Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Why I Dislike Movies The Current Audience Finds 'Awesome'"

I once wrote a pilot (that didn’t sell) called Seattle Stu, in which Stu – who not surprisingly hailed from Seattle – was a middle-aged newspaper movie critic, whose career was in jeopardy, because he didn’t like any of the movies he was now required to review.  The man had to bend over backwards to say something “didn’t stink.”

Stu’s considerably younger rival at the paper was rapidly nudging Stu into retirement.  Being more in tune with the current crop of movies, he was genuinely enthusiastic about trumpeting their praises. 

The difference in their responses appeared to be generational, the current movies appealing to the younger critic, and less so – to the point of “Oh, Man!” – to his more experienced competitor.

But then…wait before I go to “But then…”, let’s try a disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER:  The “curve” is the curve, and everything fits the curve.  Like the majority of everything, the majority of movies stack up where the curve is the steepest – meaning, they’re average and mediocre.  That’s how the curve works.

Tapering towards the edges are, down one side of the curve, the better and better movies, the farthest edge being the most wonderful movies of all, and down the other side, the “not great” movies ending at “Yikes!”

That is the natural distribution of everything.  And movies are no exception.  Great movies are rare.  The “curve” suggests this has always been the case, and continues to be the case today. 

So, whether the “nostalgia buffs” believe it or not, the number of good or great movies – the curve being the curve – is pretty much the same number as it’s always been.  (At least proportionally, since they used to make more movies.)

The (unasked) question, having been answered – that being, “Are movies worse than they used to be?”, the answer being “Not according to the curve” – the question underlying that question needs to be addressed, that question being, “Then why do they seem worse?”

Which brings us back to “generational.”  Most older people, on the whole, don’t like today’s movie offerings, and they don’t go, at least not nearly as often as they once did.  The younger audience finds the same movies “Awesome”, and go frequently. 

The question, once again, is why.

Here’s my personal view, and on a blog of this nature, would you expect anything else.  Movies have many elements to them.  Using myself as a “sampling of one”, what I’ve noticed is, when I respond to movies, there is one element that heads my priority list of what’s important.  It’s not the stars.  It’s not the spectacle.  It’s definitely not the “volume.”  What matters to me most is,

“Does this movie make sense?”

I understand that it’s not “everybody” but that is primarily what I care about; that matters more than anything.  A movie doesn’t make sense – I’m a guy eating popcorn, waiting to go home.

I have written elsewhere about how the movie A League of Their Own originally turned me off, but I later came to love it.  My original, almost instinctual, reaction was a logical one.  The movie did not make a lot of sense. 

A small example:  The drunken manager, played by Tom Hanks, was touted in the movie as having once been a prodigious home run hitter.  Physically, Hanks did not look like he could bounce one back to the pitcher.

For me, it seems less due to age than “It’s just the way I am” that  “logic” is my first reflex response to kick in.  With movies I originally didn’t care for but came to appreciate upon further reflection, it’s the elements beyond logic that ultimately lead to my more positive reappraisal.  

But these are rare exceptions.  Mostly, a movie makes no sense – it’s off my “Recommended List” forever.  (I will not bore you, or exhaust myself, compiling an ordered rundown of “movies that make no sense”, though, were I to compile one, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would definitely take home Olympic Gold.)

This prerequisite for logic explains why, as a general rule, older movies appeal to me more than the more recent offerings.  With exceptions such as The Big Sleep, which was edited into incomprehensibility, the older movies are more reliable in the logic department.

Logic really used to matter.  During the “Studio Era” of moviemaking, every studio had a “Story Department” that would evaluate the development of the scripts, sending back for revision any effort in which the logic of the storyline did not pass muster. 

And this wasn’t just for the “A” pictures.  I recall watching the “no-frills” movie D.O.A. (1950), in which a man who was poisoned, staggers into a Precinct House, telling the cops, in “flashback”, how and why he’d been murdered, before collapsing dead on the police station floor. 

The movie impressed me, not only with its originality but how, though highly improbable, the story it told made believable sense.

One guess as to why “making sense” once mattered more is that people in earlier times were in the habit of reading novels and short stories in magazines, and those forms of entertainment, featuring editors wielding red pencils, were scrupulously patrolled by the “logic police.” 

The studios expected the movies to make sense.  And so did the audience.

Today, neither the audience nor the moviemakers themselves arrive with that type of background.  Or expectation.  I’m sure today’s scriptwriters try to be logical.  But, judging from the results, they’re either worse at it, or they, and their bosses, no longer consider it a priority.

A contemporary mantra, which often though not always rubs me the wrong way, states, concerning matters of comparison – “They’re not better or worse, they’re just different.”

That may be valid in the final evaluation, but if logic is important to you,

Today’s movies are excruciatingly worse.

Agree or disagree? 

How about a heated debate?


PG said...

I agree!
For example.....while most critics are loving the new Meryl Streep/Tommy Lee Jones/Steve Carrell flick, I squirmed throughout for many reasons.
The idea that a woman/wife who had gone to such trouble and expense to get her husband to a therapist would sit there so quietly for so long mut be every man's fantasy, but seems remarkably off truth, if not downright boring.
The biggest head scratcher came when (spoiler alert....as if) they finally get together on that floor in front of the fireplace in the Nancy Myers inn. Who do you know, their age, who could or would opt for the scatter rug instead of the cosy king-sized bed two feet away? Could you pop down to the floor without a few exclamations of pain or at least some kvetching about your back, leg, hip, arthritis, etc?
Are roaring fires as romantic a lure to old married couples as they once were, or do they just make better visual and cultural references?

I read that this movie was written by a young person who had never been married. No surprises there.

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; There are two types of making sense: makes sense in the real world human emotions, economies, physics and the like; and makes sense in the movie's world, where the real worlds attributes are familiar or may work slightly differently. The latter works if the creators spend some time building their world and if they use Chekhov's gun. When the rules, real or movie, are broken the discord can make a movie go flat.

I agree with you, not enough effort is directed at making many movies hold together. Let's call this the "Buck Rogers Syndrome".


Canda said...

High concept still seems to rule, as it did for many of the studio films of the Golden Era, whether they were musicals, gangster films, or comedies. Out of that came the ocassional brilliant film like "Casablanca". Frankly, I think the 1970s was a golden period with "The Godfather", "Dog Day Afternoon"," Five Easy Pieces", "Klute" and "Shampoo" as examples of well-written, well-played movies.