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Monday, 22 April 2013

The Fading Importance Of Movies

Movies have an ever declining importance in society. This is obscured by the fact they are marketed more heavily at us than at any time previous.

But films no longer shape and inform our culture. You look back at the impact of, for example, the films of 1994, 'Shawshank Redemption', 'Forrest Gump' and 'Pulp Fiction', they infiltrated our hearts and minds on a mass scale in a way that hardly seems possible now.

It's partly to do with technology and attention spans. People are more interested in how Zuckerberg tweaks the timeline than how Fincher directs a film, and people are more inclined to sit through a series of YouTube virals that they not only watch, but feel they're participating in. YouTube videos are really about community, a shared experience, the way cinema used to be. 

I was having a Skype conversation yesterday with a friend, about how computer games are now so much more exciting than films. And we feel jealous -- because neither of us are gamers. The release of a new 'Call of Duty' is a cultural event, but a new movie is just a media event, lots of noise but then pretty soon we forget that 'Lincoln' was even made.

The biggest problem is the films themselves. The studio flicks do their best to live up to the stereotype; brainless nonsense chopped up and churned out to the masses. That's why marketing is so expensive. The only way to get us into the cinema is to batter our brains senseless with images and hype, convincing us that "hey, maybe 'Contraband' will be an awesome movie!"

But to see a studio movie, with big stars, mostly leads to disappointment. There was an article today in the New York Times, about how China is completely turning away from American films. The reason is obvious. Here's a quote from the article:

“They don’t want the same old thing, over and over again, the action blockbusters with lots of explosions.”
-Rob Cain.

And then there's independent cinema. Even at the level of no to near-no money, it's hard to find the gems, the market filled with films about twentysomething white hipsters having mild revelations while drinking coffee.

The most creative writers and directors of our time are probably using their skills to create commercials for drinks and foods and cars, because that's where the money is in this industry. It's hard to get work in movies. You start out resisting, because you have artistic integrity, but pretty soon you realise, you have to make a living. 

And even when you find a great movie, the chances of getting that film to the masses is minuscule. The greatest movies I've seen in recent years tend to be independent and foreign films that just don't have the ingredients which equate to distribution and attention. 

Online distribution can potentially change this. But like everything that is great, big business normally finds a way to take it over. Netflix are on our side at the moment, with treats like 'House of Cards' and the return of 'Arrested Development'. But is this really a sway towards good content, or is it only temporary?

I feel the ground is ripe for a new age of revolutionary filmmakers. The modern equivalent of the Spielberg/Lucas/Coppola era, the children of Tarantino/Rodriguez/Fincher. But these filmmakers are in a different playing field. They can't ignore the internet, they can't avoid the fractured nature of modern viewing styles. And the next generation of important filmmakers are going to include women. There are so many unexplored stories that cross the boundaries of gender, sexuality and beliefs.

We live in a unique time. Technological advances so crazy that if we told alien visitors, they wouldn't believe us. And still we're torn apart by religion, greed, fundamentalism and those damn trendy hipsters.

All of this conflict, unrest, confusion, and hope; it means the world is still, as ever, full of stories. It's too easy to get distracted by the toys, to be swayed by market forces.

Our job is to be artists. To write what we can and do it in unique and fascinating ways. It's the only hope we have if we want the cinema to be relevant in this era. 

Care to share?


  1. Great post, mate. The sad truth is that the way in which we consume cinema is changing and this is affecting how movies are being made. I'm not a gamer either so I'm jealous when the majority of my peers get amped up for the latest GTA release while major film releases come and go with no sense of gravitas. On the other hand, with the need for more female filmmakers, as you said, some promising stuff lies ahead.

    1. I guess we need to get into gaming more! My friends wait in line at midnight for those big releases, it makes them so happy!

  2. I really recommend any filmmaker to watch the documentary press pause play which discusses this very same topic and every filmmaker needs to take their cues from Amanda Palmer and Seth Godin.

    1. Great documentary!

      I have mixed feelings about Palmer and Godin, but they're definitely worth learning from in some ways.

  3. I've definitely seen a change in my lifetime in terms of how people view movies. I'm 37 and feel like there was an exciting sense in the '90s that films were truly important and culturally significant. Now, it can happen here and there, but everyone is so fractured into their niches that it's rare. That's the real impact of the Internet in that it creates smaller communities who can focus just on their passion.

    1. You're right. And in many ways - that niche thing is good; it's just that things in many ways get smaller, and for things to reach mass appeal, they try to make them as safe and easily digestible as possible.

  4. Incisive post, 99.9% of all movies are recycled nonsense masquerading as originality. All the talent moved to HBO about 10 years ago leaving the rent boys to suck on the tail pipe of the industrial Hollywood complex.

    1. Agree about the 99.9%. Great when you find that gem though. And your final sentence is interesting!

  5. I don't think I'm quite following your argument - is your point that films have an ever declining importance in society, or would it be more accurate to say that new releases you like are no longer as heralded in society? Sure, it cannot be denied that films such as Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction commanded attention (and also happen to be rather good films), but the place of the cinema within society has not diminished - instead it is the perceived quality of these films.

    For example, Twilight (and it's various sequels) had a huge cultural impact. It didn't generate critical favour, and I doubt the films will be looked upon as fondly as the '90s examples you mentioned (although time will tell), but they mark an interesting shift in cinema's demographic which has been a long time coming. Currently it would appear that comic book movies are demanding the cultural attention (I mean, The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers had an impressive cultural impact regardless of their quality) and I don't see this changing for a little while yet - for better or worse.

    As has been pointed out, the way we are consuming cinema has changed, but that has not affected it's cultural impact. The real issue at hand is the perceived drop in quality of cinema's output, but we're in an age now where there is plenty to choose from and a whole history of cinema to discover. As fans of cinema, we're spoilt for choice and we have it good. And we have the internet, so while the supposedly moronic masses are lapping up whatever big-budget nonsense is currently doing the press rounds, there is a place to congregate and highlight those releases that were perhaps overlooked.

    It is true that there are now so many new films being released that it is becoming harder to find the good amidst the bad, but the truly great cinematic offerings will rise above and continue to play a role in shaping society. They always do.

    1. Hey Liam, it's the former, "films have an ever declining importance in society".

      Twilight is an interesting example, I'll have to think about it. But my feeling is that it was a media event, a piece of hype, like 50 Shades of Grey. But important to society? I don't know.

      "But the place of the cinema within society has not diminished" --- I disagree; films are pretty much irrelevant!

      The Avengers did well at the box office, that is all.

      "whatever big-budget nonsense is currently doing the press rounds, there is a place to congregate and highlight those releases that were perhaps overlooked." -- definitely true, there are always great films to discover!

      "The truly great cinematic offerings will rise above and continue to play a role in shaping society. They always do." - Let's hope!

    2. I don't think it's exactly fair to say that films are pretty much irrelevant, and box office success (or failures) are equally important.

      I think a film such as The Avengers doing well at the box office says a lot about society. Actually, any film which has considerable box office success has to be doing something right to appeal to so many - so even if it's not actively shaping and informing society, it is at least providing an interesting cultural barometer.

      Sure, perhaps the quote "mewling quim" hasn't entered public consciousness in the same way as "life is like a box of chocolates" (which is unfortunate, really) but I think now cinema demands more mainstream attention due to it having saturated the media. It's still impacting society, but I think perhaps now it's doing it more as a mass than through individual films.

      Definitely a topic worth further consideration though.

  6. Does the mass human population have an ever decreasing span of attention where we need things to be delivered NOW? Whether it's film, TV or whatever form of entertainment. Cinema needs to deliver. Deliver bums on seats and change in the box office. The quick solution to that is to produce films that will bring the masses in.

    Or maybe the masses aren't after that. Maybe they're in need of a re-education. Show films that are more rewarding and give back something other than a few hours of entertainment. Maybe the masses need to be given more credit by the marketing machines.

  7. Great breakdown, and I've been mulling over this argument as well for a while now. Aside from the fact that movies today have less of a cultural impact, they just aren't memorable. The 90s was booming with great classics and incredibly unique ideas--Jurassic Park??? Still gives me nightmares. That being said...there are a few movies out there made today that hold cultural impact and do receive appropriate recognition. Take last year's Silver Linings Playbook, a film that hit very close to home for me and got people talking about mental illness, which is more prevalent now than any decade before. Good films these days ARE far and few, but the ones that get it right really nail it!

    1. Courtney, I agree that Silver Linings Playbook was great -- but not sure I agree about the impact culturally? I would say most people I know, who are not in the industry, would have no idea what Silver Linings Playbook is!

    2. Normally I would agree with you on that, but I found a lot of non-movie obsessed folks unlike us were seeing it and talking about it. At least over here they were. It was a good surprise. But other than that, there isn't much out there as of recently :\