Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Movies Today: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

For those of you who know me personally, this will undoubtedly come off as a biased diatribe against the current state of cinema. For those of you who don't know me personally, here is the reason that they will think this: I am biased. I lived in Los Angeles for about 15 months recently, working a number of unrelated jobs with some vague and ambivalent goal to write screenplays. Throughout this period, those around me didn't have to be too keen to notice that I was miserable to be in L.A.(note the difference. I wasn't miserable, just miserable to be there). Having grown up in Boston, a boy who worshiped Larry Bird and the Celtics beyond reason and statistics and vilified their west coast rivals, I arrived in L.A. with what you could call a skewed, somewhat myopic expectation of a city built (not with bullets or rock and roll) for the sole purpose of frivolity all in the name of entertainment, money and the pursuit of vanity. To the city's credit, it did not disappoint in any degree.
Now, you're asking yourself, what does this have to do with movies? Nothing really, but we need to understand that, while there is a burgeoning independent film market that churns out some good films each years, the majority of movies today are produced in the location I mentioned above, the city of Angles.
Just for the simplification of this post, I'll use the Academy Awards as a measurement for accomplishment in film. I don't actually believe that the Oscar goes to.......the best in each category every year -- or even the best in cinema -- but generally the nominees paint a decent cross-section of that year's better films. At the very least one could argue that the type of film that wins and the subsequent advertising and attention given to Oscar winners feed future projects (trends like Biopics, Epics, etc. arguably arise from previous Oscar attention paid to earlier films in these categories). So in 1994, the year Forrest Gump took home the golden boy, it was a pretty stellar year for American film. It went up against Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, and Pulp Fiction. If even one of those movies came out today, I would think we had a pretty good year, but from my subjective view, the actors today are great, some of the writing is very good, but you don't get that feeling when you walk out of a theater like you used to. That voice inside your head after you saw Pulp Fiction or Goodfellas that recognized that you had just watched something of timeless quality.

Last year The Departed won. As we've noted earlier on here, The Departed kinda sucked ass. I don't think I'll ever rent it and in 20 years it won't be on any of your shelves. Honestly, check your shelves that you'll have 20 years from now....On there?....Didn't think so.
The average films are still pretty much on par with those of 10 and 20 years ago, and I would argue -- even though the worst movie I've ever scene, Tomcats, came out in the last 5 years -- that the worst movies each year have gotten better. So, pretty much, what I'm saying is that we got a whole lot more decent films, but rarely does anyone in the city that should have been left a desert produce something great or transcendent, and here is why.
It's not the worry that a film will lose money (though this factors in), and it's certainly not that the actors or writers or directors are worse. It's that a broad majority of movies go through so many hands between the arbitrary decision to "greelight" a script and when it appears on screen -- screenwriter, agents, managers, consultants, rewriters, directors, executives, producers, more executives, last minute rewrites, actors who want to try something, and then some more executives, director and editors, producers (aka executives), PR peeps, testing audiences (40% executives), and then hopefully you'll have a final cut, which will then become the director's cut once it becomes a dvd. If Shakespeare passed Hamlet through this many hands, the best someone would say after walking out of The Globe theater would be, "I don't know. It was pretty good. I liked the acting. Cool scene at the end." (side note: nothing I wrote got past the "showing it to buddies" stage)
It's the too many chefs spoil the soup problem in Hollywood. Everyone there and the movie industry (don't call it the industry) itself exists entirely for the purpose of proving its existence. By this I mean that if they shut down all the major studios tonight, we would all wake up and nothing would change -- there wouldn't be panic in the streets and we'd learn to live with the movies we already have. Deep down, Hollywood understands this and has to shell out a lot of money on its support mechanisms -- advertising, PR, magazines, etc.
The result of this is that everyone there, whether working at a talent agency or studio or on the "creative" side, is instilled with the need to put in their two cents. They need to claim credit and latch onto things, so they can justify to themselves -- and to the world -- the fact that they have made a lot of money without serving a necessary role in society. So they set up meetings to discuss the script, and then the writer or whomever has to change this or that, the actors get changed cause an agent fights hard. All moves in this game appear and most likely are arbitrary, but the end results are the same: mediocrity.
To be fair to my friends who are still in L.A., my time there and the time I spent trying to write scripts was more fun than miserable. Even though what I wrote will not be made into a film, I had a blast writing each page. I met a ton of gifted and talented people. I met young, ambitious, brilliant people, but at times this reality only intensified my distaste for a city overflowing with the talent it summons, but ultimately inept at utilizing it.

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