October 2, 2003


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Somehow, I’ve become a film sadist.

I love watching bad films burn. I laugh when rehashed sitcoms and network dramas get booted after a two week run. The pinnacle of my summer movie-going experience was watching with glee as that unholy mountain of cinematic crap known as Gigli stumbled and collapsed under the immense weight of its own unfathomable stupidity. It gives me hope that there is an end in sight, a time when intelligent and innovative film and television will find appeal to the masses.

But they just keep coming.

Perhaps I was too hopeful when I interpreted the epic catastrophe of Gigli as a sure sign of the coming apocalypse for generic cinema and television. Observing the coming film attractions for the winter and the fall television lineup, I see far too many action films, sitcoms, imitation reality shows, crime dramas, date movies, and superficial emotional dramas; all uncannily similar to some film or show that came before them, and all indistinguishable from each other. It is like a giant cancer growing right on the heart of entertainment, ever expanding and metastasizing.

Film theorists of the 1920s considered the central problem of film to be overcoming reproduction. Yet that sense of reproduction was the mimicking of other art forms, and the hope was that film could distinguish itself. Eighty years later, film cannot avoid reproducing itself, let alone attempt to create an identity of its own. Too many shows and movies are contrived through a formula where action and appearance is all that matters, and development and meaning become secondary.

Though there are a few that achieve uniqueness, film in general seems fated to some kind of repetition. It cannot help it. That is what film has come to be, a synthesis of literature, theater, and painting, a kind of artistic mutt. I don’t hope, like many film theorists of the past, that film on the whole will be able to distinguish itself. But I can’t help but hope that film and television will find a way to stop cloning themselves.

There are films and shows being made that are both intellectually engaging and artistically visionary. Yet when such creations come along, they seem to be cast off to limited release or HBO. Shows like Six Feet Under, or recent films like The Believer and Adaptation manage to find only a limited audience. Worse yet, these films become victims of reproduction by imitators masquerading as filmmakers.

In my optimism, I forget that film and television are industries, and in any industry one principal alone defines what gets produced. Money makes a hell of an argument, and right now it says that the bland and rehashed work. For every Gigli, there are five others just like it that find financial success.

Sometimes I believe there is a dynamic balance to entertainment; the great and brilliant could not exist without the bad and wretched. If every film were artistic, we would see more of those utterly intolerable quagmires of incoherence shown on the Sundance Channel.

But balance seems out of reach when constant production of repackaged entertainment greatly outweighs the original and thoughtful. Equilibrium between the two would be sufficient, but unless the industry is vaporized by a fusion bomb, such hope is futile. I do not want to be cynical, but sometimes I feel I am unable to be otherwise.

Archived article by Zach jones