I must be getting old because I find myself referring back far too often to my youth and how things “used to be.” Granted, I came of age during Hollywood’s second Golden Era: the 70’s. Actually, to be more accurate, I started living and breathing cinema in the late 60’s and was exposed to first releases of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and BONNIE AND CLYDE among so many others. And for a good decade or more, films were a sight to behold. Daring and edgy while dipping ambiguously into alternate realities and tackling subjects and characters with an inner desire to strip away the outer layers and look closely at what lies beneath, all the while pushing the boundaries of the medium in a way unseen to date.
So in my old-age, I have to shake my head slightly when I hear directors like Zack Snyder hailed as “groundbreaking” and “visionary.” Now I have nothing against Zack Snyder personally, but I have yet to witness any real visionary storytelling in his films. I haven’t found any of them downright “bad”, but they have sadly left me feeling rather empty. DAWN OF THE DEAD stripped away the social commentary that made the original so damn effective. And 300 looked really cool, but was ultimately lacking in character or depth. At least for my tastes. WATCHMEN isn’t a horrible film by any stretch and there are some interesting themes and moments, but at the end of the day, I was bored through a good portion of the film and almost walked out in the first half hour. I found myself slightly more involved as the film continued, but only slightly. And as for the visuals, as with 300, the images were ultimately empty, though at times striking. These films left me with very little to hold on to after the end credits rolled. I never felt challenged or stimulated or moved. These films never got past my first layer of skin, no less into my gut.
The world of special effects these days has dulled something in film for me. When used sparingly, it can be a wonderful tool. However, when a film is allowed to ride on its effects budget alone, the results are often artistically disastrous, regardless of box office intake.
The STAR WARS prequels were vapid. Yes, even REVENGE OF THE SITH which, despite the claims of those desperate to find something of value there, was a lesson in non-storytelling. It was a wonderful display of effects devoid of performance or script.
The other side of the coin could be, say, the recent Swedish vampire flick LET THE RIGHT ONE IN which used its effects sparingly with the result being that each effect was a part of the story and therefore had far more impact than if the film were an effects extravaganza, as the American version would have been (or will probably be).
And then there are films like STRAW DOGS which I had the pleasure of watching again recently. You know, when all is said and done, STRAW DOGS is a film that could only get made today as an indie. If that. Very few locations, a handful of great actors, a challenging script and theme, and a director with something to say and the talent to say it. It is the powerful and incredible editing in STRAW DOGS that is its greatest “effect.” So you won’t see ANYTHING like STRAW DOGS worming its way through the Hollywood system today. No, not without having its guts removed piece by piece until any trace of humanity, artistry and/or meaning had been thoroughly stripped from it. Sorry to be such a sad sack, but it’s the truth. And, sadly, even the indie world is filled with filmmakers yearning to walk away from the creative goldmine that is indie filmmaking, to pass into the ranks of Hollywood star directors. Just like so many visionary foreign filmmakers who come to Hollywood and never make another film of vision or substance. I take my hat off to the Pedro Almodovars of the world who recognize the glory of their current situations and turn away from the siren’s call of Hollywoodland.
So it was that when I read Kyle Smith‘s review of WATCHMEN in the New York Post, my head shook uncontrollably with despair:
Director Zack Snyder’s cerebral, scintillating follow-up to “300” seems, to even a weary filmgoer’s eye, as fresh and magnificent in sound and vision as “2001” must have seemed in 1968, yet in its eagerness to argue with itself, it resembles “A Clockwork Orange. Like those Stanley Kubrick films – it is also in part a parody of “Dr. Strangelove” – it transforms each moment into a tableau with great, uncompromising concentration. The effect is an almost airless gloom, but the film is also exhilarating in breadth and depth.”
Really? Comparing Snyder to Kubrick? REALLY? Luckily, my loneliness and horror can be eased by comments like Kenneth Turan‘s in the Los Angeles Times:
Despite being prematurely canonized by the film’s publicity apparatus, Snyder stands revealed here as more of a beginner than a visionary in his uncertain approach to making an on-screen world come alive.
Now I know my comments here will be met with some hostility from the fans of the above-mentioned films, but like I said, I’m just some old fogey complaining about how things were when I was younger. “Back in the day,” as they say.
So I’ll just shut up and go back to my little home theater to take in another viewing of THE CONVERSATION or MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER or POINT BLANK. And maybe I’ll follow those up with some antiquated old-timer fair like BLACK NARCISSUS or THE BIG PARADE. You know, films that were made before the visionaries came along.