Doesn’t everyone know who Paul Newman is?

Here is the main reason I decided to write “Six Degrees of Film”. Too many times I’ve heard of young adults who know nothing about the history of film.(They don’t know who Paul NEWMAN was!) And that’s really too bad, because film classics are like “required readings of classical literature” in the sense that you can’t truly appreciate modern film without some working knowledge of film classics.

You may understand modern film. You may “get it” in a way that’s meaningful but still, you won’t truly appreciate the artistry of ‘Pulp Fiction” without the knowledge of a single classic gangster film or the work of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman or Humphrey Bogart.

For example, Russell Crowe is the epitome of quiet cool and tightly contained violence in so many of his performances. But without ever seeing Brando in “On the Waterfront” or “A Streetcar named Desire” it’s harder to appreciate the full body of his work.

Daniel Day Lewis in “There will be Blood” is less than six degrees from Bogart in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” or Steve McQueen in “Papillon”. The killer, Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men” is less than six degrees from Tony Perkins in “Psycho” or Hannibel Lector in “The Silence of the Lambs”.

Martin Scorcese is less than six degrees removed in his directing style from the genius of Stanley Kubrick in so many of his classic films. Leonardo di Caprio is six degrees from Robert De Niro and both are protégés of Scorsese.

What is the process of six degrees of separation? It’s the idea that the world can be reduced to less than six degrees of separation for any given idea or connection. And in film, the factors are often less than six degrees because often the same types of movies or movie genres will cyclically fall into favor with the movie-going public.

For instance, westerns have been out of fashion with audiences for some years. They are considered old-fashioned, and yet every now and then a film will come along that becomes a major hit. And audiences invariably love a good “horse opera” where the forces of good and evil are pitted against one another. In fact it can be argued that every Star Wars movie has elements of the Western set against the backdrop of space.

With Harry Potter there are elements of the eternal fight against good and evil that can also be found in every Star Wars film. The same is true of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In fact, the one movie that kept coming to my mind in watching the fourth installment of Harry Potter was “The Wizard of Oz”.

The Wizard of Oz, in the opinion of many, including myself, was one of the greatest movies ever made. It was pure fantasy with a cast of talented veteran Hollywood performers and some of the most imaginative elements ever committed to celluloid. The colors and the vibrant sets could segue-way into a thousand different plot points. But the action was always held together by one vulnerable child with her innocent little dog.

The possibilities of six degrees in film genres are endless. There are some more examples found in my book and on the website for Six Degrees. But the ones that are listed here are compiled from some recent movies shown on television.

Blazing Saddles is the break-though comic film for Mel Brooks. His comic genius in directing led to such classics as, “Young Frankenstein” and “High Anxiety. But Blazing Saddles led to another pivotal moment in film history with the “outing” of years of racial discrimination. Brooks used the character of the black sheriff to openly criticize the stereotyping and repression of African American characters in film and in society. Just as “Birth of a Nation” was a landmark film that was a huge hit about-believe it or not-a group of Klansmen depicted as heroes, “Blazing Saddles” also was a way of turning around the typical stereotypes that had appeared throughout the history of Hollywood film production.

From Russia with Love was one of the land-mark spy vs. spy films of the decade. Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond is the prototype for all future film spies. The Bourne character, whose superior intelligence and craftiness outwits entire government agencies, could never exist without James Bond or Philip Marlowe.

In Born Yesterday Judy Holliday was the textbook definition of “Dumb Blonde”. She and Marilyn Monroe paved the way for a long line of starlets that became known for their comic and vapid portrayal of stupid women who survive through a combination of beauty without a brain.

Field of Dreams-the phrase has landed in our vocabulary as a place where people can go to make their dreams come true. The phrase, “If you build it, they will come” is part of the American mantra where hard work and determination are sometimes the ingredients you need to make your dreams come true. Without the films of Frank Capra, we would never have a “Field of Dreams”.

The Sound of Music-it is said that there was a woman who saw the film every day while it played, entering the Guinness Book of Records. The end of an era of musicals produced one of the greatest movie musicals of all time. There have not been many musicals made since the sixties, but any and all can trace their roots to this classic film.

Curly Top-every child actor since has been eclipsed by the penultimate child star, Shirley Temple. No one under the age of 50 can remember the appeal of this child and the box office business that was generated by her movies. Shirley Temple remains the shining example of a successful child star. Many have followed, but very few can rival her success.

The Big Sleep-Think of Bogart and Bacall and Film Noir. The age of the private eye culminated with the Film Noir films of the thirties, forties & fifties. No one watching the popular pairings of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt or some of the movies of Clive Owen can appreciate their work without watching “The Big Sleep” with Bogart & Bacall. The clever dialogue and the screen chemistry between the two make this film entirely watchable even sixty years after it was released.

Pillow Talk to Working Girl. It all started with Doris Day comedies. The queen of light comic romances was Doris Day. All modern day romance film and twentieth into 21st century romances can give a nod to Doris. Any light comic film can be paired to a degree first with the screwball comedies of the thirties and subsequently the light comic films of Cary Grant or Doris Day.

The Awful Truth: Screwball comedies are arguably the baseline for all film comedy. To go farther back in time, Mack Sennett and the shorts of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy are “required viewing” for anyone that purports to love comedy.

Of course, with the many thousands of films out there it’s impossible to touch upon even a small number of them that can trace their origins to other film classics of the past. But this is just a sample of where the process of connecting present film genres with past ones can lead. The end result is a richer understanding of film and a deeper appreciation for films that we see today.

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