In Support of Modern Filmmaking

No offense to Mr. Chaplin, but this movie critic supports modern cinema. “Out with the old, in with the new,” as the saying goes

As Printed in The Lumberjack on Dec. 3, 2009

by Gary Sundt

Every semester, I hear a new complaint about modern moviemaking. Recently, I have heard among film majors and academics that the current state of American moviemaking is suffering from malaise, and it has been since the “Golden Age of Cinema” in the 1970s. It is the same type of thinking that suggests “only foreign movies are good” or “every American movie that comes out is the same.” This is most common among media-arts students, and it’s pretty much a load of bull.

I’ve seen a lot of the films they are talking about. I’ve seen A Streetcar Named Desire. I own Casablanca. I love Last Tango in Paris, Annie Hall and Psycho (1960). On the flip side, I think Gone With the Wind and Around the World in 80 Days (1956) are two of the most overblown and boring movies ever produced.

For most of these classic films, the acting, music and cinematography, while admirable in their time, are second rate in comparison to modern day cinema in the United States. Charlie Chaplin and Brando may have been the “original” silver screen performers, but you’d be hard pressed to convince me they couldn’t be bested by the modern efforts of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kate Winslet, Tom Hanks, etc. And while our past is certainly important, it’s just as vital to recognize the evolution in screenwriting perpetrated by the likes of Charlie Kaufman, Quentin Tarantino and Sophia Coppola. Cinematography and visual effects are obvious moot points, but to end the debate, I offer five words: The Dark Knight and WALL-E.

What all these cynics are overlooking is that originality in moviemaking is now more prevalent than ever. Yes, 2009 has been a year of lackluster movies (oh, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), and no year in the last three decades has been without its fair share of bad. But look back on just 2009 alone, and you’ll find this was the year of Up, Star Trek, Whip It, Where the Wild Things Are, Zombieland, Inglorious Basterds, Moon, Paranormal Activity and District 9. While the applied merits of these films will change depending on whom you ask, it is generally agreed upon that these are good pictures, and most are even great.

Also to be considered is that American independent film was, until this recession, expanding ever more, and it will continue to do so when the economy is back on its feet. This movement, in the last 30 years, has brought groundbreaking films like Pulp Fiction, Strangers in Paradise, Clerks, Do the Right Thing, Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. To say good cinema died on December 31, 1979, is to say none of these films mattered, which is an insult to entire generations of moviegoers raised on them (myself included).

There have always been bad movies. For every five films, one of them might be good. But that one good picture is worth all the financial, creative and emotional risks that come with making a film.

However, here are some current events to warn those who would be deterred from modern moviegoing: Rich Ross, the new chairman of Walt Disney Studios, is putting the Mouse House’s investments in almost solely “pre-sold” films — remakes, adaptations, sequels and pre-existing franchises. If the company succeeds, the other major film studios are looking to go the same route. For those who don’t speak moviemaking, that means no more original ideas. What every generation of moviegoer has complained about, while previously unfounded, is now coming to fruition.

So here’s the take-home message: Not every movie is going to be good, but that shouldn’t stop you from supporting modern-day filmmaking. When something is different, that’s usually a good thing. Intelligent people only investing in what’s foreign or what’s old keeps the non-franchise films from being successful. Just because it has some fancy visual effects, some wacky ideas, some dirty words or (god forbid) color is no reason to avoid a particular film.

Old movies are important, but the movies of today will shape the future of filmmaking. To the people who see only the familiar (e.g. Couples Retreat, Halloween II, etc.), invest in something different. And to the film snobs, go see what looks promising. See Avatar. See Up In the Air. See The Hurt Locker. Have I seen them? No. But I will.

Original ideas are happening — all you have to do is pay the price of admission.


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