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Site of the Week: Reel Classics

When Elizabeth was growing up, her father had a concern: that television and movies would corrupt the minds of his daughters. But it wasn’t all of TV that concerned him — just “modern” programs. And so he brought home classic movies for his children to watch. In one case at least, his strategy worked: “In high school I would go to modern movies with my friends,” now-grown Elizabeth says, “and I was profoundly disappointed in what they seemed to deem satisfactory entertainment.” She became a classic movie connoisseur, so much so that when she graduated from college she made a career out of it.

In the eleven years since its inception, Reel Classics has become a leading database for what Elizabeth considers the Golden Age of cinema — roughly from the 1930s through the 1960s — when Hollywood’s ten major studios churned out roughly one movie per week apiece. (That’s about 520 a year for those of you counting at home). But Reel Classics is even more than a database: “I don’t just summarize film plots or write reviews and offer opinions,” Elizabeth says. “I try to put the films in context — either a historical context, or how they fit into the progression of a star or filmmaker’s career, or even the history of a studio.”

Elizabeth is in fact so fastidious in her research that she refuses to write about an actor or filmmaker until she’s seen at least half of that person’s repertoire. “I don’t think you can really get a good sense of the progression of someone’s career if you’ve only seen their award-winning work,” she explains. Her site features a veritable treasure trove of self-written, self-researched articles on everything from the era of classic films to technical explanations of classic special effects.

“Part of what I enjoy learning from classic movies is not only how they reflect the year in which they were made,” she says, “but also how the organization and structure of the industry at the time influenced the films. I enjoy observing how filmmakers worked within the confines of the Production Code to tell stories that originally seemed outside the realm of permissibility.”

Though she considers Reel Classics more of an online resource akin to IMDb, Elizabeth says she receives hundreds of e-mails a day from people asking questions — mostly on Mondays and Fridays, when they’re either looking for more information on a film they watched over the weekend, or when they’re wanting recommendations for the weekend ahead. And as far as branching out to include more eras of film, she says she usually only does so to track the progress of a classic-era star, like when Teresa Wright had a role in 1997’s The Rainmaker. “In short,” she says, “I focus on classic films because I like them better.”

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