Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke in 2009 at the Venice Film Festival. Photo by Nicolas Genin via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Ethan Hawke hopes he doesn’t sound like the “old man yells at cloud” meme when he says this, but he says it anyway.

“The thing that I don’t understand — and this makes me sound old — but what I don’t understand about young people today is why they don’t watch more movies,” he tells MovieMaker.

“I mean, they’re perfectly willing to binge watch, for weeks of their life, something they know is really super okay, and the Criterion Channel is right there. Like, they could be watching Badlands as we speak,” he adds.

Hawke is particularly shocked by the lack of film education in young directors, specifically around the greats, like German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder known for Love Is Colder Than Death (1969) and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).

“They don’t know who Fassbinder is and they don’t know who Éric Rohmer is and they don’t know who Kurosawa is. They think they’re modern and they haven’t seen Do the Right Thing. Are you kidding? It’s on your damn phone, watch it!” he says. “But they’d somehow rather watch some TV show that came out yesterday that they won’t remember.”

Also Read: Ethan Hawke — Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Make no mistake: “I say all that not to sound crotchety,” he stresses.

“But there’s so much excellence in the past, so many of these thoughts of what we’re all going through emotionally and what we’re looking for — authenticity in our lives and healing — all these common threads of humanity people have been talking about for centuries. Cinema is a young art form, but it’s 100 years old now, and there’s a lot of great work, and you can rip it off madly.”

For those young filmmakers who might be interested in taking some of Hawke’s advice, he also suggests looking to your collaborators for recommendations. Like a director of photography, for example.

“The fun thing about having a great DP is the more you explain what you’re trying to drive at, they can turn you on to, ‘Well, you know who’s also into that idea — let’s watch this film. Let’s steal that shot. That’s a great shot.’ I really enjoy that,” he says.

“But I’m always amazed at how often young people who say, ‘I love movies and I want to make movies’ don’t actually watch movies.”

A filmmaker himself, Hawke recently released his fifth directorial project, Wildcat, starring his daughter Maya Hawke as Southern Gothic literary icon Flannery O’Connor. It had its theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles from Oscilloscope over the weekend.

Ethan Hawke Tells Us His Favorite Movie

Warren Beatty in Reds, Paramount Pictures

For the record, Hawke’s favorite movie of all time is the 1981 movie Reds starring Warren Beatty, who also directs and co-writes. It’s about an American journalist who gets swept up in the communist revolution in Russia.

“I just rewatched it, so it’s on my mind in a large way. It’s been in my top five films of all time I think probably since I first saw it when I was like, 18,” he says. “It really is just a staggering accomplishment. Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Maureen Stapleton, Jack Nicholson. Made in Reagan’s America, it’s a loving, responsible portrait of American communists. It’s a fascinating movie.”

As a filmmaker, Hawke admires Reds for the way it fuses different creative elements into one masterpiece.

“It’s one of those examples where you see all the departments working side by side. Sondheim’s doing the music and the music is just perfect and almost invisible. Storaro’s doing the photography that almost just seems like the most ravishing documentary,” he says. “Beatty’s performances, there’s nothing showy about it. It’s funny and humble. And Diane Keaton is just a remarkable three dimensional portrait of a woman and their affair. The romantic in me just loves all that.”

He names the characters played by Nicholson, Beatty and Keaton: Eugene O’Neill, John Reed, Louise Bryant.

“Men and women loving each other and breaking each other’s hearts,” he says. “It’s always been compelling to me, but it just really holds up as kind of one of the best things that Hollywood has ever made.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 print issue of MovieMaker Magazine.

Main Image: Ethan Hawke in 2009 at the Venice Film Festival. Photo by Nicolas Genin via Wikimedia Creative Commons