I haven't had much time to watch films lately, and when I have it has generally been time spent trying to fill gaps in my modern viewing. Thus when I sat down to watch the film after a number of years, I discovered something absolutely terrifying. More frightening than the fact that there is a holiday song devoted entirely to fruit cake. I'm not talking about how surprisingly depressing I found it this time around with its characters constantly worried about job security, so apt at the present time, or how it seemed more a parable for the perils of internet dating....
I was seeing it through modern eyes.
It seems a silly thing to say, but as much as it pains me for the first time I felt that alienation that quote "normal" people my age may experience when they watch an old film. Limited cutting, rather claustrophobic studio spaces. Even some of the stamped style similarities of old films are absent. There are no passage of time montages, nor is there any background music. For a film touted as a holiday favorite its sparsity cuts like a knife, its actors left to depend solely on each other to create a small world.
My God, the horror.
Instead of losing touch, losing the magic (for it slowly but steadily came back as my young eyes adjusted) it brought a new appreciation of the long take. Not at its showy best as in Citizen Kane, but as a strange collapse. After awhile I felt that I could inhabit the shop, walk around in the film space's shoes. I felt the same thing recently re-watching Remember the Night. There is a scene where Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck et al sit around a Christmas tree, singing songs and enjoying each other's company. The camera mostly just sits still in wait, a strange mirror of my own pose sitting next to a Christmas tree enjoying the company of friends. It was like we were all in the same room, enjoying the holidays together.
And I began to wonder if this is part of the otherworldliness of old film, if the lack of cuts makes it easier to 'experience' a film rather than feel strangely detached from it. An especially strange sensation given current preoccupations with making films 3D, making games more interactive. All the attention paid to bridging that gap. This is not to say that one way is better then the other, just as editing pace can be far too ADD these days it can also be far too slow depending on the situation. But there is something about that old quiet. Letting things lie just long enough for the viewer to settle in, but not so long as to become stilted. I've always thought of Lubitsch as an effortless comedy master, but here he simply lets things float gracefully, teasingly out of reach.
I feel like running through old streets like George Bailey reunited with old haunts that feel refreshingly new. My own unexpected Christmas miracle.