New column: What’s the Big Deal?

Point your Internet thingee at today and you’ll find a new column by yours truly: What’s the Big Deal? (No — that’s the name of the column.)

The idea behind What’s the Big Deal? is that there are many films the average person has heard of that are supposed to be “classics,” but that maybe the average person hasn’t seen. And sometimes you’ll watch one of those movies, expecting a classic, and when it’s over you think, “Well, that was OK. But what’s the big deal?” This column, which will run every Tuesday, will choose a specific film and lay out what, exactly, the big deal is.

My experience has been that if I plop down and watch some “classic” film for the first time, without any advance preparation, often I’ll come away underwhelmed. There’s a good reason for this: A movie from, say, 1960 wasn’t made for me. It was made for people in 1960. I don’t have the same frame of reference that the film’s intended audience would have had. So then I’ll read what other people have written about the movie and I’ll realize, oh, it was the first film to do this, or a good example of that, or it came out while this trend was popular, or while this topic was in the news, or whatever. Once I have some context, it increases my enjoyment of, and my appreciation for, the film.

Roger Ebert has his Great Movies series, and there are numerous other essays about these movies. The problem with them is that they’re generally written for people who have already seen the movie — so they’re not shy about giving away the ending and talking about the film’s surprises. What’s the Big Deal? will be written for people who haven’t seen the movie yet, and will avoid such spoilers. Ideally, a person would read What’s the Big Deal? as “homework,” to get a feel for what to look for, what mindset to be in; then watch the movie and hopefully enjoy it more than they would have if they’d gone in cold.

I’m going to try to maintain a light, non-academic tone, too. These films are worthy of praise, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun talking about them. That’s why we went with What’s the Big Deal? rather than our first idea for a title, Movies That Are Really Important That Smart People Like.

The inaugural edition is about “The Searchers,” the 1956 John Wayne film that many people consider the best Western ever made. I hope you enjoy the column, and feedback is always welcome.

(By the way, What’s the Big Deal? is replacing Eric’s Time Capsule and Eric’s 10-Year Itch. Those columns never evolved into something I was really satisfied with, so I pitched What’s the Big Deal? as a replacement. Just three or four more column ideas and I’m sure I’ll nail it.)