I would like to preface this with an acknowledgment of thanks for all of the help I have received from this forum as I read through other's essays and suggestions.
This is a tricky paper for me. I won't inject any of my own misgivings about this essay, but I know it needs improvement, even beyond grammatical, formatting, etc.Defining a Classic
Thank you, Sarah! I always get mixed up on "its" and "it's," but, apparently, I am not the only one. As we were peer-editing papers last Tuesday, my paper came back with one of the "its" changed incorrectly to "it's". :)
I decided to further hone the paper by rearranging it a little, to give a bit more resolution at the essay's end.
The word classic can mean an artistic work, such as a film, that is widely accepted as an example of high quality. Some films, however, are considered classics on the basis of their being blockbusters: films that cost millions of dollars to produce and promote, films that beckon people to flock in droves to theaters in order to see them. Though a blockbuster may seem similar to a classic, a blockbuster is invariably successful in terms of popularity and revenue and does not require the timeless components which make a film such as "Twelve Angry Men" worthy of being esteemed as a classic.
A big budget is no guarantee that a film is going to be a classic. One example is the 1997 film "Titanic," which reigns as one of most expensively-made films of all time, costing an estimated $200 million to produce. Much of that budget went toward recreating the RMS Titanic with the use of computer-generated special effects, which makes for some remarkable eye-candy. Ultimately, though, the ship and its sinking are merely a backdrop for the improbable love story of Jack and Rose, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The characters come off as clichés every time they open their mouths. When Jack recites such tin-eared drivel as, "Rose, you're no picnic. All right? You're a spoiled little brat, even, but under that, you're the most amazingly, astounding, wonderful girl, woman that I've ever known," a stupefying insensitivity to normal human language is on full display.
The hugeness of "Titanic"'s elaborate special effects outweigh its unrealistic characters even to the point of accentuating the film's many glaring anachronisms, which arbitrarily blur the historical accuracy of the film's portrayal of the year 1912. Seeing Rose gaze upon "Nymphéas," a painting of water lilies by impressionist Claude Monet, is innocuous enough, unless the viewer realizes the year that particular work was created: 1915, three years after the sinking of the Titanic. Instances like that may seem trivial, but they add up to undermine the standing "Titanic" has as a classic, regardless of its high production value.
What makes a film a classic is its authentic portrayal of human emotion without reliance on a big budget to guarantee its standing as a classic. For example, a scene towards the end of the 1957 classic courtroom drama "Twelve Angry Men" portrays the uncontrolled disorder of Juror #3, played by Lee J. Cobb. He fiercely persists in holding a teenage boy accused of murdering his father guilty, despite the unanimous doubt of the other jurors. Upon seeing a photo of his estranged son that he had inadvertently pulled from his pocket, Cobb's character begins tearing it to pieces in a fit of rage. Realizing through his sudden anger that his judgment of the boy accused has been affected by the disconnect he has experienced with his own son, he breaks down and, amidst choking back sobs, changes his verdict to "not guilty." The scene is genuinely touching in its depiction of not only the reversal of a juror's initial decision but of a distraught father forced to confront his transference of bitterness toward the boy on trial.
"Twelve Angry Men" was based on a stage play that takes place entirely on one set. Such an environment is an odd premise for a major studio production, since plays are usually adapted to film as expansions beyond the limitations of the theater. But the limited scope of "Twelve Angry Men" emphasizes the film's tense atmosphere. Extraneous scenes outside the jury room would have undermined the impact of the jurors' deliberation. It was also filmed in black-and-white, as opposed to the more expensive color format. The use of grayscale adds greatly to the starkness of their situation. These elements force the viewer to focus on the fundamentals: how the jury's own personal convictions influence a life or death decision within the claustrophobic setting they inhabit.
Fifty years after its release, "Twelve Angry Men" is a classic film that remains a powerful and definitive examination of the jury system due to the film's believability and minimalist approach. The film's emotional core is authentic, especially in the scene in which Cobb's character's personal anguish is displayed with an immediacy that is almost hyperreal. Its relatively small production value --- 12 men in one room, all 90 minutes shot in black-and-white --- allows the plot to take center stage. Any attempt to have made the story bigger and wider in size would have dramatically impinged the film's ability to render meaning. Though it is not based on an actual court case, "Twelve Angry Men" conveys a palpable realism that resonates with audiences over time --- the kind of realism that is utterly lacking in "Titanic," a film whose very existence is intrinsic upon a historical event.