by Allan Fish
You hear it said all the time on American hospital dramas. “Ok, let’s call it, people! Time of death…” With an individual’s life it’s easy to just glance at the watch and blurt it out. Not so easy when you’re talking about an idea. Or a dream. Or both…
Hollywood was once a dream, dreamt up by Cecil B.de Mille and those of his ilk who set out for the West Coast c.1913. There were financial reasons, of course. On the West Coast they could escape the patent laws that were strangling the burgeoning New York film industry. Hollywood was but a tiny settlement near Los Angeles. Within ten years figures like D.W.Griffith, Adolph Zukor, Carl Laemmle, Mack Sennett, Irving Thalberg and Samuel Goldwyn had made it into the focal point of the dreams of the entire western world. But dreams were always such fragile things.
In the early days, the halcyon golden days of repute, Hollywood was self-ruling. They even introduced their own censorship board to avoid government intervention and asked a former postmaster general, Will Hays (if only it could have been Will Hay…), to be their Killjoy in Chief. Much of the fun and adult nature of movies disappeared then, but Hollywood creative talents once sought to circumnavigate the rules, quality still alternated with dross and the likes of Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger had fun watching the Hays Code crumble.
They even had their own control over distribution, until the Paramount Decree changed it all. Studios had to give up their cinemas; they could no longer control whether a film was a success or a duck egg. In addition, TV was waiting in the wings, ready to suck the blood of the tottering monster like a leech. So Hollywood tried new things; widescreen, 3D, Smellovision. They all worked, for a brief time, but the old moguls were ageing and running out of ideas. New blood came on the scene, but even they couldn’t stop the avalanche. People were able to see more adult themes tackled in foreign films in special art-houses. They could look at Brigitte Bardot’s bare bum and nipples or see Jeanne Moreau in orgasmic throes as her lover went down on her in Les Amants, and wondered why they couldn’t see the same with, say, Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield; especially when Playboy spreads allowed them to see just that. The writing was on the wall for Hollywood’s Belshazzar.
So the dam finally broke. Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker dared to show bare breasts but then had to wait ten months after its winning an award at Berlin in the summer of 1964 before getting a home release. The Andy Warhol underground efforts were released as if from solitary confinement and showcased everything from people eating to off-camera blowjobs. John Cassavetes’ cinema vérité efforts were more realistic and in your face than any American film before. Films such as The Group, Point Blank, Bonnie and Clyde, The Trip, The Graduate, Rosemary’s Baby, The Wild Bunch, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider and The Honeymoon Killers came along like a cyclone tearing up everything in their wake. Altman, Coppola, de Palma, Scorsese, Malick, Bogdanovich and other imported talents like Boorman (from Ireland via London), Polanski (from Poland via London), Schlesinger and Forman (direct from Prague) joined the fun. It was a new golden era, but it was only temporary. Sadly a monster lurked in the deep waiting to devour them.
It would be easy to blame it all on Jaws. Historians may talk of how its saturation flood bookings and marketing campaigns were revolutionary, but it hadn’t been the first. In conversation with other cineastes I will often include Jaws as one of the pivotal five ‘rollercoaster movies’, films that changed the landscape of Hollywood, were excellent at what they did, but which first let the poison seep in. Star Wars, Halloween and Alien would follow, but before Jaws there was The Exorcist. It had pretence to art, but was marketed as a thrill ride, something to scare seven shades of the proverbial excrement out of you and still leave you queueing for the mens’ or ladies room as the credits rolled.
Jaws didn’t blow the golden generation away, but it tapped into a market among youths, the sort who had once gone to drive-ins for mindless entertainment where you could take your brain cell out and then pop it back in before turning the key on the ignition to drive home. They needed respite from Vietnam, from Watergate, from political ennui. Intelligent films were still being made after Jaws - All the President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter – but the endless delays surrounding Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and the failure of several high profile films, such as Malick’s Days of Heaven (after which he took a 20 year sabbatical to tend his wounds) and Cimino’s financially disastrous but magnificent Heaven’s Gate were the final straw. If United Artists could sink as if torpedoed a-midships, so could any studio. And several of them had come so close to extinction, so the powers that be weren’t going to let that happen.
But who were the powers that be? Once the studios ran themselves, but Laemmle, Warner, Goldwyn, Mayer, Selznick, Zanuck, Hughes, Cohn and Zukor were all gone. Now those who ran studios were themselves puppets to multi-national conglomerates – many of them from the extreme conservative Bible Belt South where oil flowed like spring water – and they were interested only in making money. So the advertising gurus who once brokered deals on Madison Avenue, the real Don Drapers from Mad Men, joined the fray. Bombard people until they buy a ticket out of sheer submission. Hollywood had always run its studios to make money, that’s a given. But then they had control over it and could accommodate artistic ambitions and pretensions. Once they didn’t, art exited stage left like Snagglepuss. Some critics and directors even made cynical reference to it. When Bob Fosse made Cabaret, Kander and Ebb wrote a new song especially for the film and entitled it ‘The Money Song’. “Money makes the world go around” sang Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. One imagined Fosse smiling through gritted teeth while studio bosses lapped it up. What was a little subversiveness when the dollars still came rolling in? In what then seemed a natural step directors of advertisements started making movies. The late Tony Scott, who committed suicide recently in tragic circumstances, was one such director. Everyone who knew him talks of him being a lovely, unassuming man, and I have no reason to doubt that. Yet if I had to watch Days of Thunder, Top Gun, Domino, Beverly Hills Cop 2 and The Fan back to back, I’d be ready to end it all, too. Harsh, perhaps, but who knows that Tony Scott once made a film called Loving Memory, a beautiful personal piece under an hour in length and worth all his others put together.
After Heaven’s Gate, the fact remains that far fewer great American movies were made. Not what I’d call movies but cinema, films worthy of comparison to the great artistic work still being made in Europe and Asia. There was Blue Velvet, but half of critics and audiences were repulsed; it was un-American, they wanted James Cameron’s Aliens. The rot had already set in. Sergio Leone made Once Upon a Time in America, but the studios hacked it to bits as they had Heaven’s Gate. Like Cimino’s film it built up a reputation in Europe. In Hollywood they were busy praising such mediocrities and safe bets as Places in the Heart and The Color Purple while Amadeus won Best Picture when Leone’s film should have blown all out of the water. I have nothing against Milos Forman’s film, it’s an excellent film, but it was a safer bet, and awarding bodies like the Oscars were happy to acknowledge it. Yet even in Amadeus could one see a glimmer of subversiveness? As Salieri, triumphant over the dead Mozart but living in an asylum, says to the horrified priest “I represent mediocrities everywhere. I am their champion.” And so it was with the Oscars. As the studio bosses brainwashed the masses into thinking Jaws, Star Wars and the like were the peak of artistry, so the Oscars dumbed down, too. Not in giving its awards to Lucas and Spielberg, that would be too much, but in giving awards to films like Rocky, Kramer Vs Kramer and Ordinary People. Films so safe they made you want to scream like Fay Wray. And still to this day, we have gone from giving Oscars to a piece of interminable dross like Terms of Endearment and Driving Miss Daisy, designed to make faux liberals feel good about themselves and trivialising racial tension, to nominating everything in the equally dire The Help. The Oscars tell us A Beautiful Mind and Chicago were art and the best films of 2001 and 2002 respectively. Really? That these fools say they are the best films of their given years is bad enough, but the masses believe them. So while film connoisseurs laugh annually with deepening cynicism at the choices, at the depressing prediction of Crash beating Brokeback Mountain – “no movie about fuckin’ queers is gonna win, you can imagine the hard right mainstays muttering” – it’s AMPAS themselves who are laughing.
Take the Best Actress category for 2011. Nominated were Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn, Rooney Mara for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis for The Help and eventual winner Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. Two performances playing real people – always an Oscar favourite – one in a remake of a better film and performance that weren’t nominated, one in safe racial equality film designed to win awards, and the other for daring to play a bloke. No bad performance there, but among those not nominated were Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia, Anna Paquin for Margaret, Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin, Leila Hatami for A Separation, Mia Wasikowska for Jane Eyre, Deannie Ip for A Simple Life, Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur, Vanessa Paradis for Café de Flore and, heck, Michelle Williams giving a much better performance than as Marilyn in Take This Waltz, all of whom would blow the other five out of the water, but who were in films that were just not Oscar films. Dunst, to take one example, was always going to be out in the cold because actresses in Lars Von Trier films don’t get nominated as punishment for daring to go to Denmark to make a movie in the name of art (the only actress to be nominated for a Von Trier film was Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, but it was her debut, so there was no desertion to punish).
Only this year a foreign film won the award for the first time, and the naïve might see that as progress, yet while The Artist was a well-made film in every respect, it made one think back to the hundreds of better foreign works ignored in the past. Once, back in 1937, La Grande Illusion had been nominated; it had lost to The Life of Emile Zola, which is in retrospect like Mozart losing a best composer poll to Lennon and McCartney. Yet at least then Hollywood had embraced émigré talents; Lang, Murnau, Sjöstrom, Wilder, Ulmer, Von Stroheim, Von Sternberg, Zinnemann, Siodmak, Curtiz, Dieterle, Renoir, Ophuls, et al. Some didn’t last that long, but they all made great films there in their day. Now name a director for whom English is not their premier tongue yet who has made a place for himself in Hollywood in the last 15-20 years? I’ll give you Ang Lee, but he’s still to win a Best Picture Oscar. We have seen directors like Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Susanne Bier and even Michael Haneke come and go (the latter naturally told to remake his own film). Wiser men like Pedro Almodóvar and Wong Kar-Wai don’t get sucked in, while Lars Von Trier is lucky enough to be persona non grata. I am reminded of the famous tale about Sam Goldwyn meeting Sergei Eisenstein, and imagine a fantasy conversation where a million-dollar-salaried suit with the cinematic appreciation of a hedgehog meets, say, Shion Sono and tells the Japanese master “it’s wonderful to meet you, Mr Sono. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed your film Cold Fish. Now I was thinking if you could remake it for us with Adam Sandler. Or do you like Jim Carrey? I can get Jim on the phone right now.” There’s probably someone in Hollywood right now watching a screener DVD of Ann Hui’s A Simple Life and wondering if there was a way they could remake it, with Diane Keaton or Susan Sarandon and a syrupy score by Rachel Portman. If only we could get Béla Tarr to make…Unstoppable 2. Don’t laugh at the back, it probably happens.
But all rants must have a focus. One cannot blame individuals for the disintegration of Hollywood to begin with, but we can blame individuals for taking advantage of it to become like modern day Mephistos. Put simply, “J’Accuse Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.” Lucas is the easier target, he just revamped a Kurosawa film (The Hidden Fortress, still a better film than Star Wars) into a space cowboy tale and made a mint from milking it for all its worth. He then created LucasFilm, his own toy factory, and sat running it like a bearded Gepetto for all the Lucasite Oompa-Loompas he could find. Check your intelligence at the door, children, come in and play, but pay through the nose. Only a year or two back, a bar in an American city who had planned to show all six Star Wars movies on a big TV for patrons to enjoy and talk over was contacted by Lucas’ lawyers, who told the bar owner he couldn’t do it as they didn’t have a license to do it. No matter how many millions he has in the bank, George still wants his cut. Yet his dark influence is nothing compared to his buddy. The real bête noir was and still is Spielberg.
This is a man who claimed David Lean and Stanley Kubrick were his mentors, and yet both would have baulked at just about all of Spielberg’s films. Spielberg was and is the ultimate hypocrite. He’d buy the sled from Citizen Kane and stick it in his office for inspiration, then go back to promoting Poltergeist. He’ll talk of how wonderful it was to sit with David Lean watching the restored Lawrence of Arabia in a screening room in 1989 and be given a running commentary but then say he won’t do commentaries for his DVDs because they detract from the movie. He wants films whose concept can be held in the palm of the hand, for which complexity is a dirty word and artistry is purely a tool for generating greenbacks. He’s like Jeffrey Jones’ Emperor in the aforementioned Amadeus, berating poor Wolfgang for daring to include “too many notes“. And Emperor Spielberg has his own fawning yes men to tell him “the human mind can only take so much complexity – unless it’s about the Holocaust, of course.” He’ll make Schindler’s List but only after making Jurassic Park and even include a shameless merchandise pan through shelves as if to say “mums, don’t forget to buy junior the veloceraptor toy in the lobby on the way out.” In his ‘The Big Screen’ published only this month David Thomson takes the anomaly of making Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in the same year and compares it to Beethoven writing the Eroica Symphony and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ at the same time. Not to denigrate those two opposite ends of the musical spectrum, but I smiled ruefully as I read it. Spielberg lives content and smug in a self-created world where Empire magazine movie readers made him the greatest director of all time. Doing the same futile thing myself only recently, I placed him roughly at number 120 (Lucas not even in the top 400!). And I’d be accused of heresy, but in a world where Spielberg has set up a shrine to himself, I say send me to hell. Or rather subject me to the Ludovico Technique from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and force me to watch Hook, The Lost World, War Horse and The Color Purple over and over till my brain turns into a cabbage. If I could change anything in film history, if I could go back in a time machine – it seems appropriate to be in a DeLorean with a flux capacitor, for the sheer irony – and prevent any one person building up such control, that person would be Spielberg. It would mean doing without Schindler’s List, which is, faults aside, a great film, but when we have Shoah, Nuit et Brouillard and Laurence Rees’ TV series Auschwitz isn’t it rather redundant anyway? And besides, what makes one doubly angry with Spielberg is that he should know better. The man is a considerable technical craftsman, but one who prostitutes his talent. He could have been another Kubrick, another Lean, but the money was always more important. He may not have caused the demise of Hollywood – that would be like saying gangrene killed a soldier when it was the wound he received that caused the gangrene that was the problem – but he was the one who benefitted from it and exploited it most effectively. I berate him as I would anyone who takes the easy option.
Now Spielberg and Lucas die-hards will prostrate themselves at the feet of their Gods’ shrines and bemoan that these films really have depth and layers that aren’t immediately visible. To them I would argue this; firstly, they don’t. If a fanatical follower of something wants to he or she can find layers in The Land Before Time XIII and believe it the equivalent of Hitch’s Vertigo. Secondly, you can bet your bottom dollar the makers weren’t thinking of depth when they wrote it. And then there comes that well-trotted out defence; “well, millions of people love them.” To this there is a double-barrelled blunderbuss response, too. Firstly, that the media makes us love them by far from discreet persuasion, hammer on the head advertising, suggestion, brainwashing…insert your own euphemism. Ask your average UK film follower to name two industry periodicals, you won’t find many votes for Sight & Sound. Empire and Total Film magazines are their Bibles. Browsing through this month’s Empire in WH Smith on Preston station, I saw Blu Ray reviews where the Universal Horror box set gets only **** for the films while the Indiana Jones quartet, none of which were great and two of which were worthless, gets a big red *****. What can inquiring young minds do against such brain-washing when their Bible of choice is basically just there to fawn at the studios big releases and promote Spielberg as God? As Nick Wrigley, founder of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema DVD label, said on Twitter only a few days ago about Empire, it’s “100% puff-piece industry car-waxing.” And that’s being kind. And then there are the film guides, which are now all but defunct. The Halliwell was scuttled by its own publisher Harper Collins, the Time Out ceased to exist when all its pieces were made available online. We have the Radio Times Guide, but it’s written by nearly as many contributors as there are films so there’s no sense of balance. Oh, and the Maltins. Safe, predictable, frightful Maltins with its default **½ for anything complex, minimum of *** for anything by Disney, virtually non existent coverage of foreign films because it only lists some of those shown in L.A. (a pittance compared to New York). This is the guide that has Hidalgo and The Human Stain at ***½ and has Pearl Harbor at **½ ahead of Taxi Driver at ** and which criticises the remotest sense of anti-Americanism so that one half expects the Star Spangled Banner to play when you open its cover like one of those pop up birthday cards. One admires Leonard for his knowledge of animation and of classical Hollywood, and he seems a very genial and popular man, but the coverage of especially 1980 onwards is a joke. I still buy it every year, but only because it’s cheap and I can have a chortle. That’s what true film fans are reduced to.
And the second response, I hear you remind me? Defenders of popoulist trash and their uses of the masses. Yes, the dear old masses, who don’t need a leader so much as a sheepdog and a whistle. The masses used as a defence by Spielberg’s devotees once used to go to public executions, to watch people torn to shreds by lions in the arena, to lynch people for fun and now turn in to watch Britain’s Got (No) Talent and are told by right wing bastions like the Daily Heil Mail where to vent our spleen (Charlie Brooker’s Daily Mail Island, thankfully on Youtube, is now more prescient than ever). And don’t let yourself be conned into believing shows like Talent are to promote individual talents; they’re to make money for other Mephistos like Simon Cowell by tapping into humanity’s basest desire to see people make an ass of themselves in public. When Hollywood recently made The Hunger Games, the levels of irony were enough to make one’s head spin. But not as much as the irony of me being reduced to the sort of polemical rant worthy of the Daily Mail to voice disagreement to it.
Everything’s about making money. It’s even gone into the home video market, and has increased since the digital age of DVDs and Blu Rays. Films are released only for director’s cuts, special editions, extended versions and the like to follow hard on their backs. And don’t kid yourselves that these are REALLY director’s preferred cuts. Directors have enough clout to get the films they want out there. True, one can list Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, as he openly stated that a longer more faithful version would follow on DVD before the cinematic release. But then seek out the supposed extended version of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. The scenes of Russell Crowe wandering o’er the battle camp at night did add something to the piece – “a little touch of Maximus in the night” as Shakespeare might have put it – but one reinstated scene used dialogue already played out in another. In other words, it was a scene lost from the editing process very early on, the dialogue from which Scott and his scriptwriters had then incorporated into another scene and forgot about. That is until someone just plonked it back in incongruously. With one or two exceptions, these are not director’s cuts in any sense of the word. They are Accountant’s Cuts and are designed purely to squeeze more money from you. As are the Anniversary releases; The Wizard of Oz has been released more times than I care to remember and is seen as the ultimate children’s story. Who cares that its sentiments are the sort Conservatives would applaud; know thy place, do not leave your home, the grass is never greener. “It’s dangerous out there, Aunty Em! Close the gate, Toto might run off.” Warners release it every year or so, now on Blu Ray, with promises of vac-packed specks of glitter from the original ruby slippers, and yet still we wait for proper DVD releases for such silent masterworks as Greed, The Wind and The Crowd. Greed, it seems with bitter irony, is bad.
It isn’t all the fault of the movies, though. It’s merely a portion of the media and the whole media charabanc is designed to dumb down, play it safe, and tell the masses what they want to hear. So when George W.Bush needed a reason to avenge his daddy and go to war he invented Weapons of Mass Destruction (Distraction would be more accurate), it was so easy when effectively all of America’s media were owned by just six corporations – NBC Universal, News International (the Murdoch absorbasaurus), Viacom, Disney, Time Warner and CBS. Just take a look at what these monsters own and see where the problem lies and why anything we see in various different media is to be taken with a huge pinch of Saxo. There were always individual examples of it, dating back to William Randolph Hearst and even to his father George (remember him as the villain in Deadwood?), but nothing on such a complete and absolute scale as this. Take an individual hypothesis. If Universal has a film out they want to make unbelievable sums of money, what resources do they have? Universal Pictures is part of NBC Universal, so they can rely on NBC programmes and reviewers to rubberstamp it. Not to mention the Sci-Fi channel and its publication. Then take another, Warner Bros. They can rely on exposure online on AOL. They have Time, Sports Illustrated, Marie Claire and People magazines. On TV they have HBO, Turner Classic Movies (trailers for the new amongst the gems of the old), Warner TV network, TMZ (nice to control the gossip, too, like the good old days of Uncle Jack in the 1930s)…the list is endless. With that sort of back up expressly tailored to let each sister tributory make a buck, how can one remotely trust what we’re being told?
So if we have the news and our daily lives so dictated by the media might of the six – the old Hollywood najor five were small fry in comparison – how hard can it be to dictate, say, TV? And the disease has spread across the pond. In the UK we’re now force-fed The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother and other execrable shite – no kinder term – and made to think these are the best thing since Warburtons sliced toastie loaf to allow bigwigs to send original and creative programming to the wasteland; or BBC4, as it’s otherwise known. One could perhaps forgive it of commercial TV stations when revenues and advertising are everything, but it’s even affected the BBC. We, the viewing public, pay the license fee, but we still have garbage rammed down out throat. And while original work is made, great TV dramatists like Alan Bleasdale cannot get their dramas made as they are too controversial, too incendiary, too likely to upset the status quo. Even safe costume dramas have been affected. When in 2008 Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Little Dorrit didn’t attract as many viewers as Bleak House had three years earlier, they pulled his forthcoming adaptation of Dombey and Son. Give the public what Dickens they want, the bosses said. And we got another pointless version of Great Expectations, which was naturally mediocre. In the US, thank God there’s HBO we all say, free of Network TV stations run by the hard right killjoys. Yet even they have to have revenues. Series such as Deadwood and Rome had their plugs pulled prematurely and cruelly so The Sopranos could eke out another year or two. Game of Thrones meanwhile only went into production in the first place because of the guaranteed audience of the avid fans of writer George R.R.Martin. Had Thrones been an original series, it would not only never have got the green light, it would never have made the traffic lights in the first place. And while the merchandise still sells by the frigate-load all is well, but as soon as ratings drop for a season or more, the suits will get itchy trigger fingers, even if the series is reaching its natural end.
Art is a funny thing to quantify. To these eyes and ears it exists for its own sake, to enrich the collective culture of the population. If you can make money out of it, all well and good, but how many artistic geniuses have died in poverty – Mozart, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, the list is endless – and how many have died young, their creative light literally burnt out? The cinema has had a few of these, too, not least Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but he was never interested in making money, merely in staying busy, and using drugs to keep the fire burning when tiredness threatened to creep in the back door. He died at 37, but did more in those 37 years than any Hollywood filmmaker of the last 40 years has in twice that time. One recalls Wagner in Syberberg’s Ludwig Requiem for a Virgin King, berating all the pleadings of his creditors and employers with “Es ist für kunst”(“it is for art”). Anyone trying that in Los Angeles would be frogmarched to the local loony bin; “get this asshole outta here, what do they think we are, the Metropolitan Opera?“
Independent cinema was a shining light for a brief happy time in the early 1990s, until those small companies were brought up by the larger companies so they became merely tributaries of the same sewage-filled river. And in doing so, even independent cinema developed their own formulas, their own money-making strategies and were absorbed by the greater whole. Occasionally we’ll get some good stuff come along, but it’s not by design more by the law of probability. 2007 was one such year. No Country for Old Men won Best Picture and was probably the best Best Picture winner of its decade. Yet while in itself a great entertainment, the Coen Brothers themselves were now part of the establishment. Greater films that year – There Will be Blood and the criminally neglected The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - were never going to win the big one.
Staying on that subject, take a look at the career of the man seen as America’s greatest living director, Martin Scorsese. He was one of the original movie brats, the man who gave us several masterpieces before turning 40 and yet since then, has had to mix and match projects. One for them and one for me, as he admitted in his BFI documentary A Personal Journey Through American Film. He finally won an Oscar only in 2006, for The Departed. Now The Departed is not a bad movie; far from it, it’s greatly enjoyable, but it’s a remake – little wonder Spielberg and Lucas were there to present him the award as if to say “now you’re getting it.” That Marty won his award for the film which most adhered to Hollywood’s formula is depressingly ironic. Taxi Driver had lost to Rocky. Raging Bull to Ordinary People. GoodFellas to Dances With Wolves. And if not quite a great film, Casino wasn’t even nominated when Braveheart beat Apollo 13! Yet The Departed wins, and by 2011 he was reduced to making a kids movie, Hugo. Yes, it was about early cinema history, he did it for his small child and it was very good on its level, but even so. Marty should be giving us his late masterpiece, instead he’s reduced to cinematic etch-a-sketch. Watch Casino now and hear Ace Rothstein’s final narration: “the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland.” For Marty and the true film buffs around the world Ace may just as well have been referring to Hollywood. Do we even have any masters now among the younger generation? We may have Paul Thomas Anderson, but how damning is it that when asked to name the masters of the new Hollywood we’re expected to accept just one as an adequate return and see dubious half-talents like Wes Anderson, David Gordon Green, Jason Reitman and Richard Linklater raised way beyond their worth. Indeed, I’d take Ben Affleck’s work as a director over them any time, flawed or not.
So what is Hollywood now? To me, and I have used this analogy often, it’s a corpse on the side of Sunset Boulevard, road-kill being devoured by jackals in suits. Anything original comes along, it is immediately sequelled, prequelled, franchised, remade or regurgitated until its original has become so hated by serious film buffs they never want to watch it again. Once that dying carcass has its lifeblood sucked out of it, they move onto another. Tarantino was once a shining light, until he believed his own press and regurgitated the same stuff again and again – Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction seem a lifetime ago now. We’re left with a depressive state of affairs, where excellent movies may be made in America, but where they will be the exception that proves the rule. And what’s more, it’s only going to get worse. So long as impressionable people are told that Spielberg and Lucas are Gods the creativity of American film is going to remain in a coma just waiting for someone to pull the plug on it completely. To those defenders I can only shake my head in disbelief. It’s their defence, and our continually falling for their so-called mastery, aimed at 12 year olds, which is killing American film. These defenders compromise increasingly, accept the volume of trash for a few crumbs of incidental comfort from something half decent, which in turn more often than not gets over-praised such is the dearth of quality, but it’s a downward slope that gets increasingly treacherous. Admire Spielberg’s best films if you must out of some misguided subservient loyalty, but be aware that there are dozens of greater filmmakers in the world taking risks that Spielberg would veto at the first opportunity. One is left feeling like Chuck Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes, staggering along the desolate beach of what was once American cinema and coming across a statue of Eliot and E.T. on that BMX; the thought of Spielberg enough to make one shout out “you bastards, damn you all to hell!”
Time of death…