A friend of mine sent me a link to a review of the film Black Knight and then he added, “Why can’t they review films sooner? It came out twenty-two years ago!” And I swear it took me a good ten minutes to realize he was making a joke. Even then he had to send me a picture of the poster for the 2001 film Black Knight and when I went to the review I understood that it was about an entirely different film that was just released, in 2023, in case anyone stumbles on this in the future, also called Black Knight.
Let’s start with the first problem: this is the internet. People review old films all the time. A review of Arsenic And Old Lace just came up in my recommendations. The review was posted May 12, 2023. The film being reviewed–and, let’s face it, “re-view” is the perfect term–is from 1944, with Cary Grant, and directed by Frank Capra, names that, depending on who you are, you may or may not recognize. People are discovering or rediscovering old films, films that may have been really popular in their own time and that may have even continued to be popular for decades beyond it but that have since been largely forgotten, all the time. Also you can look up the oldest, most obscure film you can think of and chances are you’ll find fans of it. The internet is a timeless space where the past is never really past.
And there was more than one Arsenic And Old Lace. It started as a stage play. The 1944 film was followed by three subsequent remakes. They were all done for television, but still that brings me to the second problem which is that, even if you don’t count remakes, lots of films have the same name, which most people know even if they’ve never been directed to a Disambiguation page in Wikipedia. There’s even a 1954 film called The Black Knight—the definite article is the only thing that distinguishes it from the other two. Well, that and it stars Alan Ladd and Patrick Troughton who a lot of people forget had a successful career even before Doctor Who was an idea.
And that brings me to the third, and most sobering, problem, which is that most movies are going to be forgotten. It doesn’t matter who starred in them or even how good they are. Most of their stars are going to be forgotten too. That goes for everything, in fact. Writers, painters, sculptors, composers—let’s face it, some will have a moment in the sun, if they’re lucky, and some might get discovered after they’re gone as things go in and out of fashion, but most will disappear. Even the ones who get preserved in some way—in the backrooms of museums or on dusty library shelves—represent only a fraction of all the people who ever created something.
We’ve lost a lot. We’ve preserved a lot. Is the glass half empty or half full? It depends on what you call it.