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What accounts for the cinematic generation gap?
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Alfred HItchcock used storytelling techniques that modern audiences just aren't familiar with, Jim Bennett writes. - photo by Jim Bennett
So my twin boys recently had a late-night 14th birthday bash, and they wanted to watch a scary movie with all of their friends. But there wasnt much to choose from since theyre not big fans of horror flicks and anything R-rated was out of consideration from the outset.

So my wife and I came up with the perfect solution: We rented Rear Window, the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece that is, in my estimation, the most suspenseful movie ever made.

You can probably see where this is going.

The kids were polite for about 10 or 15 minutes or so, but then they started getting restless. Is the whole movie going to be like this? one kid wondered, while another asked, When does the suspense start? Slowly but surely, each teenager deserted me. After about an hour, I was the only one left watching.

But heres the thing. I couldnt tear myself away from the TV, because Rear Window was even better than I remembered.

So why did my offspring and their contemporaries fail to appreciate it? What accounts for the cinematic generation gap?

The answer to that question is usually a prelude to some old guy whining about these kids today, with their iPhone doohickeys and their texting and their hippie rock 'n' roll. Sure, Im tempted to yell at all of them to get off my lawn, but I think theres more to the story than that.

Rear Window is a movie well before my own time, yet its still appealing to middle-aged folks like me who werent even born when the movie went into production. But its storytelling method, which relies on a slow burn rather than an instant flash of excitement, was still the standard approach of many of the movies we watched as kids.

Contemporary films dont work that way. Thats not a value judgment; it's simply a recognition of how time and technology have changed the way we tell and receive visual stories.

Consider the fact that back when Shakespeares plays were first performed for live audiences, they lasted anywhere from four to five hours. If you want to go back even further, the Greek tragedies that invented live theater were all-day affairs.

Barring a handful of hardcore enthusiasts and/or weirdos, no one today is willing to sit through five hours of Hamlet or eight hours of Aeschylus. These stories are still told, but theyre abridged and adapted in ways that make them accessible to modern audiences, using tools which those in centuries past didnt have at their disposal. Shakespeare had minimal costumes and no real sets, so he had to describe everything, and that takes a while.

One wonders what he could have accomplished with a large CGI budget.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and since we can now easily create pictures with a great deal of depth to them, audiences expect to receive much more information in much less time. In its relatively short lifespan, the cinema has rapidly evolved to the point where 21st-century films can pack much more info per minute into their presentations than Hitchcock ever could. This makes for greater storytelling efficiency and a shorter audience attention span, which accounts for the teenage apathy for a slow-boiling movie.

I should note that after all their friends went home, my boys came down to check on me while I was watching the last 10 minutes of Rear Window. I quickly told them what they had missed, and they were spellbound as they watched Jimmy Stewart fend off Raymond Burr with nothing more than an old-school flashbulb.

Why wasnt the whole movie like this? they asked.

I decided to write this column to answer that question. Not that theyll have the patience to read it, of course.

Get off of my lawn.