Movie Trope Thursday: Small Reference Pools

Wizard of Oz

Oh, don’t we movie fans have our work cut out for us with this one. A small reference pool is when a genre, an actor, a director, etc. is only remembered for one, two, or three projects. For instance, if you find yourself stuck in a spot when talking about an actor or director that the other person in the conversation is not familiar with, what is your go-to example? If you are speaking with someone who doesn’t know who Judy Garland is (yes, this has happened to me) do you say “You know, Judy Garland, For Me and My Gal (1942), The Clock (1945).” Nope. You say, “You know, Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz (1939).” That is all you need to say. Odds are, the average person you bump into has only seen Judy Garland in that movie although sometimes you will get lucky and they also know Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) but usually in that case you don’t have to explain who she is. When Judy Garland is referenced on a TV show or movie, only The Wizard of Oz is brought up because a general audience may not know much outside of that one. Even those that have never seen The Wizard of Oz (like the Amish community, I guess) know the film well-enough to recognize things from it if brought up.


TV Tropes has lots of jokes about this such as stating that Douglas Fairbanks only made swashbucklers, Fritz Lang only directed Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), and that the only musical actors that exist are Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Gene Kelly. I mean, how many people know Ginger Rogers mostly made comedies in her filmography? This is too bad because she has excellent comic timing, but when she is brought up in any form of media or typical conversation she is only Fred Astaire’s dancing partner. Actors can get associated with certain genres and not many people know they expanded outside of their typical genres. Apparently, Humphrey Bogart only made film noirs, John Wayne only made Westerns, and Charles Chaplin was only a silent film comedian. Obviously this is not the case, but when you see a parody of Charles Chaplin on TV, are they going to have him talking? Nope. If they dared to have him talk then no one may know who he is.


Movies are not everyone’s passion and I get that. It is just whenever anyone is very familiar with something and other people aren’t as passionate as you are, it can seem frustrating. I’m sure a fan of modern music would absolutely hate watching the Grammys with me because I don’t know anyone in music today outside the very obvious names and I could probably only name one or two songs they sing (and I sure as hell couldn’t sing along with them in the car). I’m sure I would hate watching the Oscars with that same person in return as they would probably not know many of the names and movies nominated. As a cinema snob, when I see someone with a photo of Marilyn Monroe on their wall I want to ask “Can you name five movies she made? If so, you get to keep the poster.” We’ve all been there no matter what your passion is. I remember in high school Bianca got upset one day when she mentioned someone in her class told her he had a Rat Pack poster in his bedroom and when Bianca asked what his favorite Frank Sinatra song was he couldn’t even name one. Not one. Doesn’t everyone know “High Hopes” and “It Was a Very Good Year”? Also being a cinema snob, when I see someone parody Alfred Hitchcock I think “Can we move beyond Psycho (1960) and North by Northwest (1959)? I want to see Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Foreign Correspondent (1941) parodied?” Don’t you want to say “You know, Ingmar Bergman made more movies than The Seventh Seal (1957)” or “Is Casablanca (1942) the only old movie you know?”

"High Noon"
Gary Cooper
1952 Universal

This is how you make a wide topic accessible to everyone. When you parody old horror movies you can stick to the monsters but that’s it because everyone knows Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. When you mention a Western it appears only titles like High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953) are well-known enough to reference. Most people don’t know about the little programmers, the sleeper hits, and the underrated gems of classic film. Hell, most people don’t even know the top five most notable films of an actor or director’s filmography, they just know the most famous one if that. This is especially true for older Hollywood as these references are several decades old by now and getting further and further away from the public conscious. Casablanca (1942) and The Wizard of Oz (1939) will always be as remembered as they are today because they are so often mentioned and parodied in other forms of media. At least references like this allow people to dive into these old movies and then even deeper if they so choose. I’ve mentioned it was the film references on The Simpsons that made me want to watch old movies and then I just kept digging myself deeper and deeper into the film library from there. It may seem mundane to us classic film buffs as how many times can we see the same exact movie be parodied or referenced? Still, it may be what got us hooked in the first place.


Click for the TV Tropes article

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