Late November is a good time to catch films in cinemas, of course, but otherwise the megaplex experience is generally a must-to-avoid, or at the very least a touch-and-go thing. Mainstream movies have been declining for many decades, and always because of stupid audiences.
In the early ’50s Manny Faber wrote an influential essay called “Blame the Audience,” although if you consider what was playing in Manhattan in the late summer of 1953 it’s hard to understand what he was on about.
In 1964, Pauline Kael asked “Are the Movies Going to Pieces?” in The Atlantic Monthly, claiming that “the younger generation’s embrace of crudely made films and the intelligentsia’s fondness for intentionally confusing ones was responsible for Hollywood’s decline.”
On 1.21.72, right in the middle of the grandest, funkiest and most fabled era of auteurist glory, Dick Cavett asked four directors — Robert Altman, Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Capra — if Hollywood was dead. He didn’t mean L.A.-centric filmmaking but the big-studio system that reigned from the ’20s through the ’50s. He was also observing that corporations and corporate-think had taken over from old-school moguls like Harry Cohn, Daryl F. Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer.
On 6.23.80 Kael published her famous New Yorker broadside — “Why Are Movies So Bad or, The Numbers” — about the increasing corporate influence upon Hollywood filmmaking culture.
I first began to sense the onset of megaplex theme-park cinema and the general loss of the spiritual in the early ’90s…a general feeling of alienation from the concept of theatres-as-churches and a gradual slide into the swamp.
12 and a half years ago I wrote that “movies are a religion and, whether some of you get this or not, going to see the best movies is the same thing as going to church and, in a manner of speaking, taking Holy Communion. They’re about values (philosophical or otherwise) and emotion and contemplation and quality of life. Even the shallowest people out there understand that the best movies contain and in fact propel notions of spirit and emotion and transcendental recognition.”
Movies are doing well enough in some respects (via this and that format), but that communal, church-like atmosphere in theatres…when was the last time you felt it?
I honestly wonder if deep-soul qualities in films (i.e., the kind of thing you can sense in abundance from Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma) are of any importance to the New Academy Kidz, the p.c. militants, the representation and identity-politics crowd.
On 7.17.06 I wrote that “some may see going to a just-opened movie as a kind of cathartic Southern Baptist service (talking back to the screen, letting it all out, etc.), but most people probably see movies as a kind of sporting event or mass video game or amusement ride.
“There’s an analogy between what I’m saying and Norman Mailer‘s feelings of reverence about the moon. During a 1971 promotion tour of his book ‘Of a Fire on the Moon,’ and particularly during a visit to The Dick Cavett Show, Mailer sharply criticized astronaut Alan B. Shepard for hitting three golf balls on the moon’s surface during Apollo 14’s expedition, calling it a desecration of holy ground and a demonstration of American arrogance.
“I think that today, 35 years hence, American moviegoers probably have more in common with Shepard’s attitude than Mailer’s. Very few regard movie theatres as churches. They see them as a kind of pit stop for temporary go-go diversion — places to meet friends in and eat popcorn and chug soft drinks and check their text messages as they wait for the latest audio-visual engagement. Nourishment, contemplation, meditation…? Dude, what are you on about?”
Spiritual nourishment and celebration is where you find it, of course. I’m actually fairly happy with all the viewing options I can instantly summon these days. Streaming has made random movie-savoring a wonderful thing, especially given the high-def resolutions that have become ubiquitous. But theatrically the game is all but over outside of the November-December period.
Four years ago the fanboying of movie culture was starting to really cover the landscape. In a 3.21.14 piece called “Don’t Forget What’s Happening,” I wrote that “fanboy flicks are a profitable malignancy. They are well on the way to kicking real, adult-level movies out of mainstream cinemas and into VOD, streaming and other home viewing options altogether.
“Super-amped fanboy flicks are the latest manifestation of the corporate influences which Pauline Kael lamented in 1980. They are flagships of a trend that are coming closer and closer to suffocating a mainstream movie culture that used to at least occasionally be about mirroring or capturing who we were (our values, needs, hopes) and how we lived. Theatres used to be the equivalent of community churches (i.e, places for inner communion and contemplation), but fanboy flicks are turning them into the spiritual equivalent of roller rinks and amusement parks.
“Fanboy flicks are a metaphor for the overall devolution of art and culture, not just in this country but all across Europe and Asia. They are injections of corporate heroin and Hollywood is the dealer. They are not pathways into our common histories and values and deep-down places. They are things we shoot into our minds and souls, but they are obviously inorganic. They’re not herbal tea or pot or peyote. They aren’t even Valium or Xanax. They’re Demerol.”