about a man who lets-out his apartment at night to his bosses so they can have affairs in privacy, in return hoping for a promotion, but his own love life begins to get in the way. This was one of the best films that I saw; Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond's script is first class and is still incredibly poignant, Jack Lemmon's and Shirley McClaine's performances are brilliant and you can't take your eyes off either of them. This film is a classic in every sense of the word and it needs to be shown all over the country right now.

What makes a classic film?

I think that the need to watch classic films in today's world is so important. We can learn such a great deal from them. With the troubles between the US and North Korea at the minute, maybe the solution is to just plonk Kim and Donald in a cinema and stick on Fail Safe. Or just watch them so that they're not lost in time, it's important to remember that at one point, these films were the latest releases and were challenging the norms of the day with new, exciting material. We wouldn't want modern classics getting lost in the future so we should treat the older films the same way.

Defining a classic is a tough ask because you only really get to see whether it has become one years down the line. Personally, I'd describe a classic film as a film that doesn't lose its emotional impact on the audience as it gets older; each generation reacts to it the same way. An interesting suggestion would be to ask whether we can create a formula to predict a classic. Is there something that all classic films have got that sets them aside from all other films?

Want to experience these classics for yourself? The Apartment and Die Hard will both be back into cinemas this December. For more details, keep an eye on http://www.parkcircus.com/.

Young Reporter Eli

Eli, Young Reporter

Eli is 15 and an aspiring actor. He is currently studying for his GCSEs, he has a passion for all things cinema and played Kenny in the British horror film The Girl with all The Gifts in 2016. He is also a member of Raw Talent Youth Theatre. Eli enjoys living on the edge...of Birmingham


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