Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy


Filmmaker William Friedkin was recently interviewed for a piece in The Telegraph titled “Superhero movies are ruining cinema, says Exorcist director William Friedkin.”

I agree with Friedkin’s sentiment and I would take it one step further and say that it’s not “Superhero movies” that are ruining cinema, but that those films are a product of what has so dramatically changed since the 70’s.

The corporate greed and the paint-by-numbers mentality that has now driven cinema for many decades is, in itself, a product of a state of mind that has been vigorously taught, conditioned, indoctrinated and embraced in the U.S. Its impact is reflected in all aspects of our lives socially, culturally, politically and, yes, artistically…

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Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy

Soderbergh Saves The Best For Last?


I, for one, am not excited by the notion that director Steven Soderbergh has decided to stop making films. Of course, we all hope he changes his mind and either doesn’t stop, or just takes a short hiatus and returns sooner than later. But no matter what decision he ultimately makes, it’s invigorating and inspiring to know that he’s pushing the envelope right up to the end. Well, almost. I have yet to see his last two films, SIDE EFFECTS and BEHIND THE CANDELABRA. But if his two films before these are any indication, something tells me I’m gonna like them.

haywireHAYWIRE took me by surprise. With a leading actress few of us ever heard of but who is startlingly charismatic, beautiful and kicks some serious on-screen ass, and a smart script that moves around in time as it unravels its intriguing mystery thriller of intelligence agency betrayals, HAYWIRE plays like a film smack out of the 70’s. Though some critics essentially called it a poor man’s BOURNE IDENTITY, the film has far more in common with cinematic masterpieces like John Boorman’s POINT BLANK than it does with anything more contemporary. Poor man’s, my ass. There’s nothing poor man’s about HAYWIRE. It’s the work of a director at the top of his game and, while I enjoyed the first BOURNE movie, if there’s any relation to be found here, HAYWIRE is its wiser and far more accomplished (and extraordinarily distant) much older cousin (ten times removed).

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Gina Carano

Gina Carano, a former professional Muay Thai kickboxer and Mixed Martial Arts world champion, carries HAYWIRE from first frame to last. She is backed by an extraordinary cast that includes, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton. The action erupts out of quiet tension and is startlingly vivid and naturalistic as Soderbergh chooses to present these breathtaking and completely non-digitally-altered fight sequences sans music, giving the action an incredibly raw, unsettling and unexpectedly potent kick.

For me, HAYWIRE is simply a terrific film, a rare treat that shows us that American cinema is not dead, it’s just currently relegated to the shadows. At least on its home turf.

Soderberg followed HAYWIRE with the outstanding and vastly entertaining MAGIC MIKE, which also stars Channing Tatum, an actor I never bothered to pay attention to until Soderbergh forced me. I’m glad he did because Tatum shines in both films (despite my aversion to guys that remind me of frat boys). MAGIC MIKE is, in a way, Soderbergh’s BOOGIE NIGHTS only (and I’ll catch a world of shit for this), I think MAGIC MIKE is a far better, far more accomplished film. Where BOOGIE NIGHTS felt like a talented and not quite mature young filmmaker let off the leash in a room full of really amazing film toys and celebrity actors, MAGIC MIKE shows the subtlety, restraint and nuance of a mature and practiced artist at the top of his game. Yeah, I know many will disagree with me here, but like it or not, this is what the world looks like from where I stand.

magic-mike-posterSoderbergh’s humor and compassion, mixed with his love of actors and fantastically 70’s-influenced storytelling skills (as well as a much-needed-and-sorely-lacking-in-most-American-films desire for narrative risk-taking), makes MAGIC MIKE an incredibly welcome movie-watching experience for this oft disappointed filmgoer.

I hope if it comes to pass that Soderberg does, indeed, move on from his filmmaking career, that other young filmmakers will take his lead and find a way to express themselves without compromise and push the medium where it needs to go: Ahead, and not stagnating in the realm of bigger-is-better rehashes that all feel far too moribund and homogeneous.

Is that too much to ask?

Soderbergh Saves The Best For Last?

Hollywood And The Golden Arches Of Mediocrity

As a writer and filmmaker, I have, for as long as I can remember, felt strongly about storytelling. I was also lucky enough to have grown into adulthood during the second golden age of cinema (the 1970’s). Therefore, my most cherished form of storytelling has been through movies. It is the medium that most speaks to me, the language I most thoroughly embrace that best articulates, for me, what it means to be human. So it seems I take the current state of cinema far more seriously than do certain others for whom films are a mere distraction or, at best, a simple pleasure.

Which leads my desire to draw your attention to an interesting article by Mark Harris in GQ magazine. It’s called THE DAY THE MOVIES DIED and it’s about Hollywood today and the state of films and filmmaking. I think Mark makes some terrific points and observations and they are in keeping with my feelings about the industry and the art form. That said, I think there are areas that are even more complex than Mr. Harris spells them out to be. Though he does an excellent job of offering some very appealing conversation starters. I would also state, as a criticism, that I wish Mr. Harris had offered up some more detailed information regarding his sources as they would have added even more credibility to his stories and insights (e.g. his stated industry reaction to INCEPTION). But all in all, it’s an article worth reading and it paints a picture that, in my opinion, has more truth to it than not. Which saddens me.

I would also turn attention to a book by Columbia professor Tim Wu titled THE MASTER SWITCH: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. Here, too, you will find answers to why we are where we are, why the film industry is what it is, and where we might be heading. The book will also place those questions, answers and concepts onto a much larger stage. It’ll certainly equip you to handle just about any conversation on the subject that might arise and then some.

Here is David Siegfried’s Booklist review of MASTER SWITCH:

A veteran of Silicon Valley and professor at Columbia University, Wu is an author and policy advocate best known for coining the term net neutrality. Although the Internet has created a world of openness and access unprecedented in human history, Wu is quick to point out that the early phases of telephony, film, and radio offered similar opportunities for the hobbyist, inventor, and creative individual, only to be centralized and controlled by corporate interests, monopolized, broken into smaller entities, and then reconsolidated. Wu calls this the Cycle, and nowhere is it more exemplary than in the telecommunications industry. The question Wu raises is whether the Internet is different, or whether we are merely in the early open phase of a technology that is to be usurped and controlled by profiteering interests. Central in the power struggle is the difference between the way Apple Computer and Google treat content, with Apple attempting to control the user experience with slick products while Google endeavors to democratize content, giving the user choice and openness. This is an essential look at the directions that personal computing could be headed depending on which policies and worldviews come to dominate control over the Internet.

Bear with me now as I take you down a seemingly random path that, I assure you, will lead back to the overriding themes at hand. I once knew a man for whom the idea of eating food was nothing more than a means of attaining nourishment and proteins. So much so that after a workout, he would take a beautiful prime cut of beef and toss it headlong into a microwave. The fate of that particular portion of cow was to become a grey, rubbery slab of flavorless meat, with not so much as a sprinkle of pepper or salt to provide some modicum of dignity to the poor deceased beast.

As one who genuinely loves and appreciates a great meal, watching this nightly parade of food abomination was distressing to me, to say the least. So, if you’re like me and you truly love a great meal, imagine what your food world would look like if most available meals were manufactured by McDonalds. Sure, the occasional restaurant might pop up here and there offering something lovingly concocted by a real chef, someone with a deep love of food and food preparation, but that establishment wouldn’t last long enough to build up much of a customer base. No, I’m afraid most of your dining options would be, well, off the McD’s menu. Now, by comparison, an occasional meal at the Olive Garden would suddenly seem downright luxurious, downright masterful in both its preparation and combination of flavors. Olive Garden might even become the Holy Grail of good cooking in the hearts and minds of many. But in truth, we’d be salivating over a plate of supreme mediocrity. To me, Hollywood is the McDonald’s of filmmaking. And occasionally something comes out of the system (usually as a result of a big favor owed) that wows people. And that, my friends, is a meal at the Olive Garden. If you were a chef, you would not want to ply your craft at either McD’s or “The Garden.” They are not designed for you to do what it is you love. And the people who would most appreciate your work, your passion, your gift, would not frequent these places looking for what you have to offer. Anyone who knew what a good Italian meal was –or a good burger, for that matter– would mourn the loss of something exquisite, something great. They would shake their heads in collective misery at the loss of such an elegant art, the loss of that cherished human capacity to create and recognize something that embodies both complex and simple flavors, something which excites the taste buds and satisfies in such a gloriously primal way.

And so we return to my feelings about the current American film industry.

The state of Hollywood today is not good for films, filmmakers or audiences. And it hasn’t been for a long time. We’ve been in a steady decline for many years. And that’s more than just sour grapes or being a curmudgeon. Film is an art, a language, a beautiful and complex animal that mirrors the human condition. But Hollywood today is far from being a place to nourish such desires or, worse, to even dream of them. Perhaps with the way technology has changed, there will be no need for Hollywood anymore. Or maybe there will be a resurgence of filmmakers who truly love film and want to push the boundaries of the medium once again. To explore, to grow, to seek, to touch. But for every one of those, there are still thousands of others whose final destination is Hollywood. And that will yield nothing but mediocrity at its best. I wish it were otherwise. But in a town inundated with accountants and frat boys at the helm, we must look elsewhere for the fruits of the medium. But all of this is in keeping sync with the state of the union, not just the state of Hollywood. The Tea-Party, hard-core conservatism, rabid anti-intellectualism, money over people. It’s why Netflix is becoming the new Blockbuster and corporate interests override human/customer interest or loyalty. It’s why universal health care is demonized and Workers Unions the enemy. All of these things are reflected in one another. Reagan fueled the fire and it’s been snowballing ever since. Not just in politics or the economy, but in every corner of our collective consciousness. Our own Capitalist sensibilities have turned around and bitten us square in the ass and we’re only now starting to comprehend that those are our own teeth embedded there.

Nothing reflects the moods and tone of a nation better than its art. Our priorities as a nation and our ability to fight to accept as little as possible has been a deepening, festering wound. We will either heal it or die from it. I’m rooting for the former myself. But in the meantime, one of the repercussions is that our artists must look elsewhere to create their art, while businessmen and women parade around as filmmakers. And as caring politicians. All of whom would very much like you to try that bold new Angus Burger at McDonalds. Really, you’ll love it.

Hollywood And The Golden Arches Of Mediocrity