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Old Films Never Die
by Becky Tan

Repeatedly, I heard that young film people should take a look at old films. Once during a panel discussion among three established film critics, David Thomson said, “There should always be venues which feature old films. We have a treasury at our fingertips. Bob Dylan was asked, “’Why do you play so much old music?’ He replied, ‘Because there is so much of it.’ ” Then in a press conference the Japanese director Yoji Yamada (whose film About her Brother – Otouto – ended the Berlinale) said, “Young directors don’t watch films, especially classics. The 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s have the best films and people should see them.” On the way to the train station, my Greek taxi driver said, “Young people should watch old films; they are the best.”

Each year the Berlinale shows old films in different categories. In 2006 it was “Dream Girls of the ‘50s.” Last year (2009) they showed old movies on the wide screen under the category “70mm – bigger than life.” In 2004 the theme was “New Hollywood 1967 – 1976” and in 2002 “European ‘60s – Revolt, Fantasy, and Utopia.”

This year the Berlinale turned 60 and it seemed logical to show films from the past 60 years under the overall heading “Play it Again.” Film critic David Thomson (who until now had never set foot in Berlin or even Germany) accepted the privilege and also the responsibility of selecting the films for the retrospective category. You could have sat through all of them in perfect bliss without ever seeing any of the other over 350 films this year. Even if you were already familiar with The Deer Hunter (1977) or Breathless (not the Richard Gere version, but the original Jean-Paul Belmondo from 1959) or Magnolia, Mary Reilly, and The Thin Red Line (from the ‘90s) or Gangs of New York (2000), you would never regret a second viewing.

Then, you could have seen those films you knew about but had missed such as Central Station (1996), Red Sorghum with Gong Li (1987), or Werner Herzog’s Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life). From there you could have branched out into unknown territory. How about Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (1963), Jerzy Skolimowski’s Le Départ (The Departure International from 1966), and Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952)? Truthfully, have you ever heard of these films? How about Fallen Angels by Wong Kar-wai (2005), Genealogies of a Crime (with Catherine Deneuve in 1996), or Pickpocket by Robert Bresson (1959)?

I chose La Ley del Deseo (Law of Desire) by Pedro Almodóvar from 1986. I couldn’t remember having ever seen it (I hadn’t) and I love Almodòvar. The cinema was packed. To be truthful, I was even more interested in a 26-year-old Antonio Banderas who had not yet moved to Hollywood nor married Melanie Griffith. Here he kisses a man on screen for the first time, a year before his break-through movie Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and six years before he went to Hollywood to play Tom Hanks’ lover in Philadelphia. Now Banderas plays Puss in Boots in the Shrek series. You never know where a gay kiss will take you. That’s just one “oldie.” Imagine what an expert you would be after viewing all 38 retrospective films.