5 Things Hurting Modern Cinema

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | april 2018

'Jaws' might have been a very different film had CGI been available at the time of its filming.CG: An obvious one on the face of it but I'm not anti-CG so much as I am anti the laziness it can instill in a filmmakers art. There's a saying that comes to mind here: “necessity is the mother of invention." With many of my favorite films there's been a balancing act between what the director wanted and what they could have. Choices had to be made and pay-offs shaped the film we eventually got to see. CGI came along and promised to solve all the problems of realizing the impossible onscreen, but with that gift came the curse of overindulgence and a lack of imagination and, in some cases, the imagination was unfortunately allowed to run riot. When you can do anything you want, you have no drive or need to work around problems and it's in those problems that often a better approach appears. Remember “Jaws"? That fake rubber shark was supposed to be in an awful lot more of the film. Because it broke down, Spielberg was forced to imply the shark's presence and a lot more tension came from the glimpse of a fin or the music over a first-person perspective from “the shark." With a CG shark it would likely have come over much more like “Sharknado."

Hollywood Studios: The industry that is Hollywood is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they push the boundaries of the technology and give us movies that have shaped the history of the art form. On the other hand, they're control freaks that limit the scope of the art we're exposed to. Slaves to demographics and dominating the physical space, the screens and shelves that smaller movies would kill for, Hollywood has become a demanding mistress to the theatres with increasing requirements on the tech they need and the time their movies MUST play, amongst an array of other “venue devastating" behavior. They pursue copyright to the point of hurting their audience and film fans and with the recent round of mergers and acquisitions they're becoming monolithic entitles that are not only putting all their eggs in one basket but are homogenizing an industry that should be as much an artistic endeavor as it is a business (enough with the focus groups and test screenings; make your own damn movie). It's all about the money and art seems to have taken a tragic backseat to box office returns.

Money/Cost: Speaking of returns, let's talk about why Hollywood is struggling. The spiraling cost of making a movie with astronomic fees to the actors, directors and execs, ridiculous production budgets and a general philosophy of “throw money at it and it'll be great" is tipping the industry into a make or break market where art is now secondary to returns by necessity. You now need, not just want, as many bums on seats as possible in order to pay the bills and when you break even, well, that's just not good enough.

Social politics: Sanctimonious celebs and film companies on a crusade for or against (insert current popular social justice trend) are undoubtedly an irritation to the average Joe (or Josephine). There's nothing worse than being lectured to about the evils of the world by someone who's worked in and profited highly from an industry that's rife with the very thing they're wringing their souls over and there's nothing more damaging to your big, expensive movie than alienating half your audience, especially those who were supposed to be built in, by telling them they're awful. Just ask Paul Feig how well that worked out. In an industry that's desperate to have as many seats filled as possible, divisive politics are not a road you want to find yourself on, unless that's specifically your intention and you're aiming at a niche audience, but onwards they push in the properties that are make or break while anyone who questions the direction it's going in is a “garbage human." Politics in film is fine and well, I actually like politically-motivated films, just make it part of the story, make it what the film is about rather than using the platform of film to lambaste the very people you need to come to the thing.

Extended Universes and franchises: As much as I enjoy these films, as much as I think the idea of linking films together has a lot to offer, it has to be acknowledged that this production setup takes away the voice of the director and hands it to a producer. It's also a very delicate construction which can be brought down by just one or two mistakes and being the unwieldy juggernaut it is, it's hard to course correct when things start to go wrong. With DC's film future hanging in tatters and the prospect of its sale to another behemoth of a company (and a not much loved one at that) this much seems clear to me: Extended universes are studio cancer; they narrow artistic integrity and put in jeopardy the very existence of the studios that seem dead set on creating them. They're whittling down the studios at the same time they're making multi-film, cross-dependent properties that should they go down will cost a lot of money before they even shoot a frame of footage. It's all a big house of very expensive cards and as robust as they may seem, the Hollywood studios are stacking as much as high and heavy as possible. I've said it before, Hollywood is coming to a crunch point and I wouldn't be surprised if extended universes and franchises are the things that topple them.

He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

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