josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | aug. 2017
This week George Romero died (the week I write this anyway). This has been a long time coming, but this realization hits hard nonetheless ... all of the icons are dying and so is their legacy. They are dying literally but alas, their impact died long ago.
As a film nerd I grew to age in the 1970s and 1980s. This was a time when a single-minded director could truly produce a vision in the studio setting. This was the era of "New Hollywood" and it was a time when vision and creativity were paramount and even the scumbag movie studios knew this. They let their creative marksman aim for a target that exceeded potential ticket sales. They were making movies whereas today they make product. This is a far-gone past which I wager film will never see again. A period of unbridled inventiveness will never be again (at least not in the studio system).
The filmmakers that came up during this period are legends who still influence the modern generation of filmmakers and yet the contributions by these quixotic men and women will soon be lost to the static of time. The waves they have spread may have already dissipated.
If you mention George Romero, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Terry Gilliam, Dan O'Bannon, Ralph Bakshi, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Oliver Stone, John Landis, Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli or any others from this time frame the most common refrain is, “They are still alive?" Or, “They have not made anything good in years." These used to be names that could instantaneously conjure up iconic images that defined all of the films and filmmakers that followed them. That is not something that happens much anymore. These men and their work have been forgotten and buried under the mountain of tripe, which was derived from them.
Think about it. Look at that list of names up there and tell me the last time one of them made a good movie. The late 1980s or the early 1990s? The bulk of these men have continued to make films and yet nothing of note came from them, nothing that even compares to their output in the 1980s let alone that of the 1970s. Why is that? Sure the system has changed and the arrogance that came with "New Hollywood" surely played a part, but the audiences changed, as did the art of filmmaking. Viewers stopped caring. It's not that all of their recent output was terrible; it was just subpar for them. Still, a bad Carpenter film is inherently better than anything Brett Ratner will ever make.
Influence plays a substantial role in this. These men were influenced by the films of the 1950s where the likes of Jack Arnold and Howard Hawks would define their generation. These "New Hollywood" types brought an almost renegade sensibility and style to the films they were making, and, in turn, the generation that followed them did the same. James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Robert Zemeckis, Paul Verhoeven, Peter Jackson, Abel Ferrara, Stuart Gordon, Wes Craven and the like brought their own unique style and added to that of Romero and Carpenter. They built upon the past and used it to make the future. This isn't the case today. Name one director that has come up post-1995 who has a real vision? David Fincher is about the only name I can think of. Look at all the blockbuster films of the last decade and tell me you see any particular vision in them? If I asked you to name one film director of a 2017 film would you be able to? They are all so interchangeable that it does not matter who directed the new Mummy film vs who directed “Kong: Skull Island." They are cookie cutter. We have lost the style that comes with vision. This is partly why Gilliam and Carpenter and Romero stopped making movies you cared to see; they simply could not make them any longer. They had lost the freedom to work the system and audience apathy is to blame. When the audience does not demand films of vision the studios stop making them.
George Romero is dead. Wes Craven is dead. Soon John Carpenter will go, then Terry Gilliam and so forth. The industry won't even notice though as any impact they had left them a long time ago. This is not to say that they deserved this, but this is what we gave them. When viewers shuffled them to the side in favor of watching giant robots beat up on one another, this is the result.
“Night of the Living Dead" could never be made today. It would be run through the checklist of what a studio thinks needs to be in a film to make it a success and would be trash. “Assault on Precinct 13" could not be made in the wasteland of today? I chose those two films for a reason; both had remakes done years after the fact. “Night of the Living Dead" was shepherded by Romero and it turned out great. “Assault on Precinct 13" was done without Carpenter and look how that turned out. When you leave the creators in the rearview mirror you end up over-correcting and the result is a car crash. That abominable “The Thing" pre-make from 2011 showed us just how tone deaf one can be when the original creator is not kept in the loop. When Carpenter made his Thing in 1982, he not only included his love of the original Hawks version, but also the source novel. He added his own take on their materials by building on them. “The Thing" of 2011 claimed it was doing this but anyone that has watched that film can attest this was an assault on the original, not a companion. 2016's Ghostbusters is another example. One has to wonder if Paul Feig made his movie with the specific intent to piss off fans of the original film. That is the legacy that "New Hollywood" has wrought. Scorn. Feig is an exemplar of the disdain the current crop of filmmakers has for those who paved the way for today's filmmakers.
George Romero died in 2017 but he was killed years ago.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.