A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
After years of hanging around this planet I’ve discovered that there actually are two kinds of people in the world. There are people who watch films and people who go to movies. They’re as different as pigs and porridge. It really doesn’t matter where you take your cinematic pleasures — in front of a computer screen, at a funky (God, I hate that word) retro theatre, or on the privacy of your own sofa, etc. — the activity itself is basically the same. There’s you (obviously) the story in front of you and your willing suspension of disbelief. That’s it. And it hasn’t changed since Les Freres Lumiere set up shop at the Salon Indien du Grand Cafe in Paris in 1895. The major difference (and it’s huge) is the attitude people bring to the experience.
Not to be too judgemental, people who watch films are pompous asses. They think the only reason anybody ever makes a movie, anywhere in the world, is for their personal interpretation at dinner parties. And although I’d love to get a few kicks in at those folks, I’m going to leave them alone today. Besides, they’re all hanging out at a couple of International Film Festivals this week. Probably, they’re impatiently waiting for some name-brand personality (complete with personal assistant, juggling the Swag Bags) to wander by and pontificate on world poverty. Incidentally, the loot in those bags could lift South Sudan out of the poorhouse tomorrow given half a chance. So, go in peace, film watchers, but remember, your day is coming.
On the other hand, people who watch movies are fine, upstanding men and women who have fallen on hard times. In rapid succession, they have seen the demise of cinematography, film editing, screen writing and acting — all killed off by computer-generated special effects. There are now only four movies left in the universe. They are, in no particular order, Chase Me, Girl Meets Boy, Kick Me in the Groin and They Came to Talk. Of course, some would argue that Aren’t They Greedy Bastards?, Yet Another Cartoon and The Flying Guts of Gore (not Al, the other one) are also movies, worthy of mention. They’re not. May I point out that the last hand-drawn animated feature was The Lion King circa 1994 – Shrek and Woody are pixel-powered. Likewise, everybody knows that The Flying Guts of Gore is not filmed around some stunt double’s horrible disembowelment for cinematic realism. CGIs (computer generated images) are CGIs, regardless of where they appear. Furthermore, Aren’t They Greedy Bastards? is really only a sub-genre of We’re All Doomed. And unless you still believe Gilligan was actually on that island, you know We’re All Doomed is nothing more that thinly-veiled propaganda. In fact, these days the veils are so thin they’re making guys like Josef Goebbels blush.
What’s been happening here is for the last twenty years, movie goers have become so starved for movies – any movies — they are willing to see the same four, over and over again – and pay big bucks for the privilege. And contemporary movie makers are shameless about it. Even as we speak, Hollywood has at least thirty re-makes in the works — not including the ones they’ve already done. For example, Arthur, Conan, Clash of the Titans and The Karate Kid have already disgraced the big screen, and I’m not going to even mention True Grit. However, I do hope someday somebody ruins a rehashed Fargo, and we’ll see just how pleased the Coen Brothers are about that. Re-making movies is becoming the raison d’etre for Hollywood. Believe it or not they’ve remade Footloose, and Logan’s Run and there’s talk of remaking Blade Runner. Blade Runner! There was even going to be a remake of The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp as Tonto, but that fell through (probably because they couldn’t get Angelina Jolie to play Lone.) Eventually the Oscar for original screenplay is going to go to Mack Sennett and Charlie Chaplin for The Little Tramp.
And when Hollywood isn’t regurgitating old movies, they’re overworking the franchise of others. The minute box office receipts from any movie hit a certain level, hang on to your original merchandise because there’s going to be a sequel, a triquel, and a prequel. Then, after that they just keep pumping them out. Things like plot, character and setting simply don’t matter because all they use is the name. Even the actors get fed up. Spiderman lost Toby Maguire, Matt Damon quit being Bourne, nobody has a clue who Superman is anymore, and there’ve been enough Batmans (Batmen?) to rival the incarnations of a black belt Buddha. No wonder he’s all tied up in emotional knots; he doesn’t know who he’s supposed to be — Val Kilmer or Christian Bale.
Of course, the willing suspension of disbelief is strained to the breaking point when actors try to rework characters decades too late. Harrison Ford and Karen Allen were barely believable in The Crystal Skull, and Lucas and Spielberg are planning an Indiana Jones V. Think about that! Plus, they’ve resurrected John McClane for another crack and Die Hard (I hope it’s Die Hard: Once and for all.) And I never thought I’d say this, but I wish somebody would just kill this current Bond and put him out of my misery. Jason Statham, where are you?
The real problem is movie makers don’t trust their audience. They make remakes, sequels to remakes and prequels to sequels of remakes because they think they hear the cash register in known quantities. They don’t understand that people who go to movies love a good story – witness Slumdog Millionaire. They might not nerd every detail of the director’s motivation or know all the ins and outs of lighting and camera angles but they do know a ripping good yarn when they see one. These are the descendents of the people who made Gone with the Wind the highest grossing movie in the world for three decades. They’re the grandchildren of the folks who went to Bogie movies before he was an icon and the kids of the parents who liked Marlon Brando even after he got fat. These days movie goers go to schlock ‘cause that’s all there is. All the good movies are called films and they hide out in Film Festivals. There’s no chase scene in Lawrence of Arabia, no precocious kid in Casablanca and nobody got chopped to pieces in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. All those movies were shown in regular theatres and ordinary people went to see them. Today, they’d probably be limited to Sundance or TIFF or some other such place. People who go to movies deserve better than what they’re currently getting and people who watch films don’t appreciate what they’ve got.