After watching movies like 300, The Dark Knight, and the Matrix on the big-screen in theaters, it becomes more difficult finding cool in films from before 1900. There are no big explosions, fast car chases, or long, intricate plots; for that matter, there is limited sound, little or no talking, and they only last several minutes. Besides the nostalgia cool of these early films, there are more complicated versions of cool portrayed in these early films that are still apparent in today’s films.
Watching people live their daily lives has always had appeal to general audiences. Now instead of a train leaving a station or people leaving a factory being a feature film, as was in the Lumiere Brothers’ time, it’s more likely a clip we would see on the news. However, after turning the TV on and flipping the channels on any given night, it’s obvious that reality is still cool. You would likely encounter, if not the news detailing important occurrences around the world, shows like the Real World, The Bachelor, or Extreme Makeover Home Edition. We as a society are fascinated with people around us and how they live their lives. The Real World’s cool appeal is in taking people who wouldn’t normally live together or interact and putting them together to live and work in a house for a year; it’s cool seeing life under a microscope or being able to stop and investigate life from an outsider’s perspective. It’s cool to be able to suspend reality and delve into the lives of others. It’s cool to think about being Dr. House instead of a pre-med student whose Organic II homework is due tomorrow. So, while the reality is there, it has to be better than actual reality because a show about a pre-med student doing her Organic homework just wouldn’t sell. Every subgroup, no matter how small has their own “reality show” that depicts their lifestyle as cool. Moms have Desperate Housewives, single, straight women have Sex and The City, gay women have The L Word, medical professionals have Grey’s Anatomy, the list goes on and on for every subgroup. Television and movies are able to cast a light of cool on every group and glamorize their lifestyles. Using reality in film and entertainment started with the invention of film. Being able to look at life from the comfort of a chair, popcorn in hand, has amazed people since pre-1900.
The old films also are cool for the mere fact that you can see people living their lives during that time. It’s an artifact that shows so much more than a painting or a photograph. Being able to witness the different trials and errors during the invention of flight, is extraordinary; a picture would not have had the same effect. A video depicting the ruin after the Hurricane in Galveston, Texas is much more impactful than just pictures. So, old videos have a cool because they’re a window into the past. I wouldn’t say it’s a nostalgic cool because it’s not that people long to be back there; it’s just nice to be able to see that time from their perspective. It’s cool to see wars, speeches, and other famous events that we read about in history books from a primary, generally unbiased source.
Early film obviously has an air of cool unique to other kinds of film while still sharing some common links with contemporary media.