Thursday, March 01, 2007

Movies and How They Fail Us

latimes.com has an Op-Ed piece by Neal Gabler concerning the loss of centrality with films in our contemporary culture. He comes up with many excuses for why this is so without ever coming to the obvious: films suck. In general, movies coming out of Hollywood are a complete waste of time.

True, the internet, video games, YouTube, tabloid journalism have chipped away at the popularity of movies, but I don't think that's the whole picture. If films were really good they would easily hold an audience's attention for longer than the 20 minutes of special effects they contain. Now that Oscar season is over I have from now until November/December to be annoyed by all the horrible genre films that come out: shall I watch the comic book hero film with poor dialogue and cheesy characters? shall I go to the theater and enjoy the chick flick with stereotypical characters who end up singing a song from the '80s while they share in the glow of "good" female relationships? or maybe I can sit through another remake of a classic horror film that gets worse every time it's remade?

Hollywood studios insult their audience's intelligence by assuming we'll spend $10-$15 a ticket, $8 popcorn, and $5 drinks to watch a film we'll forget a few minutes after it's over. I can remember how exciting it was for people when Pulp Fiction came out in 1994. There was a sense that this was a film that expanded our consciousness and changed the way we viewed a film or narrative. I don't really get that sense anymore. The thought did come to me that maybe I'm just getting older and I don't connect, but I love Titanic and I was well beyond the 12-yr. old demographic that everyone says it was for when it came out. That movie, while it has its flaws, is definitely an experience that makes you want to go to the theater to experience it.

People seem to be turning to television for good entertainment now. Talk around the proverbial "water cooler" concerns characters on TV dramas when it comes to fiction. I read an article not too long ago about the loss of screenwriters to television. Audiences like good fiction, characters that have an emotional impact, stories that are interesting. I first saw Urban Cowboy a few years ago when I rented it on DVD. What struck me is how rarely a film like that gets made anymore by major studios in Hollywood. It is not the greatest film on earth, but it has a story, believable characters, an almost sociological feel for setting. I'm sick at how little of this ever comes across in films anymore. It seems every studio green lights a film on the basis of the gimmick it can offer--fire, CGI, or happy endings. Movies need good writers, not more special effects and gimmicks.

If Hollywood really is interested in making films that matter to the public they have to stop allowing business executives to make all the decisions. They don't have to make a timeless classic every time they set out to film something. But they should stay away from making nothing but gimmicky films that are all fluff and go for the lowest common denominator. They don't seem to see how they are slowly killing their own industry.