There is something magnificent about watching the way cinema has grown, traversed, and metamorphosed over the years. Flickering images without agenda became visual poems to the human condition; these poems became harsh, reflective realities and calls to action. We have over time had a consolation in our personal upsets, frustrations, and fears that our unified voices were being represented by a medium at times silent, at times loud, but always brilliant in its communion.
Where did that beauty go?
I have dissected the dissolution of Hollywood's previous majesty in past articles, (most particularly in YouTube Killed the Movie Star), so I will not repeat past assertions. The world has changed, we have changed, and it only makes sense that our most powerful artistic venture changed with us. In a way, we have outgrown film, or at least outgrown Hollywood. The appeal, fanaticism, and excitement is not as palpable nor as necessary as it once was. Its accessibility renders it obsolete; our own narcissism dilutes its usefulness. With so many actors, directors, venues, and products, films are now mere topics for conversation or happy distractions rather than monuments to our race. In a strange way, movies are like they were in the beginning: random, nonsensical pieces of action, without real purpose, haphazardly thrown together to reach the populace. (Arrival of Tongkin Train was no masterpiece). I accept this. The difference is that early film was made out of fascination and a drive for creativity-- movies made for the people. Today, movies are contrived, recycled standards adhering to the tested and approved structural staples that have made cliched products of what was once a movement brimming with integrity. This, I cannot accept.
My reaction to this phenomenon has been a painful one. Anyone who knows me associates me with one thing: film. My entire being is wrapped up in it. God knows why... That's just the way my mind was geared and where I eventually landed. Movies were my safe place, but moreso they were a place of inspiration. Just like reading a good book or seeing a great play, watching a powerful, well-made film makes you want to live-- fully, richly, passionately, ferociously, romantically, exponentially. It makes you want to be more than you are. It makes you want to be better. Yet, the original adrenaline rush and sense of hope that I once felt while settling into my seat at the theater has been replaced by a case of the doldrums and low expectations. I am tense as the credits roll-- please let it be good-- whereas I once merely sat back and waited for intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual elevation to set in. I savored the feeling of the wheels of my brain cranking, my heart's pulse racing... My eyes were once wide in eagerness. They are now half asleep with indifference.
Perhaps this is a result of my own personal maturation into adulthood-- the old camera tricks don't work on my (hopefully) more developed mind. But, I think the issue lies deeper. If I have aged, there should still be offerings on the silver screen to represent me. There are not. Ah. There it is. The problem. I and my generation have no voice on the silver screen. We are mute, brain-dead, plastic, disconnected. I sit in the theater and think, "Where are my people? Where are my stories?" I grab my throat, I clasp my chest, I try to scream-- but no sound. Silence alone echoes, accompanied by blank stares and enhanced by a brigade of either easy, go-to, sexualized scripts lacking in depth or Action Movies by Numbers 1,2,3... There are brilliant moments, there are some laughs, but the soul is missing. The movies are not talking to us anymore, and thus they are not talking for us.
In every generation of film, there are movies that come to represent the strange tension that occurs when the youth generation inherits adulthood. For my grandmother, it was Rebel Without A Cause. For my parents, it was The Last Picture Show or The Graduate. In some way, the movies were describing the current tide, reflecting society's inner mania and confusion. Images, dialogue, and pretty or not-so-pretty faces, represented our need to resist versus our need to acclimate. We yearn for independence, adulthood, freedom, yet fear the restraints that come with it. Our stories were interpreted many times over, and (gasp) they never got old, because they explained us to ourselves in new ways-- in ways that we all understood, because we were going through it separately but together. Movies correctly translated what it meant to be alive in every era during every era. We grew up and in the movies. The movies were us. We had a voice.
Where did that voice go? While perhaps a director like Quentin Tarantino represents us well in terms of style-- blending genres, fast-paced, head-splitting, dialogues and super-charged visual stimuli--he is too specific in his storytelling. He is an entertainer, an illustrator, but not an orator. He tells us not so much who we are, but who we want to be in our fantasies or nightmares. While I can watch his films or Nolan's or Finch's and be moved and see pieces of myself, I do not see myself in toto. This is criminal. For, without a voice, what will my generation have to pass on? What legacy leave behind? The only genre making an active commentary is comedy, via the always current and satirical "SNL" or "South Park," but somehow this is not enough anymore. The joke isn't funny anymore. Not to me. When the generations to come look back at "my time" and see only "Jersey Shore" and Magic Mike, what will they think of me? They won't. They will see only a fracture in our creative process: the dark age of celluloid. But is this dark age permanent? Or can we somehow salvage the once proud Ark that has become a sinking ship? Is there a J.D. Salinger waiting in the wings to carry the weight of our consternation?
My greatest frustration is that this, despite the at times existential hysteria that seems to be exhibiting itself, is a fascinating time to capture and lend voice to. The World is changing before our eyes, and there is so much to comment upon-- so much we gain technologically and socially, and so much that we seem to be losing. We have Facebook, which connects us to people we call 'friend' but with whom we cannot hold a conversation in person. People don't date anymore, or call each other on the phone with an awkward vocal exchange. Instead, they break-the-ice on Match.com, etc.The standard of living and the expectations of familial structure have changed as well. The totems of spouse, children, and home make way for latent adolescence and extended periods of "finding ourselves," yet this liberating freedom only serves to cripple us. Without these staples in life as necessary pillars marking our ascent and success, how do we know that we are succeeding? What does it mean to grow up anymore? How does one thrive without structure, or money for that matter? People keep looking to government and politics to give us answers, and Republicans and Democrats keep frothing at each other for the almighty solution, but the truth is that the world can't be fixed. Once you fix it, it changes yet again. It becomes something else. That something else soon needs fixing. The problem is us. So who are we, and why isn't anyone talking about it?
Our issue is that we have too much, or had too much, and the wide open world has become a terrifying vacuum. With a world full of "stuff" there is little room for people. We enhancingly become dehumanized, and thus our movies reflect it. There are no humans in Hollywood. There are super-heroes, super-models, or trusted two-dimensional character types. I could deal with this back when it was the exception and not the rule, but when I look around me and don't see any vestige of humanity, it becomes a terrifying contradiction. The flesh and blood of our craft has drained out, because we don't know how to talk to each other anymore. If modern cinema is saying anything it's " bluuurrrrgh..." Or am I the only one who feels this way? So again I ask, "Where are my people?" There are talented people out there, working, making decent films. We aren't creatively handicapped-- we're amazing in our innovations. It is our message that is scrambled. We are speaking the wrong language-- one that is either sentimentally clinging to the past, acid-tripping on a streamlined future, or mumbling gibberish between pieces of popcorn about our current, artistically undernourished (and apparently unapologetic) present. Our apathy and adherence to the concepts of dollars and cents and classic story formulae has become that knife stabbing our own backside.The more silently we sit, the more we drive said knife in deeper.
What is the solution, you ask? I think we have to storm the battlements. In this case, I make a call to action to my brethren who seek to resuscitate a dying medium. We have to take the studios down by using our own creativity against their statistics and test audiences. We have to want more, demand more, and most importantly do more. It is no secret that Hollywood is out of ideas, that every film out there is a tweak on a homogenized concept already produced ad nauseum. The big guys need our help-- what they possess in drive they lack in vision. They don't know what we want anymore, and they're too scared to take a risk on a new visionary, because what is "new" hasn't been tested. Thus, the only venue we can use to get to them is the independent film: the auteur's way of saying, "Can you hear me now?" While studios can't see past the nearest buck, WE can. If they won't take a gamble on us, WE can. Just because they won't listen to us doesn't mean we can't sass them back. Hollywood didn't know what to do with some of its greatest contributors of all time-- Bette Davis, or Greta Garbo, or Rudolph Valentino. These individuals crafted their own art , defied convention, succeeded, and then the studios took the credit. Therefore, the power has never been in studio hands. Nor is it now. The power lies in us. So, instead of standing around like cattle in an open field not going anywhere, let's at least start moving again. We're overdue for a pilgrimage.
These may sound like the mad ravings of a lunatic in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and that I can't deny. In fact, I agree. I am at my wit's end. I confess. But I won't go down without a fight. I won't let Twilight be the lasting commentary on my generation. Where is my generation's Scorsese? Where is my Wilder or my Kramer? Where is Noel Coward or Nunnally Johnson? WHERE IS BRANDO? I know you're out there. I don't mean that we should make replications of these past geniuses. That is part of the problem. Hollywood keeps trying to recreate what worked before, but what worked before is useless in the present. We need to dip into the pool of "now." We need to introduce new artists who, most importantly, are people and not products. The only thing that the public has consistently latched onto anyway is authenticity. We want what is different, not the same. Can you hear me now? The mainstream media tries to refute this. They say to make it in Hollywood you have to "play to game," but we are all losing. This game has no winners. Let's stop playing. Let's talk to each other. Let's talk to each other. A society without forward motion, without progress, is no society at all. It is a bowl of festering fruit. We are the Gods of our own creation, so let's not leave it up to the number crunchers anymore. Why leave our souls at the door, if our souls are the only things worth communicating? Let us make movies in our own images again. Let's be interesting. Let's be invested. Can you hear me...? Can you hear me...?