Oh, the Horror!

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I constructed the following graph with the aid of Advance Title Search at IMDb.

Horror, musical, and comedy films as percentage of total

How would you explain the shifting popularity of the three genres? Here are my thoughts:

The rising popularity of comedies in the 1930s and 1940s can be attributed to the tensions of the Great Depression and World War II. The renewed and rising popularity of comedies in the 1960s to 2010s can be attributed to the rising social tensions of those decades. The relative unpopularity of comedy in the 1950s attests to the “normalcy” of that decade.

There were a few silent “musicals,” but real musicals didn’t arrive on the scene until the late 1920s, so the rise in popularity in the 1930s is unsurprising. The further rise in the 1940s is probably the due to the impetus of World War II, and the need for “light” escape. The decline in the relative popularity of musicals since the 1940s reflects the growing “sophistication” of the populace. Musicals defy belief in ways that comedies and horror films do not. People often crack jokes; horror simply exaggerated the brutal reality of twisted bodies, twisted minds, and the destructiveness of man and nature. But people don’t begin a sentence and then break into song, with the backing of a full orchestra and the accompaniment of choruses and dancers.

What about horror films, the taste for which seems to have risen through the 1980s, dropped in the 1990s, and since resumed its climb? Viewing a horror film is a way of fighting fire with fire: immersing oneself in the phony frights of the screen in order to make the traumas of everyday life seem milder by comparison. The Great Depression was followed in turn by World War II and the Cold War that ended in 1991 (and during which nuclear annihilation seemed a possibility). The Cold War was studded with lesser but controversial wars (Korea, Vietnam), assassinations, social unrest, and oil shortages, to name some of the lowlights of the post-World War II era through 1991. Then came the “peace dividend” of the 1990s: a decade of 1950-ish “normalcy” (compared with what had preceded it). That brief era ended shockingly on September 11, 2001, and it has been followed by wars, seemingly unextinguishable terror, and economic stagnation (punctuated by the worst recession since the Great Depression). So moviegoers resumed their antidotal intake of horror.

Your turn.

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Three Now-Obscure Actors

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The 1950s were as dull as they’re made out to be. (Oh, to have them back!) Among the landmarks of that dull decade were three actors who, between them, seemed to appear almost every night on one TV drama or another: Henry Jones (1912-1999), John Newland (1917-2000), and Harry Townes (1914-2001). All three had long acting careers, and Newland was also a producer and director. But you probably can’t put faces with the names. Here they are:

Henry Jones
Henry Jones

 

John Newland
John Newland

 

Harry Townes
Harry Townes

The Yankees vs. the Rest of the American League

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No one doubts that the Yankees have been the dominant team in the history of American League. Just how dominant? An obvious measure is the percentage of league championships won by the Yankees: 35 percent (40 of the 114) in the 1901-2015 seasons (no champion was declared for the 1994 season, which ended before post-season play could begin). More compellingly, the Yankees won 45 percent of the championships from their first in 1921 through their last in 2009, and 43 percent since their first in 1921.

Of course, not all championships are created equal. From 1901 through 1960 there were 8 teams in the American League, and the team with the best winning percentage in a season was the league’s champion for that season. The same arrangement prevailed during 1961-1968, when there were 10 teams in the league. After that there were two 6-team divisions (1969-1976), two 7-team divisions (1997-1993), three divisions of 5, 5, and 4 teams each (1994-2012), and three 5-team divisions (2013 to the present).

Since the creation of divisions, league champions have been determined by post-season playoffs involving division champions and, since 1994, wild-card teams (one such team in 1994-2011 and two such teams since 2012). Post-season playoffs often result in the awarding of the league championship to a team that didn’t have the best record in that season. (See this post, for example.) A division championship, on the other hand, is (by definition) awarded to the team with the division’s best record in that season.

Here’s how I’ve dealt with this mess:

The team with the league’s best record in 1901-1960 gets credit for 1 championship (pennant).

The team with the league’s best record in 1961-1968 gets credit for 1.25 pennants because the league had 1.25 (10/8) as many teams in 1961-1968 than in 1901-1960.

Similarly, the team with the best record in its division from 1969-2015 gets credit for the number of teams in its division divided by 8. Thus a division winner in the era of 6-team divisions gets credit for 0.750 (6/8) pennant; a division winner in the era of 7-team divisions gets credit for 0.875 (7/8) pennant,; and a division winner in the era of 4-team and 5-team divisions gets credit for 0.500 (4/8) pennant or 0.625 (5/8) pennant.

The Yankees, for example,won 25 pennants in 1901-1960, each valued at 1; 4 pennants in 1961-1968, each valued at 1.25; a division championship in 1969-1976, valued at 0.75; and 14 division championships in 1977-2015, each valued at 0.625. That adds to 43-pennant equivalents in 115 seasons (1994 counts under this method). That’s 0.374 pennant-equivalents per season of the Yankees’ existence (including 1901-1902, when the predecessor franchise was located in Baltimore and the several seasons when the team was known as the New York Highlanders).

I computed the same ratio for the other American League teams, including the Brewers — who entered in 1969 (as the Seattle Pilots) and moved to the National League after the 1997 season — and the Astros — who moved from the National League 2013. Here’s how the 16 franchises stack up:

Pennant-equivalents per season

The Red Sox, despite the second-best overall W-L record, have the fifth-best pennant-equivalents/season record; they have had the misfortune of playing in the same league and same division as the Yankees for 115 years. The Athletics, on the other hand, escaped the shadow of the Yankees in 1969 — when divisional play began — and have made the most of it.

There are many other stories behind the numbers. Ask, and I will tell them.

Beyond the Far Horizon

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Several years ago I began to track some celebrities who had attained the age of 90. The rather quirky list of notables now looks like this:

Luise Rainer 104, George Beverly Shea 104, Charles Lane 102Irwin Corey 101, Herman Wouk 101, George Kennan 101, Olivia de Havilland 100 (on July 1*), Gloria Stuart 100Eddie Albert 99, Michael DeBakey 99, Zsa Zsa Gabor 99, Vera Lynn 99, Mitch Miller 99, Max Schmeling 99, Risë Stevens 99, John Wooden 99Tony Martin 98, Dale Messick 98, Eli Wallach 98John Kenneth Galbraith 97, Ernest Gallo 97, Billy Graham 97, Estée Lauder 97, Art Linkletter 97, Al Lopez 97Karl Malden 97, John Mills 97, Kitty Carlisle 96Monte Irvin 96, Jack LaLanne 96, Kevin McCarthy 96, Harry Morgan 96, Fay Wray 96Jane Wyatt 96, Joseph Barbera 95, Ernest Borgnine 95, Henri Cartier-Bresson 95Herbert Lom 95, Peter Rodino, Jr 95, Sargent Shriver 95, Patty Andrews 94, Sammy Baugh 94, Constance Cummings 94, Lady Bird Johnson 94, Robert Mondavi 94, Byron Nelson 94, Les Paul 94, Ruth Hussey 93, Frankie Laine 93, Robert McNamara 93, Artie Shaw 93,  Richard Widmark 93, Oleg Cassini 92, Ralph Edwards 92Bob Feller 92, Ernie Harwell 92, Lena Horne 92Julia Child 91, Archibald Cox 91, Geraldine Fitzgerald 91, Frances Langford 91, John Profumo 91, William Westmoreland 91Jane Wyman 90.

I was reminded of this list by a name in the “Today’s Birthdays” feature of the newspaper: actress June Lockhart 91. Because only six members of my original list remain among the living, I’m adding Lockhart to the list, as well as these notables of interest to me: baseball player Bobby Doerr 98, justice John Paul Stevens 96, economist and secretary of state George Shultz 95, prince consort Philip Mountbatten 95, actress Betty White 94, secretary of defense Melvin Laird 93, baseball player Red Schoendienst 93, actress Rose Marie 92, physicist Freeman Dyson 92, president George H.W. Bush 92, and actor Hal Holbrook 91.

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* By my reckoning, of the dozens (or hundreds) of actors who starred in Hollywood films before World War II, only Olivia de Havilland survives. She attained star billing in 1935, at the age of 19, for her role in Captain Blood. Other pre-war films in which she starred include The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Gone with the Wind (1939).

Unwatchable Movies on the Rise

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I’ve explained my movie-rating scale here. The lowest rating (on a 1-10 scale) is a 1, which means that I found it unwatchable. But I watched enough of it to form an opinion of it. Why abandon a film after 5-15 minutes of viewing? Here are some of the reasons: trite, pompous, or boring dialogue; leaden satire; blatantly leftist political propaganda; juvenalia aimed at teenyboppers and twenty-somethings; and cringeworthy acting.

I’ve assigned a rating of 1 to 56 of the 2,121 feature films that I recall having seen. Here’s the list of titles, with year of release and average rating given by users at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB):

Unwatchable movies_list

If you strongly disagree with me about one or more of these movies, let me know. In any event, the frequency of movies that I find unwatchable is on the rise:

Unwatchable movies_graph

That’s consistent with the downward trend in the quality of films, as I see it:

Movie ratings_annual and overall

What about the recent upward trend in ratings assigned by IMDb users? As I say here:

  • IMDb users, on the whole, have overrated films released from the early 1940s to about 1980, and from the late 1990s to the present. The ratings for films released in the latter period undoubtedly reflect the dominance of younger viewers who “grew up” with IMDb, who prefer novelty to quality, and who have little familiarity with earlier films. On the other hand, I have rated 852 films that were released in 1996-2014, and 1,248 films from 1920-1995 [now 868 films from 1996-2015 and 1,253 from 1920-1995].
  • My ratings, based on long experience and exacting standards, indicate that movies not only are not better than ever, they are generally getting worse as the years roll on.

How exacting are my standards? Hundreds of thousands of IMDb users give higher ratings to the films I choose to watch than to films in general:

Ratings of films ive seen vs ratings of all films
Note: “All films” represents 65,290 films designated by IMDb as “English-language,” of which I have seen 2,200. (I have seen 2,424 but IMDb lists only 2,200 of them.)

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Related posts:
A Hollywood Circle
Movies
Christmas Movies
Pride and Prejudice on Film
The Movies: (Not) Better Than Ever
At the Movies: The Best and Worst Years
My Year at the Movies (2007)
Forgotten Stars
The Quality of Films over the Decades
More about the Quality of Films
The Movies: Not Better than Ever (II)
The Longevity of Stars
2013: A Bad Year at the Movies
A Trip to the Movies
Another Trip to the Movies