Cinema is NOT Dying, You Old Crank!Posted: May 20, 2014
I’m writing this post, fighting through an awful cold/flu/headache/backache/whatever-the-fuck, because this shit just needs to stop. If one more cranky old arthouse guy comes out and says that “cinema is dying” I’m going to lose it. This happens every couple of months, it seems, and every time I have to roll my eyes at how whiny and bitchy it always sounds. I don’t care who’s saying it (in this most recent case it’s Alejandro Jodorowsky), but it’s just ridiculous. It is close-minded and irresponsible to suggest that this art form is failing, and you all need to lighten the hell up.
The thing that annoys me first and foremost is that these are guys whose work is so obtuse that even serious students of film don’t like it. It always gives me the impression of sour grapes, that they’re just complaining because their work doesn’t get as much exposure as the latest Michael Bay flick. Now, that may be an unfair assumption to make, but I don’t think it’s absurd to say that if filmmakers like Jodorowsky were the norm and not the exception that film might’ve died out years ago. Movies like El Topo are emblematic of why average people are turned off at the idea of “art”, of something that’s so self-involved and alienating that it barely makes sense to anyone except the person that made it. And while you might argue that if Jodorowsky was the norm we wouldn’t have that sort of reaction to his work, I would point out there are some brave souls that like his work now anyway, in spite of years’ worth of Hollywood filmmaking being shoved down their throats. Every piece of art will find its fans, but for films from the likes of Jodorowsky those fans will be few and far between. So for those guys of all people to complain about what will or won’t ruin film annoys me because clearly their perception of what film should be is very different from the vast majority of the rest of us.
Now, that’s not to say that Hollywood is a flawless system for producing accessible art. Anyone who follows film at all knows that Hollywood is prone to exceedingly dumb ideas that are more dependent on commercial interests and obligations than on actual storytelling. But this is hardly new; the studios have always put entertainment and commerce ahead of “artistic” interests, and that hasn’t stopped them from producing legitimately great films (or film for existing, for that matter). Plenty of great work still comes out of the studio system, and furthermore plenty of great talent is honed in the studio system before taking their clout into the independent world to make riskier projects. And on top of that, without the occasional bloat and predictability of the studios, we wouldn’t get the great counterculture movements that produce some of the most distinctive films of their eras (consider the ‘70s and the ‘90s in particular). So even if you don’t like the usual studio output, it’s hard to argue that studio filmmaking isn’t an essential part of our filmic ecosystem.
To put it more simply than that, to say that a system that has, over the decades, provided us with movies as varied and brilliant as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, West Side Story, The Godfather, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, Alien, The Exorcist, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, The Iron Giant, The Social Network, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia and scores more, is going to kill movies, then I think you’re completely insane. Not to mention the extreme disrespect I think you’re showing younger artists, by not having any faith that their visions and ideas will outweigh the monotonous corporate products.
So no, I don’t think “cinema is dying”. But that doesn’t mean that we as filmgoers can’t consider what we might do to improve the quality of our beloved art form. We shouldn’t be resigned to the needless sequels and remakes and formulaic rehashes. We shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and say “Just turn your brain off and enjoy the ride”. We should actively seek out new and different films and filmmakers. We should take chances on original stories, and judge their success on how much actual STORY there is. I don’t think cinema will ever die, as long as there are people passionate enough about it to make it and celebrate it. Old arthouse nuts like Jodorowksy might worry about Hollywood’s influence on film, but to paraphrase a certain chaotician: the kind of control Hollywood’s attempting simply is not possible. If there is one thing the history of film has taught us it’s that cinema will not be contained. Cinema breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but cinema… finds a way.