I have found myself in a rather dyspeptic mood and dystopian state of mind more and more lately when it comes to contemporary entertainment. And nowhere more than when it comes to movies. Cinema used to reflect if not also be a product of and contributor to Americas greatness. Now it seems to more and more feel like the nation and out politics: low, beleaguered, desperate, unimaginative and out of touch with genuine humanity.
Thats not a blanket condemnation, mind you. Great movies still get made as well as ones that are good, artistic, emotionally fulfilling and satisfying retreats from everyday life. But at the same time there seems to be an ever-greater proportion of lame crap.
Maybe its just me, and the fact that I am older and more discerning in my tastes, and no longer the target demographic for contemporary entertainment, that makes me feel the way I do.
Perhaps the methodology that has brought me to this conclusion is flawed: scanning though the On Demand films available on my cable service. But I think not, even if those factors have an influence. The once silver screen may not have gone fully leaden, but it has corroded and seems now made of flimsy foil. Yeah, Im a snob and aesthete as well as a professional critic. On the other hand, sometimes I simply want to be entertained, and am not even in the mood for art, but at least something good, even if its so bad its good.
But as I click through hundreds of On Demand films I can watch either for free on premium channels or for a fee, I have become increasingly dismayed at how little if any of them I even feel compelled to even try to watch.
I see what I might watch, and my thoughts are: Do we really need more vampire movies? Can I maybe find simply dumb comedy (which can be a delight) rather than truly stupid, shallow and base? Shouldnt historical epics have some relationship to actual history and not, thanks to CGI technology, look more futuristic and unreal than what the past actually was like? Is there a romantic comedy that resembles any romance I might have? And does an action, thriller or horror film have anything more to offer than action, thrills and horror?
Thats not to say that some movies dont succeed as simple entertainment. The recent Angelina Jolie action flick Salt may be slight of plot, but the near nonstop dizzying action made it an engaging experience if not cinematically significant. The thriller Unstoppable about a runaway freight train carrying toxic chemicals kept me on the edge of my chair and even had an underlying message of working man solidarity and respect.
Even remakes can be better. I recently watched the original Oceans Eleven for the first time since I saw it in 1960, and setting aside any silly Rat Pack nostalgia, what I recalled as a fun movie is pretty lame. Then again, my sensibilities have matured a bit since I was six years old. The 2001 version was tight, fun and delightful if hardly deep entertainment.
Nonetheless, the level of quality and even basic intelligence, directorial craft and dramatic skill of actors seems to have dropped precipitously over the last decade or so. Yes, great films do still get made, and some are highly original, innovative and affecting. But the pearls far too often get buried under the swine that Hollywood relentlessly churns out like an industrial hog farm. And I see no signs that the trend wont continue its downward spiral.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2011
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