Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Makes A Classic?

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we celebrate three birthdays: my grandmother's, one of my kids and my husband's. Lately, Hubs has been into classic movies, and specifically Irene Dunn and/or Cary Grant movies. So I bought him His Girl Friday, Penny Serenade, Arsenic & Old Lace, Theodora Ges Wild, Together Again, The Doctor Takes a Wife and A Night to Remember. North by Northwest is on the list for Christmas.

So, he's been having a good time watching all these oldies but goodies, which means that I finally get the remote. :) (Thank God for DVD drives on laptops, and earphones.) So I went to the guide and found The Empire Strikes Back, followed by Return of The Jedi. Great movies. None will ever beat the original Star Wars, but those two were worth watching. Although, I do cringe now at the bad acting on all three leads' parts, but, hey the guys were good to look at, so who cared?

While I was watching Empire, I was trying to remember whether this was the second or third movie released and asked one of my kids. Said child responded, "That's number five. It's an old one."

1980. I guess it is old. To them, anyway. To me, it means high school. Not THAT old, surely? Then I do the math and realize, yeah, it's pretty old...

Which puts it in the Classic category. Popular, good movie that you pretty much only have to mention the title and people know. Which makes me wonder about classic books. We have the "school" classics: The Grapes of Wrath, The Sun Also Rises, The Pearl, The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in The Rye, etc. We have the quintessential classics: Beowulf, anything by Shakespeare, The Little Prince. The cultural classics: Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Little Women, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming... None of these were considered Classics when they were written. What made them become one?

And who's up for having their book called a Classic? Count me in. I'd just like it to be before I die.
And preferably next week. :)


  1. I think a book gets to be a classic because school systems make it required reading.

  2. LOL, Mary Margret! Well said! Some of the classics are truly awful!! :)And some are my favorites. To me--truly classic.

  3. I think everyone has their own ideas of what makes a book or a movie a classic. Just being old doesn't get it; it has to stand the test of time. I think the fact that Star Wars toys are still in stores more than thirty years after the original release says it all.
    And in the movies, Cary Grant is still a hunk!

  4. I think a book or movie becomes a "classic" because it has a timeless quality--that no matter if it's a sci fi film like Star Wars or a book by one of the Brontes, the themes and the heart of the story continue to resonate with watchers/readers. There are so many!! And I often wonder what will come out of our present day that people will consider classics...

  5. I'm with Danielle on the timeless quality. Books or movies that appeal across the years and generations mean classic.

    As for stuff that teachers assign? They're just easy to study, they may be a teacher favorite, or they may be true classics.

    Empire was my favorite Star Wars movie. Please don't remind me how long ago those were made. I was feeling rather young this morning until reading that.

  6. That whole school classics thing annoys me. I'm not a Hemingway, Hawthorne or Steinbeck fan AT ALL. Boring. I had a GREAT teacher for Shakespeare, and consequently, I do like Shakespeare.And the things my kids have to read for summer reading and then get tested on? If those are classics, someone needs to put those stories out of everyone's misery. Way to get kids not to like to read, imo.

    And, yes, Beth. 1980. I felt old, too.

  7. I LOVE North by Northwest! Also Vertigo (filmed in San Juan Bautista where the DH has many relatives) and several other Hitchcock films. And totally agree with Cheryl, Cary Grant IS A HUNK!

    Interesting about the universal appeal. Cary Grant definitely has it, no matter what decade his movies were made or set in. The other night I happened to tune in to "The Great Escape" and was struck by the same kind of universal appeal in Steve McQueen. This movie is OLD (even to me!) and yet McQueen could be plucked out of it and set into a modern day hero role (as could Cary) with no problem. To me, that is classic.


  8. Wonderful post, Judi! Classic for me means it stood the test of time, still appealing to modern audiences. Anything Austen appeals to me...

  9. Do you think your hubs would mind if I came over and watched movies with him? I'll even bring the popcorn!

    I think those who've said "timeless" hit it. "His Girl Friday" has actually been remade several times (including once with two men in the leads--the play/movie The Front Page). I think anything classic has a theme or emotion presented in such a way that it's memorable and resonates with us at some deeper level. And one person's classic is another person's "Oh no, you're kidding!"

    And, being an optimist, I have every intention of someday having a book of mine considered a classic!

  10. I think a book's classic if I liked it and my kids like it too. And older classics are ones that my Mum liked before me.

    Given that we all - Mum, me and son - like Harry Potter, does that make HP a classic?

  11. A classic has so many meanings to me. It's a total keeper. It's something that spans time. It's something that you'll never forget.

    AC mentioned Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. Yes, but I'd also say Bullitt. Bridge on the River Kwai is another classic to me. Love is a Many Splendored Thing even though it makes me cry.


  12. Yes, there are the school standards that will forever be considered a classic even if many people agree (quietly) that they aren't really that good! But a true classic crosses all genres and appeals to large masses of folks. It may win some award, but certainly doesn't have to. But it will be that movie or book or TV show that keeps airing and printing and renting no matter how many years pass.

    But I also think a classic can be individual. What I may consider a classic may not be a standard, but I know in my heart that I will be rereading it 30 years from now. That makes it a classic in my mind!

    And, yeah, I sure would love to see the The Darcy Saga categorized as a classic! But then I'll be dead so will never know! LOL!

  13. I loved and hated the classics. I loved Of Mice and Men, and I hated Lord of the Flies. I had a wonderful english teacher in 8th grade, Dr. Kirby Hoke, a Shakespearian actor whose voice brought Beowulf and Canterbury Tales to life.