Thursday, June 30, 2005

do the movies suck?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2005 at 11:56 AM

"Why are the movies so bad?" That's the question posed by Rob Nelson to critic David Thomson in the Minneapolis City Pages this week. Thomson, author of The Biographical Dictionary of Film, has argued for years that the movies are dwindling to a flickering shadow of their last golden age (roughly from 1967's Bonnie and Clyde to 1975's Nashville). Now, with the movies stuck in their worst attendance slump in decades, he's got evidence to suggest audiences agree.

"It has been going on for too long that these films—which we know are costing the earth, and which we're having to pay a portion of the earth to see—get hyped and reviewed and talked about and yet we know they're not very good," Thomson says. "You talk to people time and again and you find that they're coming away from movies disappointed." Thomson refers sadly to the bygone days when The Godfather and Chinatown were conceived, produced and successfully marketed as grown-up fare, grim endings and all.

As a kid back then, my first-hand memories of the "golden age" 1970s are mostly stuff like Earthquake (in Sensurround!) and this one (shudder). But the PG-rated gems I got to see between them—Woody Allen's Sleeper, say, or Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise—made for a pretty interesting average. It's the current average that Thomson really bemoans—the reduction of mainstream entertainment to one uniformly irrelevant comfort zone.

I think there are flickers of resistance, mostly from genre movies like the current one-two gut-punch of Land of the Dead and War of the Worlds. In their gory, allegorical way, these movies have more to say about their times than most of last year's Oscar nominees. The vast majority of the rest, however, are not so much bad as mind-numbingly level. Something like The Longest Yard or The Perfect Man isn't even bad enough to stand out. It meets the same mediocre modicum of slickness as the rest; when it's over, you're not even sure you've seen a movie.

Are old movies really better? Do the new ones really suck? All I know is, I'm glad to hear my Heaven Can Wait and Point Blank DVDs just shipped.

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