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A CHAT ABOUT THE CLASSICS
Majo Aguilar in Conversation with Izzy of "Be Kind Rewind"
México City, 2022
The grainy effect, the dramatic intro music and the transatlantic accent are just some of the features that make one recognize a classic movie. “Gilda, are you decent?” George Macready might be saying to a hair-flipping Rita Hayworth.
-“Dexter, would you mind doing something for me?”
-“Get the heck out of here”
Katherine Hepburn’s unmistakable voice might be resounding by the speakers of our television as she gives a dead stare to Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story (1940). These phrases have been in the collective subconscious of society for years and have surpassed the test of time, but now they are facing an obstacle. In most recent years, the popularity of the classics has had a decline among people who belong to the Millennial and GenZ generations. According to a study by The New York Post, less than a quarter of Millenials have watched a film from start to finish that was made between the 1940s or 1950s, and thirty per cent of that sample also admit to never having watched a black and white film all the way through, with thirty per cent branding the films as boring. But looking back, where would filmmaking be without these classics? They literally invented the magic of moviemaking. To deep dive into some of the elements that make this film history period so special, I had the great pleasure of chatting with Izzy, who runs my absolute favourite YouTube Channel, Be Kind Rewind, where she talks about classic films and the women who form part of them, besides breaking down their careers and revisiting in detail the path that led the Oscar winners over the years, to become winners.
To start off, I have to say I’m a huge fan of your Channel. I love it, it was my main entertainment during quarantine, I watched it religiously. So thank you so much for taking the time.
Thank you! This is really cool, I’m happy to talk and chat and do whatever you want.
So, should we start? Can you give an introduction about yourself?
My name is Izzy, I run the channel Be Kind Rewind on YouTube, which is primarily video essays about women in Hollywood in the 20th century.
What do classic films mean to you?
It’s a really tough question, it’s like, what does air mean to you. I just feel like they are the thing that keeps me the most mentally engaged because I just find them like a puzzle, and the different pieces are personalities, comedies, art, politics, all these different things that are so ripe for interpretation all the time. I can’t get enough of it, I guess it means everything to me.
Does your job have to do with cinema? How does it relate to it?
Sort of. I work at a museum and I sort of get to work on film projects sometimes and I’m very thankful I get to speak to curators very often and I’m allowed to get into their minds a little bit which is really cool and I feel it’s been really useful to learn how to think about certain things. I do get to work on some projects sometimes but my work is specifically about cinema, if it makes any sense.
The classic movie period lasted around four decades, from these decades which one is the most special to you?
Hard to say. I love pretty much all of them, but I would say the 30s. They were very interesting, tumultuous times. Well, I mean, I guess every decade in American history is kind of tumultuous, but that one specifically. You had great economics turmoil and thinking about how they decided to ignore that altogether or talk about it is super interesting to me. It’s a very glamorous era, and I’m also attracted to politics. Understanding why film in this time chose to be so glamorous despite how terrible the economy was and how everything was falling apart before the war, before the red scare, to see how everything was becoming possible at Hollywood at that time is very fascinating.
Izzy of Be Kind Rewind
What do you think makes classic film actresses outstanding and special?
They had to deal with a lot of things male actors just didn’t have to, in respect to how they looked like, how long they were allowed to have careers at mainstream cinema, the way they were treated behind the scenes. I think a lot of that is very interesting and really relevant to a lot of conversations we are having now, proper conduct at the workplace let’s say, or stereotypes. I just think it offers a more rich possibility for storytelling.
I read an article by Los Angeles Times that conducted a study about classic films and how they are consumed and seen now. Most of the time, Millenials are blamed for killing classic movies, less than a quarter of them have watched a classic movie. In your mind, are younger generations the cause of the decline of classic films consumption?
No. There are several reasons for this. Millenials are blamed for killing everything, from diamonds to the housing market, so I’m not surprised we are being blamed for this. There are several reasons why people are watching classic films less. First is obviously that our physical connection to that era is further than anyone has been before. People who lived through that era or had parents that lived through that era are going to be more apt to watch those films, so we are losing that generation today. The second thing is that we are consuming things that are made for our generation, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, we should be consuming things that speak about struggles we are dealing with. There’s more content than ever, everywhere you turn there’s a new streaming service, and you can feel overwhelmed by the choice, so you really have to be sold on classic movies in general and I think that can be a hard sell because they don’t look like the content we consume now, they don’t sound like the content we consume now. Obviously, there are a lot of problematic aspects in terms of socio-political representation, and also, studios are not making it very accessible, there’s this assumption that people aren’t interested in them. I’m hoping that with streaming services becoming more prevalent like criterion or mubi, I hope that even if it's a small community we can keep it alive and really vibrant.
Why do you think keeping these films alive is important?
I think that classic films are the easiest way to understand American culture. Not simply just watching them and thinking of them as a story or piece of entertainment, but understanding what are you seeing, why are you seeing it and what does it say about how we think about beauty, how we think about race, how we think about class structure. They were so specific about what they wanted people to believe and what they wanted people to take away in terms of messaging, so I think it’s super important to understand that and has been very helpful to me to understand how a lot of institutional bodies kept preventing progress, in the United States the film industry is a very good example of that. It’s good entertainment at full stop I think, but in terms of selling it, I think it’s a really good way of pitching it.
"I think that classic films are the easiest way to understand American culture. Not simply just watching them and thinking of them as a story or piece of entertainment, but understanding what are you seeing, why are you seeing it and what does it say about how we think about beauty, how we think about race, how we think about class structure. They were so specific about what they wanted people to believe and what they wanted people to take away in terms of messaging, so I think it’s super important to understand that and has been very helpful to me to understand how a lot of institutional bodies kept preventing progress, in the United States the film industry is a very good example of that. It’s good entertainment at full stop I think, but in terms of selling it, I think it’s a really good way of pitching it."
To you, which actress of this period has had the most influence on the actresses of today?
It changes a lot. There are little things from different actresses that appear today. A part of me wants to say Anna Magnani because she was a lot bigger and bolder than I think a lot of actresses are now. She has a degree of naturalism and authenticity in her performances that I think it was really formative to how actresses in the seventies changed, or like the method sort of changed. She wasn’t involved in that but she evokes that kind of skill. And then I guess maybe Anne Bancroft… who knows. I don’t know, I don’t think I have the answer for that. I feel that if you ask any working actress today they would be like Meryl (Streep), there’s like a shift in the 80s and Meryl seems to represent that.
Which has been the most deserved Academy Award and the least deserved won by an actress, to you?
The most deserved… I don’t know, that’s hard. I don’t like being the arbiter on who deserves something but, I love Liza Minelli in Cabaret (1972), I just think it’s a perfect performance. And least, I would say Louise Rainer in The Good Earth (1937). A lot of people like that performance, I just do not enjoy it, for various reasons. I just have a hard time with her acting, I just never found it appealing, but that’s more of a personal taste question.
I know you love Jane Fonda. I’ve noticed on your channel you are very fond of her, Could you describe her in three words?
That's tough! I would say resilient, open and sincere.
If you were to direct a film, who would your starring actresses be?
It would depend on the film. I would say I would just look for actresses I could cast on anything and feel comfortable about it, so I would say Toni Collete, Carrie Coon and maybe Lupita Nyong'o, I feel like they can do anything.
"A thing I find very annoying about how people think about old Hollywood is when they go 'Oh, everybody was just playing themselves,' and it’s like, no, not really. Everybody was playing a type, a certain role, but it didn’t really matter in the case of their icons because they did it well and everybody found that thing very appealing and attractive and didn’t mind seeing it across different stories. And now everybody wants to be what Meryl Streep was in the 80s, meaning everybody wants to do a different thing every time and well, to be honest, many people aren’t capable of doing that and it would be much more fun to let them be who they are and let them be appealing in their own particular way and invent things for themselves. And so, to me prestige is very bad for celebrities, it isn’t that I don’t like celebrity as a concept, but it is harming the creative potential of what these actors can do."
I read that your favourite film is All About Eve, and I saw that you’ve already discussed it in another couple of interviews, so I wanted to ask you what’s your favorite modern film?
That’s a good question. I’m gonna look at my list because I keep one because my memory is really bad. But wait, how modern are we talking?
Let’s say… from 2000 to now
Okay. I really really loved Phantom Thread (2017), I thought it was so good and I watched it in theatres a couple of times.
Did you enjoy this film as Daniel Day-Lewis retired? Or do you think he could've done another kind of film?
I mean, I would’ve loved to see him come back. I think he is going to say he will retire like seven times, he always ends up coming back. So I hope we get another masterpiece out of him. I really like The Favorite (2018). I love Yorgos Lanthimos, I liked The Lobster (2015 ) as well. Oh! and Gone Girl (2014), I love that movie.
Is there any cinematic couple, talking of classic films, that you’ve always wanted to see on the screen together but that never happened? Like, your ideal couple that never worked together?
Actually, my answer isn’t about a romantic couple but it’s such a shame to me that they never worked together, I mean, they weren't to put a lot of women in the same cast, you’re never gonna see like, Deborah Kerr and Elizabeth Taylor in the same movie, but that makes me sad, that should’ve happened. Or Betty Davies and Katherine Hepburn, I mean that’s wild, that should’ve happened, stuff like that really bothers me because I just feel that there are a lot of inter-women conversations that could have happened, because everything was paired off, you know, one guy and one girl had to be together, that’s it.
Your channel is more focused on American cinema, but have you ever had any contact with European Classic cinema? You know, this period that’s a completely different era from American classics, late 50s, the 60s and early 70s.
Yeah, I’m not nearly as well versed in as I would say I am in American cinema but I’m very interested in it and I do try to get into it as much as I can when I have time for it. One thing I’m trying to do is to have a more international perspective on the channel. If anyone knows how to get the titles that would be lovely.
Is there any European actress that you particularly enjoy? That you think 'she is iconic.'
I love Delphine Seyrig, she was an actress primarily in the 60s and 70s in France and she was a super cool woman, she was very involved in the feminist movement in France and directed her documentaries, she’s just a wonderful actress as well.
I know that during the classic American period there weren’t many female directors, but I saw your video of actresses turned directors and, I mean, I had no idea Barbara Streisand had become a director. So, who are the most promising or at least, who are your favourite female directors right now?
I really like Cathy Yan. She directed Birds of Prey (2020), and then a movie called Dead Pigs (2018). She's wonderful, I’m very excited about her style and I just think she had a very distinct way of presenting a very familiar story that I really enjoyed. I also love Marielle Heller, she did Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015), she’s really intuitive and expressive. I think Eliza Hittman is also very good, she did Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always (2020) and Beach Rats (2017), she’s so good at making you feel like your body's part of the story in some way and everything feels so intimate and quiet and I like her a lot.
What we are facing now is this biopic boom, with the upcoming Audrey Hepburn series starring Rooney Mara and the new film on Lucille Ball, “Being the Ricardos." So, this question is sort of split into two. First, What are your thoughts on actresses' biopics? And second, if you were to make a biopic, which actress would you pick to make the film about and who would you choose to portray her?
Well, I will answer the second question first because it’s easier, and the answer is, I wouldn’t do that. So, I’m trying to talk myself out of being judgy because I think a lot of these movies have become really formulaic and don’t really add anything interesting to conversations people are already having about these figures. I feel very against this kind of trend because it feels like… you know how Disney is remaking their old movies and how none of them are better than their original movies? It feels like that, it feels like a very desperate attempt to hold on to the concept of stardom and the concept of back when Hollywood was interesting and it’s sort of sad. I haven’t been very satisfied with the ones that I’ve seen, not to say the whole concept of biopics is bad, but I just feel it's a very shallow attempt for awards and I don’t like them.
You know, it’s really disappointing, because what usually happens it’s they give you a preview image and what always happens is someone does a side by side image of, let’s say, Kristen Stewart and Princess Diana, and you go “OMG, they look exactly alike, it's such a good job” and it’s like “oh, this must be a good performance." Like, it’s such a lazy sequence of logic and it has absolutely changed the standard on which we judge good performances. A thing I find very annoying about how people think about old Hollywood is when they go “Oh, everybody was just playing themselves," and it’s like, no, not really. Everybody was playing a type, a certain role, but it didn’t really matter in the case of their icons because they did it well and everybody found that thing very appealing and attractive and didn’t mind seeing it across different stories. And now everybody wants to be what Meryl Streep was in the 80s, meaning everybody wants to do a different thing every time and well, to be honest, many people aren’t capable of doing that and it would be much more fun to let them be who they are and let them be appealing in their own particular way and invent things for themselves. And so, to me prestige is very bad for celebrities, it isn’t that I don’t like celebrity as a concept, but it is harming the creative potential of what these actors can do.
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