“Are they not the same thing?” you may ask, as you read the title of my blog. The answer is yes - and no. By literal definition, yes, they are the same thing. But in connotation, they are not. There Will be Blood is a film. Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie. A film is something with substance and has a more artful approach to its filmmaking and construction. Whereas a movie is more about pure entertainment and allows for a more (and I don’t mean this in a bad way) mindless viewing experience. There’s no thinking involved. You can sit back and just watch.
It is an everlasting debate between the movie-buff and the movie goer. The movie buff is the one who movie goers call “pretentious” and “snobby.” You know, the ones who think Pi and The Third Man are masterpieces. The movie goer is the one that movie buffs call “impatient” and “unappreciative.” They’re the people who find Transformers and Guardians of the Galaxy to be masterpieces. Demographically, it could be a battle of old (The Third Man) against the young (Guardians of the Galaxy).
It’s funny I say that because, I speak on behalf of the movie buff. I would like to begin by saying that blockbusters are essential to the cinematic cannon. They provide good fun and relief from heavy dramas or intellectual satirical comedies. The explosions, familiar plots, predicable stories and cool one-liners provide a comforting convention that we can rely on for entertainment. Yet, they are also our biggest epidemic.
We are in an age where the re-make, sequel, prequel and adaptation rule in the world of cinema. They are what the masses flock to see. They make the perfect date night movie, or Friday night reliever. Billions of dollars are made by these films and, that is fine. At least, it was. It was back in the early days of Spielberg, when the likes of Amadeus and Raging Bull could still be appreciated. That’s not the case today.
My complaint is that the films that will last are not being appreciated by mass audiences. The Best Picture winning film is no longer among the highest grossing. The masses no longer have the patience or will to sit and watch a film that has something to say and has a unique and artistic way to say it. Lawrence of Arabia, one of the greatest movies to ever grace the silver screen, was the highest grossing picture of 1962 and the Best Picture winner of the year. That film would not even be made today. A four-hour epic about T.E Lawrence’s experiences in the Arabian Peninsula during World War I starring an unknown in the lead wouldn’t get a pass in today’s producer’s office Even with a big named star attached, it probably still wouldn’t be made or would be cut down significantly.
The thing is, people in the 60s were accustomed to sitting through a motion picture that gave them an experience of something that goes beyond a couple hours of mindless entertainment. They wanted something with substance. They ALLOWED themselves to open up and take in whatever ideas the film was expressing or, to study the situations and characters that they could relate to.
I feel that movie goers fail to realize that films can change lives. A character study such as Birdman has the ability to cause self-reflection or self-realization and place a mirror to you. Is that pretentious? No, it is simply true. It is deep, it requires thinking and an open mind. Films can take society to the forefront of judgment and commentary, providing people with information and influencing debate that might even affect society itself. Is that, too, too pretentious? Again, I don’t think so. I think it is plausible and very possible.
The Tree of Life is one of the greatest movies of all-time, quite easily in my top ten film of all-times. Many critics and movie aficionados agree with that assessment. Yet, the masses were not interested in it and still do not care for it. Yet, The Tree of Life is an exploration of life from a spiritual and chronological point of view. It is something that could change one’s perspective on life itself. Even with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn in the lead roles, this film barely made half of its budget domestically although it did well overseas. No one nowadays has the patience to sit through 140 minutes of visually stimulating and philosophically intriguing pieces of art. They want their explosions and predictable hero films.
If our society were to fall and, all our successors had to learn about our life, our past, our ideas, and intellect, would you rather us be represented by Two Women or Spider-Man? If people allow themselves to, they could be affected by these films. Then they wouldn’t complain about the Academy being “pretentious” or “stuck up,” they’d see where the Academy and movie buffs are coming from. Even the old black and white films are better than a lot of the modern movies. Give me Duck Soup over Pineapple Express. Why? Because Duck Soup is smart, witty and funny. Pineapple Express is funny in its own right, but it’s not nearly as smart as Duck Soup. Intelligence is something to appreciate more than brash comedies. The old films were intelligent. They presented themes like sex, prejudice and injustice with class and brains. That’s why most older films are considered…films.
I can respect modern films that approach these things with explicit examination if they have artistic intent like Shame or Blue Valentine. But films like Fast and Furious 7 with random shots of skin and butts, that use sex and things like that for commerciality, aren’t going to last. There will be another one just like it next year or next month. But there will never be another 8 1/, or Ladri di Biciclette.
Our transition to this period of cinema is one brought about us by more industrialization, technology and an increased appeal in popular culture. Spielberg began it with Jaw and Lucas cemented it with Star Wars. Now that’s all we see.
My wish and desire is to see films like The Last Emperor become popular again. I’d like to be able to say that our current place in cinematic history is a good one, but it isn’t. Movie goers who think of us as “pretentious.” “old-fashioned,” and “boring” will continue to have a closed mind. They won’t care because they don’t take cinema seriously and only see it as mindless entertainment. But cinema is much more than that. Like Salvatore in Cinema Paradiso, an evening in a theater can be life changing. It can open one’s eyes or change an opinion or teach a lesson or incite an exploration of society or self. It is a powerful medium that is now being taken less and less seriously. That is why I believe artistic filmmakers make films more for their contemporaries than for the masses. And that’s a theory I will talk about more in my next blog.
Thank you for reading. Willie Jones