“They’re tearing down Baker Street!”

Well, cinephiles, the news isn’t good.  An article penned by Neil Smith for the BBC website previews some of the big releases and most-hyped films of 2010 and it’s enough to make any serious film-goer weep in despair.

“The prevailing trend, ” Mr. Smith concludes gloomily, “is towards established film titles from yesteryear given a hi-tech makeover.”

So we can expect more updates and reinventions, the character names familiar but the faces different, with a budget rumoured at around a hundred mill.  Let’s see, just off the top of my head I recall movies based on “The Dukes of Hazzard”, “Get Smart”, “The Avengers”,  “Miami Vice”, “Bewitched”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Starsky & Hutch”; in terms of remakes there’s “War of the Worlds” and “Day the Earth Stood Still”, “3:10 to Yuma”, “The Pink Panther”, “The Longest Yard” and, coming soon to your theater, a nastier rebooting of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise.  We have sequels and prequels…and even the great Ray Harryhausen isn’t immune to pale imitation:  the new “Clash of The Titans”, helmed by Luc Besson protege Louis Leterrier, premieres in Canada in March.

And it would be negligent of me not to mention the highly anticipated “A  Team” movie, which promises to be even better than the original series.

Sweet Jesus.

I’ve written previously of my absolute loathing for JJ Abrams’ take on “Star Trek”.  I thought it utterly vapid, not to mention incoherent.  “Star Trek XI” barely bothered paying lip service to the original, JJ resorting to bottom-fishing Leonard Nimoy in a vain attempt to lend the abomination some small measure of legitimacy (he failed).  The mega-success of that film bewilders me–is the government putting something in the drinking water to make us dumb?  Was that crazy guy  standing behind me at Tramp’s Records down in Regina right and the H1N1 vaccine is a plot by Barack Obama to enslave our minds?

Let us not forget (I certainly can’t), the top grossing film in 2009 was, wait for it…”The Transformers”.

And (the good news just keeps coming) if the present trend continues, Jimmy Cameron will easily top his “Titanic” tally, “Avatar” already pulling in over a billion bucks from people who like their movies big, loud, pretty and predictable.

I get a monstrous headache when I ponder what all of this bodes for the future of film.  Have we reached the creosote at the bottom of the barrel or–

Holy fuck, the Rock as a hockey enforcer and (ulp) tooth fairy?  You gotta wonder what the pitch was like for that one.  And if the guy who gave it the green light was over-medicated that day.  Maybe it was a total whim, a desperate writer, his ideas shot down one by one, goes for broke and tosses out the first stupid thing that comes to mind.  “There’s a hockey goon, see, and he’s somehow cursed and has to take over as tooth fairy…”

But what’s a budding screen writer supposed to do?  Nobody’s buying “high concept” these days and who wants to wait around three or five or ten years to get funding through some indie?  Fuck that.  Everyone knows a writer’s life blood is development dough.  Milk that tit dry, baby!  And all but the terminally moronic have heard the news:  producers and film execs aren’t looking for anything original or different and any agent who wants to keep his “A List” contacts isn’t going to champion a script that’s literate, low-key, thoughtful and utterly lacking explosions and eye-catching CGI effects.

Not when there are old ideas still to be resurrected, a rich vein of nostalgia to be ruthlessly exploited.  By wunderkinds like Abrams and Zack Snyder and Michael Bay.  Comic book fans and video game junkies.  They don’t read anything that doesn’t come with colour illustrations. Not the sort who are interested in niceties like character development and well-rendered, believable dialogue, silences that speak volumes.

And apparently neither are you.

Yeah, you.

You’ve seen many of the films I’ve just named, haven’t you?  And when the end credits rolled, you didn’t feel the slightest bit enlightened or ennobled by anything you’d just seen in the preceding 104 minutes.  You know what you’re doing, don’t you?  You’re padding the box office receipts of garbage films, encouraging the Hollywood mill to churn out yet more garbage.  Charmless, superficial, derivative drek.  Berke Breathed, that old curmudgeon, wrote about the sensawunda that is missing from films these days and I couldn’t agree more.  Two hundred million bucks worth of state of the art special effects don’t amount to a hill of horseshit if your story is thin, trite and cliched.  Sorry, Mr. Cameron.

But most film-goers (apparently) couldn’t care less.  So what if “Cloverfield” was just a tarted up “Godzilla” flick?   Big deal if “300” is historically inaccurate.  They lined up in the driving rain for an hour to see “Star Trek” and will happily, uncomplainingly plunk down forty or fifty bucks when the “special ultimate limited edition” of “Avatar” is released this summer, with hours of bonus footage and deleted scenes and alternate endings and–

Okay, sorry I’m coming across so smug and morally superior.  After all, Mr. Trekkie here just had to see “XI”, didn’t he, even if it was only to confirm it was as bad as I feared (actually, it was far worse).

But that was an aberration.  Something completely out of character for me.  Usually I resist the blandishments of the ads and trailers and ignore the well-meaning twits who say “well, I thought it was different from the usual stuff”.  People inured to the eye candy and mindless, adolescent shite that pollutes theatres and the “New release” section of local movie stores, reducing a once-great art form to utter pap.

The “Star Trek” movie was merely confirmation of what I already knew.  I don’t fit the demographic of contemporary film-goers.  I have pubic hair and a real job; a life.  I left that movie feeling like I’d been swindled by a particularly graceless and inept con man.  The plot was ridiculous, it made no sense and, again, it made gazillions.  I just don’t get it.  These films, the remakes and sequels that show up week after week, are completely devoid of personality and any nuances or dashes of fine detail are entirely computer generated.  What’s the appeal, folks?  Why are you so averse to films that make you think?

Fuck the new “Sherlock Holmes” film, even if Guy Ritchie is directing.  Especially if Guy Ritchie is directing.  Here’s a guy with some talent (“Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”), participating in the utter rubbishing of one of the great characters in English literature.  I’m a fan of the stories, I’m a huge fan of Jeremy Brett’s sublime interpretation of the master detective and I will not be seeing this new version.  Transforming the cerebral sleuth into an action hero is an act of artistic heresy.  For his crimes against the canon, Ritchie should be burned atop a pile of Madonna albums.

Okay, Mr./Ms. Average film-goer, here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to repeat after me:

I am hereby declaring myself immune to hype and vital marketing campaigns; I will sneer at the latest franchise film, scoff at the laughably glowing reviews it receives from idigdumbmovies.com or KCLR Radio Topeka.

“The #1 Movie of the Summer!”

“The motion picture event of the year!”

“The Best Movie Ever!”

Sorry, we’ve hear that before, haven’t we?

It’s been many years since I’ve been the slightest bit interested in partaking of the latest “must see” film.  I avoid the new stuff, instead plunge into the stacks, the “catalogue” movies.  Making forays into Saskatoon and pillaging their main library.  Finding films and checking them off my list.  Old noir, classics of every genre, every era.  The kind of titles that are gradually being weeded out of local rental shops to make space for 50 copies of “Spiderman 6” or an entire wall devoted to the “Laverne & Shirley:  The Movie”.   And I use the wonders of technology, go on-line and track down the movies I’ve heard about, yearned to see for years, decades:  Murnau and Fellini and Dreyer and Clouzot; foreign and silent films, cult curios, visual melodies and meditations assembled and spliced from the zeitgeist.

It’s hard to turn up Monte Hellman films these days (try it sometime)…good Lord, someone’s selling some old Herzog flicks on eBay…and here’s my hero, Orson Welles, snippets from “Filming Othello” broadcast on YouTube .  I watch them all and then seek out the Micheál Macliammóir film diary Welles alludes too.  It’s wonderful , as well.

Recently I secured a copy of the remastered Criterion edition of “M”.  And it’s high time I watched my VHS copy of King Vidor’s “The Crowd” again…

There is more craft, thought and artfulness put into either of those efforts than any flick released in the past ten years.  Maybe longer.  Isn’t that something?  And they’re both at least 80 years old.

The auteurs like Lang and Vidor have died off or grown old.  That image I have of Kurosawa, lying in his coffin, one of his longtime collaborators putting flowers between his toes to hide the bits blackened by frostbite.  From the years spent outside, stalking about cold sets, making sure everything was exactly right.  Now that’s an artist.

The new kids have it easy.  They don’t even have to go outside.  Green screen the actors and add in the sets, backdrops post-production.  Perk up the tits on the leading lady while you’re at it, will ya, boys?  The present breed write with laptops, instead of their hearts and souls.  One eye on the box office, ever eager to please their corporate masters.  Up to and including shooting a new ending for their labour of love, should a test audience of retards grade it too low…

15 comments

  1. liveforfilms

    Some nice points there Cliff.

    However, there is always a place for mindless popcorn movies. Anything that gets bums on seats in cinemas is a good thing.

    True there is a terrible trend for remakes, sequels and adaptions, but there always has been and always will be. Yet amongst all that are brilliant original screenplays that many people end up watching.

    That’s why sites like yours are so important to help spread the word on films you like and hopefully show others who have not heard of them or share thoughts with those who have.

  2. liveforfilms

    I forgot to say, I watched the new Sherlock Holmes film and really enjoyed it. Plus I’ve read all the stories many times and thought Downey Jr and Jude Law were pretty much spot on as Holmes and Watson

  3. Cliff Burns

    Yes, we have to get the word out re: the occasional good movie that somehow manages to escape the Hollywood meat grinder. But it’s also time for us to grow up as a society (I mean here in the West) and start challenging ourselves, our minds, in an effort to escape the all-pervading vapidity that is smothering debate, innovation, artfulness and impeding our moral and cultural maturation. We are what we eat…and see…and read. And if that’s the case, we’d better start smashing all the mirrors around because eventually we aren’t going to like the fat, stupid, lazy bastards we’re gradually transforming ourselves into…

  4. driftlessareareview

    Film is dead, the genius and innovation is now in TV — a more writer-friendly medium anyway. Everything from Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, BSG, Arrested Development, and Dollhouse succeed where films fail.

    The new “Sherlock Holmes” movie wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that good either. As much as I promote reinterpretations of classic literature characters, my only caveat is: “Enough recycling, write something, you know, new.” Ezra Pound’s maxim of “Make it new!” has never been more applicable.

    Speaking of unnecessary sequels, “Hamlet 2” was quite good. It was funny, absurd, and emotionally touching. Plus Steve Coogan starred.

    Don’t be too harsh on Mr. Ritchie. Let’s leave calls of immolation to artists and directors to the Christian Right and the Taliban. Puritans are by their very nature simple-minded, joyless, sexually repressed philistines.

  5. liveforfilms

    Film isn’t dead. Nothing ever truly dies.

    The thing about Avatar, despite what people think of the story is that it has suddenly shown just what 3D can do, which will inspire a new generation of film makers to do things we have never even dreamed of.

    We are not all doomed to be Eloi

  6. Sean

    It would seem as if everything you said is pretty valid. But it really isn’t just film, really. We’re getting lazy as a culture. Another comic book movie? Another first person shooter XBox game? Really? Some guy is gonna make millions of dollars off of it, while everyone else is just gonna lose 60.
    As for getting people into theaters, maybe make good movies and stop making me pay 20$ for popcorn, because right now I far prefer buying the Humphrey Bogart collection at Wal Mart for 5$.

  7. Cliff Burns

    Been watching a lot of Bogie myself lately: “Dead Reckoning”, “Key Largo”, “High Sierra”–you could do worse.

    The complete dearth of originality in today’s films maddens me (as you can tell). But the complacency and idiocy of film patrons is what really galls me. They have little or knowledge of any film more than 5 or ten years old and recoil at the notion (dear God!) of having to watch a film in black and white or accompanied by sub-titles or that is silent. Cutting themselves off from a vast collection of powerful, enriching films that make today’s popcorn movies and CGI orgies look tame (and lame) by comparison.

    Good hearing from you…

  8. geneg

    Remember the Greathouse Law of Entertainment Quality: The quality of an entertainment is inversely proportional to the amount of money spent hyping it. If you use that rule to select which films to see, you’ll see some excellent movies.

  9. Cliff Burns

    A-men. These days, “viral advertising” attempts to hide a plethora of sins. Movie trailers pump up the best 45 seconds of a flick and hope the con job will hold, at least until the suckers have paid and are settled into their seats. Not enough people ask for their money back these days–when a movie’s over and you feel ripped off, cheated, exploited, why not ask for a refund? After all, you were promised “the ultimate entertainment experience”, ‘the most exciting and imaginative movie of the year” and you got stuck with…the fucking “Tooth Fairy”.

    Thanks, Gene–curmudgeons uber alles!

  10. The Necromancer

    I’m sure Jean Baudrillard would have something clever to say about reflection upon reflection that ultimately renders the image as nothing more than a hollow shell. A virtual ghost-image. Hollywood film currently celebrates, with reckless abandon, the necessity of all popular culture to be consumed in this ghastly form of endless repetition and re-reflection.

    Wither the true, living image? Like finding a nickel under your pillow, that…

    And the new Star Trek was pretty lame. The bastards practically killed off the Vulcan race for the sake of a bogus plot point…

  11. mikecane

    >>>You’ve seen many of the films I’ve just named, haven’t you?

    Um, no. I plead guilty to “The Avengers” (on VHS?, which was atrocious) and the reboot “Star Trek” (which I liked).

    See, I saw your name in my blog’s Bookmarks and I smiled thinking of what I’d find here. And I was not disappointed.

    But I have to tell you, Cliff, you really, really floored me: Isn’t Vidor’s “The Crowd” one of the greatest ever?! I should have known YOU would be the only other person who’s heard of it and seen it more than once!

  12. Cliff Burns

    Michael, I believe I’ve made the claim before but I’ll say it again: we were separated at birth. Isn’t “The Crowd” something? Vidor successfully avoids sentimentality and still manages to tell a wonderful love story. Let’s see the rom-com directors manage something similar today.

    I’ve ordered Vidor’s followup to “The Crowd”, “Our Daily Bread”, and I’m dying to see it.

    Drop in any time, bro…

  13. grubstreethack

    I sure am tired of people complaining about how Hollywood mostly pumps out brainless, pointless crap as though it is a new phenomenon. Sturgeon coined his famous Law in 1958, and I’m surprised it took somebody that long.

    The reason it looks like the old days were a golden age of artistic merit is because all the crap that was pumped out at the same time hasn’t stood the test of time like the classics did. Fifty years from now nobody will remember Transformers and Star Trek, and they’ll be complaining that nobody makes brilliant movies like “There Will Be Blood,” “Atonement” and “No Country For Old Men” anymore.

    (Actually, noting those examples I pulled from the top of my head, a much more valid criticism of the film industry is that the vast majority of great films these days are based on books.)

  14. Cliff Burns

    Right now, if it wasn’t for the indie film scene, the fact that the new technologies allow talented folk to make flicks for a decent price, there would be absolutely no reason for someone with any respect or appreciation for cinema to go to the movie theatre or rent a new DVD from their local movie store. Eye candy, CGI popcorn movies and inane horseshit everywhere.

    Funny you mention Theodore Sturgeon, I’m reading his TOUCH OF STRANGE short story collection–while most of the Golden Age science fiction writers were hacks (see? I’m not utterly devoted to the past), Sturgeon and Bester and Clarke at least showed they had some literary chops.

    Thanks for swingin’ by…

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