September 2, 2006

Where Have All the Good Films Gone?

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I’ll admit it: the concept of Snakes on a Plane piqued my interest. The beginning of a new era in American cinema has arrived when the title of a film provides a reasonably complete synopsis of its plot.

The release of the film brought an end to a disappointing selection of movies released this summer. I do not know what wisdom I expected Click to impart or how Pirates of the Caribbean Two: Dead Man’s Chest could have wrestled with the great ontological questions of the ages. Perhaps I judged the films unfairly because I had seen the same stale attempts at humor and suspense paraded in front of me far too many times before.

I felt somewhat isolated in my dissatisfaction with this summer’s fare. Although I initially refused to see any of the so-called “blockbusters” of the summer, I inevitably found myself drawn back into the theatre, hoping that Jerry Bruckheimer would make an attempt to atone for his cinematic transgressions. Alas, there was no relief.

After shaking my head in disbelief and vowing to myself that this, indeed, would be the last time I was duped by enticing trailers and Internet buzz, I came to a realization:

America’s love affair with bad films can be likened to its affinity for junk food. They’re both convenient and widely avaiable at any number of venues. Overindulgence in either can be devastating. Everyone knows that constant consumption of high fat and high calorie foods lead to poor eating habits and a plethora of health problems. Similarly, could viewing too many bad films have the same effect? If we come to accept and embrace lackluster acting and the values of big budget films (with scarce artistic skill), we only invite more of the same to be made.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I love the occasional terrible film just as much as the next Cornellian. Guilty pleasures are a few of the spices of life. However, what gives these films their value is the contrast between them and something of quality. When avenues featuring quality diminish, a serious problem is presented and meaning-saturated-film becomes a thing of the past.
It seems that independent film has been a refuge for the huddled masses yearning for a breath of fresh air, free from recycled archetypes and tired catch phrases. However, indie films were not always the main outlets for meaningful cinema. The Graduate, Casablanca, Annie Hall and countless other acclaimed films were introduced to audiences in wide release. Why doesn’t this happen any more? Is it that at the end of the day, we’re exhausted and would rather escape than think? Comfort is tempting but yields very little in the way of meaning. Writing that statement cannot help but bring to mind images of “the feelies” from Brave New World. In reality, how far away are we from being reduced to nothing more than hordes of people eagerly waiting to have the sensual aspects of the “real world” played before us? If we become passive audiences, our minds become passive as well. We become numb, we become unaware of our senses and rely on being spoon-fed perceptions of
reality and the world around us.

This, in itself, is quite possibly the most dangerous potential we carry within ourselves. Complacent masses lay the groundwork for any number of dystopian realities to be carried out. While watching a few classic movies will not change the world, it could change your perception. Picking up on slight nuances on-screen and forming opinions about what you’re watching can be a source of fresh insight and inspire you to start asking questions about who you are. Done correctly, films invite us to feel any range of emotions, react and perceive our surroundings in a new light. Regardless of what you watch, whether it is Little Man or The Lion in Winter, take a moment to take it in and do not be afraid to be brutal in your opinion of it.

If nothing else, take a date to see an unsettling documentary or a quirky foreign film. If all else fails, it will make for interesting conversation.