Saturday, August 20, 2011

The 2011 Summer Movie Season PART 1--An Introduction

"Scream 4," "Thor," "Bridesmaids," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "The Hangover Part II," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Fast Five," "Green Lantern," "Cars 2," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2," "Captain America" , "Cowboys and Aliens," "Conan the Barbarian," "Super-8,"  "The Change-Up," "The Smurfs," "Final Destination 5," "Spy Kids in 4-D"!, "Friends With Benefits,"  "Mr. Poppers Penguins,"  "X-Men First Class", "Horrible Bosses," . . .

"The American movie industry has finally become a playground for the infantile, the creatively-bankrupt, and the mentally stunted techno-geeks and businessmen who run it." 

That was my first thought after once again perusing the local movie listings, and finding screen after screen that offered the following: amusement park rides, superheroes, sequels to amusement park rides and superheroes (and sequels to THOSE), animated kiddie fodder, humor aimed below the waist, (front and back), robots, creatures, fantasy-worlds, self-absorbed romantic morality comedies, and a small sprinkling of serious-minded films (one or two of which I had already seen,weeks ago) that will almost certainly be pulled from release before I have time to see them.

("Tree of Life", "Midnight in Paris", "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", "Crazy Stupid Love"...and some interesting international fare...were available, if you could find them, or travel to see them.)

Now, I maintain that there is room, from the "blue" list above, for any and all of these on our movie screens.  The problem is, these days, that is about all we have from which to choose. 

Hollywood has skewed the banquet:  instead of offering so many great savory "dishes" that we hardly have any room for dessert, we now serve up sweets as the main course, and so there's little taste remaining for something substantial, that is emotionally and intellectually "nourishing".

Those who make millions of dollars serving up these overheated "leftovers"  know that the "golden demographic" of moviegoers, mostly teen and pre-teen (the prime target of most movies today) will eagerly consume a steady diet of sweets and junk food if it is the only thing offered to them.  And when this audience buys millions of dollars worth of tickets, like lemmings, the Movie Pushers justify making more of the same because "it's what makes money."  And they DO make money...however the tide seems to have turned, as I shall explore later.

Meanwhile, audiences' critical "teeth" are slowly rotting, and although viewers have had their fill, they are starving and don't know it.  By the time there is the realization that there is something more sustaining in movies that is no longer readily available to us (but which used to be found commonly in "old" movies), it's almost too late to break the addiction to what is practically the only choice available on movie screens to consume.

The movies, which can provide a cultural touchstone, stir emotions, and inspire the creative impulse of the average viewer, are now seen as a disposable experience, with no more relevance to building art or moving lives than the average Happy Meal.

By not balancing the choices, by not creating and promoting substantial, "adult" fare with the same fervor by which we push the warmed-over, overblown junk that audiences are made to feel they must love, we  deprive young moviegoers of a potentially stunning summer moviegoing experience that they will discuss, study, and revisit for the rest of their lives.  

We are also losing an audience of loyal moviegoers from decades past that still attend thoughtful, original films if they're offered ("Midnight in Paris" is a huge success relative to its budget),  and we destroy the foundation of Cinema in the future.  

We have the technological "tools" but not the materials to create lasting work. 

(Perhaps moviemakers can't be all to blame.  The New York Times Best-seller list, which used to be a goldmine for movie properties and scripts, is now almost all devoted to detective series, supernatural franchises, and the like.  Broadway, which gave us our most beloved movie musicals, is now turning to old movies for their newest productions.  Still, someone with creative and financial muscle can certainly greenlight strong, original screenplays, and market them to so that people feel the need to see them.  Can't they?)

Finally, we're depleting the art of Film Criticism, which not only feeds on cinema but in turn can become an entertaining, informative, and provocative aesthetic all its own.  Today the art and industry of film criticism is starving too.  Many publications have cut their full-time critics. Old-timers like Mr. Ebert stay "relevant" by gamely adjusting to the changes in the industry, but must be crushed at heart or at least feel overqualified (he has already released two books of his bad reviews; never seen that happen before from any critic!) 

And the rest of us, the novices, the serious students, or those that simply love "the movies", feel dissatisfied, stranded.  Based only on the bloggers I follow regularly here, we have some excellent movie writers in our midst. We have the makings of the next Vincent Canby's, John Simons, Pauline Kaels; yet there's nothing for these folks to do, for nine months out of the year, but to accept the swill that Hollywood maintains is great filmmaking, and to do their best to work up some enthusiasm for it.

And so, many of us are left to re-visit films from years past.  It is testament to the richness and staying power of these "older" movies that they have transcended generations and still provide much to think about, discuss, debate, and yes, to love. 

The older movies us bloggers still love and write about (by older, say, anything prior to the internet era, say 1928-2001), rarely had a years' worth of minutiae-buildup from the studios, rarely had cult-followings BEFORE release (for the most part), maybe even reached us through a haphazard TV broadcast, or DVD viewing.  We didn't talk them to death before release (they were already in our midst, each of them with an archive of great writing available to those who were interested).  The movies became part of the conversation, not the end of it.

So...what about this summer movie season?

In Part II I'll offer a brief survey of items I have read and heard in the media.  For the most part, the sense of dissatisfaction is not only expressed by the professional movie-writers, but by the "golden demographic" themselves.  We'll look at box office receipts vs. attendance, the immediate gratification of current audiences, studio "leaks" and the "talking to death" of upcoming films, an odd debate about whether video games are replacing movies for good, and my own take on what critics (starting with myself) might do to get "smarter" films during the summer, and all year.

1 comment:

  1. It's odd that you seem to be so much less lucky with release dates in the States than over here.

    Whilst we too had all the films you list in blue, and yes I've seen a couple of them, there has always been some relevant and interesting counter-programming that can be seen across the country (admittedly only in arthouse cinemas).

    Films like The Guard, Arrietty and The Messenger have all had modest success in limited releases. And let's not ignore the qualities of blockbuster entertainment - the design of Thor, the tenderness of Super 8 or the exciting inevitability of Harry Potter.