Saying Goodbye to Hollywood
I recently received an email from one subscriber about how good cinema was in 1999. When you look at this list, you can see he was right. Banger after banger. A variety of genres. Classics that are worthy of rewatching.
That list looks a lot different than the box office this weekend. Films today are mostly rehashed intellectual property vehicles, super hero films and sequels. I’ve already written about stuck culture.
This isn’t just about 2023. Cinema has looked like this for over a decade now and I don’t think it will be changing anytime soon. For one thing, these films make a lot of money. Moreover, we have entire generations who have grown up on these films and their entertainment palette will consider this to be normal. This doesn’t look “bad'“ if you this is all you’ve ever known.
Don’t get me wrong, good films sometimes do still come out, but they are the exception to the rule at this point. When I look back at the last 10 years, I struggle to come up with that many great films. You can kind of see where all of this is going.
But that wasn’t always the case. The year 1999 was not special. Cinema was a spectacular and relevant medium of art for most of the 20th century. Pick any year and you’ll find a great mix of action, comedy and classic films. Here is 1991, Here is 1979, Here is 1969, Here is 1951. Those box office lists don’t even include foreign films, or genre films like film noir, westerns, historical epics or horror.
You often hear people post on Twitter about how much they miss Blockbuster. but maybe what they really miss are good films.
My theory for why there is so many "I miss Blockbuster" posts on here is not because people miss the actual store but because they miss good films.
Good films aren't really made much anymore.
— LindyMan (@PaulSkallas)
Jun 26, 2023
Sure, old movies still exist. Anyone who wants to get into film can just watch films from decades ago. But that turns into a library. It’s not an art form that is alive anymore.
I’m Not Alone
I’m not the only person to notice that Hollywood is not what it used to be. Quentin Tarantino recently said the current Hollywood era is the worst in history. Tarantino, Spielberg and Nolan have has commented on how streaming movies just come and go in the culture without leaving any trace.
I like to think that it’s a miracle that good films were made in the first place. Think about how expensive it is making a movie. It also takes so much coordination between well-trained staff like actors, directors, writers, producers, designers and a whole crew. It also has to make a ton of money. Johnny Depp has remarked about how creating art in the movie business is extremely difficult.
Matt Damon explains why the end of DVD sales helped kill film. There are lots of reasons for why this once great art is in decline.
In This Newsletter
Cinema has been one of the defining art forms of my life. However, it’s clear that it is going to become much less intellectually and artistically relevant as time goes on. I’d like to devote this newsletter to a few observations from the age of cinema.
1) Will TV replace Film? TV is great but cinema and TV are not the same thing. There are important differences that make cinema a unique and more interesting experience.
2) The Rise and Fall of the Movie Star. Why is Harrison Ford still being promoted as a big movie star at age 80? Can you recognize Tom Holland if he walked into a restaurant you were eating at? Cinema is intellectual property driven now.
3) The Movie Star and the Lindy Effect. During the long 20th century, actors became big celebrities who were worshipped by millions of fans and whose opinions everyone listened. This is a historical anomaly. Why did Romans and Greeks see actors as low status and put restrictions on them? Let’s use the example of Tom Cruise and Scientology to explain.
4) What Will Ultimately Replace Film? A few predictions for the future
Can Television Shows Replace Movies?
In the last 20 years Television shows have done a decent job at blending rich narrative tapestries with meticulously stylized storytelling. This has garnered them a generous amount of critical praise and a burgeoning base of avid viewers. Shows like 'The Handmaid’s Tale', 'Game of Thrones', ‘Made Men’. These extraordinary productions could aptly be described as 'cinematic TV series'; quality television that seems to adopt some of the visual aesthetics and emotional resonance of the silver screen.
But that doesn’t mean TV shows are films. They can encompass SOME aspects of cinema, but cinema is fundamentally about something else. TV is about advancing a narrative. Cinema (when it’s good) can do a lot more than be narrative driven. For example, it can be visual poetry.
Narratives (or plots) have to adhere to a story. Advancing the story is the main purpose of TV shows. Sometimes the narrative can be dull, tedious or even exciting. But you know the narrative follows rules and structure. There will be a conclusion and things will be explained at the end.
Film is about the image. Every scene, shot and moment is supposed to be immersive. Each scene is beautiful for the sake of beauty. There are Twitter accounts that are very popular that just show snippets of a scene or a still image from a film. Each is it’s own piece of art. You don’t see them doing this with TV shows.
An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
— DepressedBergman (@DannyDrinksWine)
Jun 7, 2023
There’s immense pleasure in getting lost in movies, in letting them at times wash over you, letting the images and sounds sink into your body as your mind tries to comprehend what’s happening.
Le cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970).
— Albert Galera (@AlbertGalera)
Jun 26, 2023
Films usually do come with plots and stories. But you’re missing the point if you think that’s what it is about. You’ll end up like this
Film can be flexible with the viewing experience. TV shows resemble a linear mission. A job.
Take the ride-a-along genre for example. Where the director drops you in a world at a certain time and place and lets you just exist in it. There’s a story, but that’s only there to help showcase the world around it. Think of Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. But there’s much more, Chinatown, Tombstone, even the Shawshank Redemption. T
he French film “Contempt”. Godard throws image after image at you, like the fast blueness of the Mediterranean. Personally, I thought Contempt was plot and dialogue-wise a silly movie, but watching it I could feel the hot mediterranean climate so bad that it made me disoriented.
Or take the film Magnolia. It’s essentially a plot-less movie that depicts the lives of multiple characters intertwining in the 90s. The movie didn’t feel the need to hook you with any crazy plots or action. It was a movie about people being people, some extraordinary, some not. Movies like this still exist, following the every day lives of people, like Licorice Pizza, but they are always set in the past. Our best directors do not want to grapple with affects of the smartphone, laptops, social media and contemporary lives.
TV shows also have a problem with showcasing absurdity and satire. Film has no problem with it. Take the films of director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) for example. They are serious but not really serious, comedic, but not really comedic. This ambiguity is difficult to accomplish with TV.
Cinema just hits harder than TV.
Film just have the potential to be much more than what TV shows are. Losing the ability to make good films is a cultural loss that cannot be replaced, in my opinion.
The Rise and Fall of the Movie Star
Subscribe to Premium Membership to read the rest.
Become a paying subscriber of Premium Membership to get access to this post and other subscriber-only content.
Already a paying subscriber? Sign In