Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Changing Face of Cinema

We are the product of our times. Since the 1980s launch of MTV, there has been a lot of crying foul over the shortened attention-spans of the youth. That trend has continued on most recently in a generation fed by the bite-sized offerings of YouTube.

What is often left out of this discussion is the flip side of this; my generation is able to take in and register information faster than generations before us. In a very real way the movie-going audience is more sophisticated* today than 20 years ago. Movies have become faster in pace as a result. Visual stories have become denser, packed with more twists delivered more rapidly.

But what does that mean about how the new generation experiences older movies?

There are some people that refuse to watch anything made before the 1990s. This really is a shame.

Now, I don’t think a movie is beyond critism just because it's been declared a ‘classic’. But I'm likewise against the idea that movies come with a ‘Best Before’ date stamped on their covers.

The Wizard of Oz has been a cherished early movie experience of every generation of young viewers since it came out in 1939.

Even so, I’ve had people tell me that films in the 1980s were nothing but bad action or comedy movies.

Pardon my French, but f%&k that.

Even if you steer clear of the lesser known or non-english films, that eighties gave us Amadeus, Aliens, Full Metal Jacket, Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back, Beetlejuice, The Thing, Ghandi, Platoon, Die Hard, The Goonies, Indiana Jones and Back To The Future, to name just a few. The seventies gave us Godfather, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, The Exorcist, Star Wars, A Clockwork Orange, Jaws, Annie Hall, and Taxi Driver. The sixties? Dr. Strangelove, A Fistful Of Dollars, Lawrence of Arabia, For a Few Dollars More, In the Heat of the Night, and Psycho.

Should I go on?

I do believe there are many cases where there's something lost when the pace is sped up. Take horror for example. Halloween is considered one of the scariest horror movies of all time, and it’s precisely for the reason that John Carpenter spends so much of the movie just building up suspense before anything actually happens. And when the killing finally starts, it’s all the more effective because of that long build-up (paraphrasing Hitchcock’s famous observation on suspense; a bang is only as loud as the silence preceding it).

Or take Easy Rider. So much time is taken to get to know the characters and learn their hopes and dreams. We experience along with Wyatt and company the futile quest for the American dream. The last scene is only as effective as it is because of the journey we’ve taken with these characters.

More recently we can take a look at Death Proof, Quintin's addition to Grindhouse. Unlike Planet Terror, which was intended as homage to 80's b-movies with countless nods to the quirks of classic Grindhouse cinema of the 70s and 80s, Death Proof seems to be intended to actually BE a movie of that era. Not just in the shooting style, but the writing and pacing. By today’s standard, the film is pace is painfully slow, but the ending is one of the most satisfying I've seen in recent years. I find myself wondering if so much of the movie hadn't been spent in built up, would the ending have been as cathartic?

I doubt it.

Until next time, I’m the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

*in the same way that a 2010 Chevrolet Cavalier is more sophisticated than a 1984 Chevrolet Cavalier. Not a statement on anyone's taste in movies.

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