FEATURE: Mindless Moviegoing?

11 08 2009

I’ve heard a fair few jokes that start with “There are only two kinds of people in this world.” Many people think there are two kinds of moviegoers in the world: those who rush to go see the latest blockbuster just because of its stars or because it has stuff blowing up, and those who prefer what they perceive to be more substantive and tasteful filmmaking, usually independent or art house films. I say, why can’t you be both? I most certainly am. I love little indies like “The Hurt Locker” and “(500) Days of Summer,” but I also enjoy movies like “The Hangover” and “Star Trek.” I live for November and December when the majority of the movies nominated at the Oscars are released, but I also get excited for May and June when the summer puts forth movies for all tastes.

But, alas, I am one of very few people my age that can make such a claim. I can guarantee you most of my friends haven’t even heard of “The Hurt Locker;” heck, some of you all reading this probably haven’t. And that’s alright, but we won’t be seeing any movies like it in the future if Americans consciously choose senseless entertainment like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” over higher-brow movies. On occasion, the two have been able to blend successfully, in movies like “The Dark Knight.” Yet few will dispute that movies with such a plot might not have been so commercially viable if they had not worn the front of your typical blockbuster.

The legendary movie critic Roger Ebert has some harsh words for my generation, saying that we may be headed for a “Dark Age” in cinema, mainly due in part to teens who throw their money mindlessly at the big-budget studio movies. He thinks that because we don’t read reviews from critics regularly, we are more prone to drink the blockbuster Kool-Aid. He even goes as far as to suggest that we don’t even care about reviews and that we don’t even have the brainpower to go see the movie that isn’t showing on the most screens at the multiplex. The root of this mindset is “the dumbing-down of America” that has sprung from our worthless education, failing to provide us any sort of curiosity in anything beyond what we see constantly advertised.

Ebert does bring up some good points. It is the teens who swarm the theater every weekend and never fail to go see the hit movie of the week. It is the teens who demand more action, more star power, and bigger explosions. It is the teens who line the pockets of Michael Bay and the studios that let him put such garbage on the screen.

But I don’t think he is entirely right. There is hope for this generation, and I have seen it. Back in December, I was among the first to see “Slumdog Millionaire.” Before it was the sensation that it became, I couldn’t get anyone to go see it. I had a friend who ridiculed me for seeing it instead of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” That same friend is now one of the movie’s biggest fans. I also convinced him to go see movies like “Frost/Nixon” and “The Reader” before they were nominated for Best Picture over movies like “The Unborn” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” I spread the word about these movies and I got my friends to see them, and I think they were pleasantly surprise when they not only knew, but had seen many of the nominated films at the Oscars.

That hope is extending past Oscar season, when it is easy to support indies. Many of my friends are discovering “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Hurt Locker” without a huge media push (or even my own push). These are the same people who saw movies like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and demanded more for their money and their time. I think what Ebert fails to comprehend is that although many of us go see these movies, that doesn’t mean we love every one we see. We are a curious bunch: curious to find the next “The Dark Knight” in a heap of blockbusters and curious to find the next “Slumdog Millionaire” in a mass of indies. Critics and parents often have different tastes from ours, and how will we know unless we take a look for ourselves? One man’s “G.I. Joe” may be another man’s “Citizen Kane.”

It is easy to look at all the terrible movies that have been released recently and think that American cinema is in a bad state. And yes, my generation has been the driving force behind the spawning of so many of them. But give us a break. We want to be enthralled by movies just as much as any adult. We seek out good entertainment too, but blockbusters are usually the first place we look. We teens are the target audience of comic-book movies, and that has produced beloved critical darlings like “The Dark Knight” and “Star Trek.” We love raunchy comedies, and that genre brought “Knocked Up” and “The Hangover,” both of which were lauded more than Best Picture nominee “The Reader” (according to Metacritic). We are not the root of the problematic dearth of great entertainment at the movies, but we are the easiest to blame. Even if you were to eliminate the types of movies that give critics such a headache, such as comic book adaptations and frenetic action movies, there would still be bad movies. But whether you prefer blockbusters or indies, we can all do our share to demand better quality from the movies that we watch.

Until the next reel,



3 responses

14 08 2009

I like that at my age (33) I get treated by teens and twenty-somethings like I’m a grandfather who needs nursing care. If my age never surfaces I oddly enough am accepted into the pack (I do look young). But invariably I’ll open my mouth and mention Ella Fiztgerald or Lilian Gish and blow my cover.

I don’t blame teenagers for their laziness, for supporting “garbage” like MTV and bad films, for not being curious, for being apathetic yadda yadda yadda

What I do blame them for is not listening to or flat out ignoring people, yes “old people”, with more experience who try to teach them to be curious or to steer them to good films and good music because they’ve been around long enough to know better. It almost feels like they are ignoring them simply through ageism. Respect for our elders is no more one might say.

This is not new. My theory is it really took flight around the late nineties (look at the popular films and music of the period and then what came after. Backstreet Boys anyone?). My theory about Cobain’s death was that he could see into the future and wanted to escape it.

When I was in High School in the nineties, 95% of my peers were idiots when it came to the arts. I couldn’t for the life of me get them to listen to Ray Charles or Duke Ellington. I couldn’t get them to see a foreign film or anything with an actor who was Sir or Dame. Oh sure classic rock was cool because ‘The Joker’ had the word pit and ‘White Rabbit’ was about drugs and ‘Clockwork Orange’ was okay because it was ‘Trippy’ and had boobs.

There was one guy I knew who LOVED B&W movies and we had some connection but that was it. We once made a list on the ten best films of all time and no surprise we were the only ones who had seen any of them outside of ‘Star Wars’ and having a musical on the list “Singin’ In The Rain” would’ve gotten us killed socially had we shown that list to anyone but our art teacher.

I want to tell you funny story from my early film days that I think you will enjoy. I didn’t know much about film other than I liked a movie or I didn’t but I did know that S&E knew a lot about films and felt I could probably trust them. So on their urging I went to Blockbuster to rent Casablanca. Aside from the clerk looking at me sideways for holding a film with a B&W cover, Blockbuster wouldn’t let me rent it because the film was unrated (I was 16 at the time)! It had come out long before the pointless and degrading MPAA, which ironically blockbuster has no issue renting Hostel to minors. I bemoaned to my B&W film fanatic friend about and it he laughed, “It’s because of the rape scene in the middle.” Later in the week I told him I solved the problem by *gasp* stealing it! Best damn move I ever made.

Personally, my pet peeve with young people lies in what is happening to music, which I don’t play, can write a little, and am a rabid fan of. Similar things are happening in film, more on that later. Loss of dynamic range and the loudness war is part of what is infuriating me but that’s a blog unto itself. But it runs parallel to film.

The nations current popular “music” was built on the foundation of Jazz, Blues, and Bluegrass/ “Country (pre 1960s) so for young musicians to ignore, have no knowledge off, and frankly not listen to those genres while trying to pass themselves off as musicians basically explains the state of the Billboard charts. I believe this knowledge makes you a better and more diverse musician so I always check an artist’s list of musicians they like and look up to, and when I see Blink 182 I run. Any Myspace yahoo can record a song that doesn’t mean its music.

The same can be said of film. I have spoken to many who claim a love of cinema and so to not knows its roots is like slapping the art in metaphorical face. OK- I’ll grant you Lilian Gish is a slight obscure being the reigning queen of silent film, but not knowing Katharine Hepburn?! That’s like being a songwriter a not knowing Carole King.

Now let me stop and give the teenager some slack for a moment. I can’t really blame them for the ticket and record sales. For this, I blame the parents for. They are the ones supplying the money and CC numbers so that their kids can buy and see this junk. The JB wouldn’t exist if parents stopped buying the stuff for their kids. So yeah, I’m saying parents have no spine. They bemoan the state of youth and yet support it. If you don’t like sagging pants stop buying pants for your kids that are too big. If they think kids today are stupid they stop showing up at school and interfering with the teachers trying to do their job by arguing over grades.

So I think a large part of it is that parents don’t train their kids to care or to respect the arts in a classical way anymore. There are many reasons for this but I find none of them acceptable. I am the type person who love the ritual of art is whatever form. So as a film watcher that means no cell phones, no lights on, no excessive or loud talking, and no loud blaring ads! (Not the teens fault I know). But to go to a movie and spend it texting some guy two seats away… come on. Or to watch a film at home with all the lights glowing- pausing it for the phone or whatever reason is disrespectful. Watching films on Youtube or Iphones is also disrespectful. Film as an art is meant to be seen on large screen. That is one of the things that makes it film as opposed to TV or a home video. So I invariably go to the “Early-Bird specials” because it is “old” people and they know how to shut up and watch a movie (or sleep through one, can’t be sure with some of them).

Well, I’m done with my tirade. But seeing as how you are an intelligent film watcher I figured I’d get completely off topic and share some of my favorite movies which you may or may not have seen. These are presented in no order except the first five rows are pretty assured to be my all time favorites. All in the hopes you will share yours. I find it difficult to meet people to have a dialogue about film with in person or on-line. I love seeing what other people’s tastes are it sometimes makes me go back and try something again that I didn’t like.

Now I’m not foolish enough to believe that liking “great” movies means you snuff the fluff.

So the link below is to my part of my website where I show off 100-ish favorite films of mine that almost always show up whenever I do a list off the top of my head. They got on this list because repeated viewings did not diminish their enjoyment and almost always gave me something new. Are they all great pieces of cinema? No, some hold a place in the palace because they are from my youth and bring back a whole host of feelings and emotions. Do I think you should see them all, yes! This list as with any good list was done to please no-one but myself and to make it easier to show prospective lovers my film tastes when playing the getting to know you. And I agree with Ebert when says a list is not interesting for left off but for is on it.


Lastly my five faves this year so far:

500 Days Of Summer (Now in my top 100)
The Hurt Locker
The Hangover
Away We Go

Special nod to Coraline (I’m an animation junkie)

Looking forward too
Julia (not playing near me)
9 (a friend of mine knows the guy who worked on the short film)
The Tempest (Julie Taymor’s Titus is in my top ten of all time)
The Whole Bloody Affair (The complete Kill Bill film shown all as one piece, the way it was seen at Cannes and in Japan)

Peace, Love, Happiness, Cinema

12 10 2009

Thanks for taking the time to write these insightful blog posts! It’s nice to see someones views overlap my own when it comes to pop culture. That said I wonder if the last great generation were the Gen X’ers (I’m 32), or were they part of the problem that exist today in both music and film?

12 10 2009

I think the biggest problem with today’s movies is the lack of soul. Not just by the filmmakers, but by the audience as well.

Most of today’s teens in western nations have never known what it is to truly suffer, to do without. They have not had to go through a war, or threat of war, or live in fear of annihilation. They live in a world of instant gratification and pleasure.

They toss around terms like “racist” or “bigot,” but have never had to suffer under true racism or bigotry.

In other words, they have never experienced anything in their lives to overcome to give them an appreciation of how easy their lives truly are.

The biggest thing is that they have never encountered evil, or can recognize evil. They are quick to use the beckon call of “that’s racist” with everything, but have never had to live under the hardship of segregation or interment camps or been driven to extinction.

Good vs. Evil is lost upon the new generations.

Look at the new Star Trek movie. The “bad guy” was a renegade Romulan miner who was angry at Spock because Spock failed to get to Romulas in time to stop a star from going SUPERNOVA. Wait, what?

The Transformers 2 plot was so incredibly convoluted that I gave up trying to figure it out.

But, ask any of the average moviegoers (your friends/family) and most of them most likely didn’t even notice, or care.

This is why they goto and prefer mindless entertainment like (the new) “Star Trek” and “Transformers 2.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love explosions and action movies, but both “Star Trek” and “Transformers 2.” literally just threw shit on the screen and let it stick. The action wasn’t just mindless, it was chaotic and unfulfilling.

It’s not just the storytelling, it’s the direction as well. The new, young, and hip directors think that they must “hyper-tell” their story. JJ Abrams nauseating use of “shaky cam,” strobe lights and lens flare, utterly ruined Star Trek. The camera never stayed on Focus on ANYTHING long enough for the brain to register anything but streaks and flashes of light. What’s the point of spending millions of dollars on Visual Effects when they are obscured by poor, hyper direction.

I had the pleasure of talking with author Michael Moorcock back in march. I asked him what was going on with the “Elric” movie, and he told me point blank that it was dead in the water, as the money was gone. He said that there was no way anyone was going to put up the money for something as “Risky” as an “Elric” movie these day.

The studios actually see “Viewmaster,” “Asteroids,” and “Battleship” actually being able to make more money than an Elric movie, and the sad thing is that they’re right.

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