Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Has Happened To The Movies?

Last night, I watched Chinatown for at least the tenth time. Brilliantly directed by Roman Polanski, the film's scrubbed and gleaming sheen remains at continual odds throughout to the depravity and corruption it exposes. As Jack Nicholson's Jake Gittes moves towards Chinatown's heart of darkness, Polanski seems to hold shots longer and longer, lingering over a 1930's Los Angeles with a look that completely belies its reality. It's as if he's making a comment on the movie business itself.

Nicholson, meanwhile, is at his best. By that, I don't mean that he acts over the top and chews scenery; the expectations provoked by One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest were still a year away. Instead, he's low-keyed and determined, portraying a man who uncovers an evil worse than anything conceived by his own cynicism. Although his best efforts go awry, the triumph of evil has the ironic effect of compelling Gittes to experience his humanity at its most vulnerable. The ambiguity surrounding this morally uncomfortable affirmation is wrapped up in the film's great closing line: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." In other words, Chinatown is that place where the demons of our nature prevail, the place we ultimately must find some accommodation with because we can't defeat it. 

1974 was a great year for movies. Check out the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture:

Chinatown
The Conversation
The Godfather, Part II
Lenny
Towering Inferno

With the exception of the last, all are significant films and two (Chinatown and Oscar winner The Godfather, Part II) are masterpieces. The Best Director nominees that year were hardly a shabby lot, either: John Cassavetes, Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola, Bob Fosse, Polanski, and Francois Truffaut.

So what happened between then and now? The 2008 field is as weak a field as I can remember Not a single one of the films is worth watching a second time, never mind the double digit viewings that Chinatown and The Godfather, Part II merit. Moreover, by 1974, every one of the above directors was established as a a significant artist. Today, we have Ron Howard, who epitomizes the journeyman careers of his competition.

Once upon a time, moviegoers would flock to the theaters to see great filmmaking. 1974 proves that. What happened? Are films unfairly dumbed down for an audience that actually wants better, or have standards dropped?...

Of parasites and people: A fascinating review of research investigating the impact of parasites on human behavior... 

Roy's World explores the connection between Christianity and socialism, explains the difference between socialism and the welfare state, and dispels the ridiculous notion that Barack Obama is a socialist (would that he were): 
The accusation that President Obama is leading America to anti-Christian socialism looks to be a false one. Nothing about the President's proposed programs is the least bit "socialist" - there is no proposed takeover of business, private property, and the markets by the government in his programs. What the President does propose is in line with the concept of the welfare state, which is something entirely different from socialism and can, and in fact mostly does, exist in a capitalist, market economy, and which has already existed in this country since the mid 1800s. And as to the statement that socialism is the evil opposite of Christianity, the quotes above from Christian scripture tell the complete opposite story; Christianity and the socialist ideal have much in common.

Stone Soup Musings points out that Republicans "...not only voted against creating jobs when they voted no on the stimulus plan, they also voted against one of the biggest tax cuts in history"...

O.K., I thought that my congressman (Dave Reichert) was a lightweight. But Minnesota's Michelle Bachman's presence in the House of Representatives is an insult to dimwits. Listen to this nonsense and see how long it takes for your jaw to drop. Believe me, it won't be long...

Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans airs this month on PBS. Check your local listings...

Republican governors bite off their constituent's noses to spite Obama's face...

He may not be much of a husband, but Elliott Spitzer's ideas of how to handle the matter of executive compensation make sense:
If we are to stop outrageous pay, the objective should not be to match the foolishness of the Bush ideological embrace of wild-eyed libertarianism masquerading as capitalism with an equally foolish "government knows best" approach that ignores the market. We must create a genuine market for CEO services, generating meaningful competition and socially acceptable results.


R. I. P., Snooks Eaglin...

6 comments:

John Hayes said...

Great observation about 70s films-- but what has happened? "Dumbing down" does seem to be the operative word.

Great video, too, as well as observations about socialism. The connection between Christianity & capitalism has always seemed just bizarre to me from any sort of philosophical standpoint.

Ima Wizer said...

I recently saw "Slingblade" again.....what a movie!
I sure "liked the way he tawlked".
....doncha know.

Roy said...

K, thanks so much for mentioning the post about Christianity and socialism. That was a labor of love; it was also a direct response to a coterie of writers on Gather.com who have been hyperventilating in print ever since the election results were in last November, and some of whom were deeply involved in the "Obama's not a legal US citizen" campaign. All of them claim allegiance to evangelical Christianity, so the nature of my response was a given from the start.

Are you just discovering Michelle Bachmann? LOL!!! Ain't she somethin'? She was on the final ballot for People for the American Way's Equine Posterior Achievement Award for 2008 (renamed for that year The Honorary McPalin Equine Posterior Achievement Award), and Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly regards her as the frontrunner for most ridiculous member of Congress. Yeah, she's a real trip. Next to her, Sarah Palin almost makes sense!

Sad to hear about Snooks. He was another one of those unique talents who you identified in blindfold tests the moment his fingers touched the strings of his guitar. The great ones are all passing on...

K. said...

I've known about Michelle Bachman ever since she wanted to sic federal investigators on members of the so-called liberal media.

The obsession of part of the right with Obama's heritage is bizarre. It reminds me of the white preoccupation with defining classes of black in order to -- well, I never have gotten why they needed to do that. The French of Sainte-Domingue broke it down into 64 classifications, ranging from 1/64 black to completely black.

Oladapo Ogundipe said...

On the subject of christianity and socialism, it makes me question why and how religion, modernity and democracy are being promoted as separate things considering that mordern socialism may now be emerging as an offshoot of capitalism...or as we may be about to see. I mean, the Government just dont want to be blamed when things go wrong and the whole idea of shifting philosophies like goal posts i.e. promoting capitalism in the first place was a very selfish one...

mouse (aka kimy) said...

geez i must be getting uncritical (or dumber)in my old age.... i actually thought many of this years flicks are well worth the price of admission, my favorites (in no particular order)

the reader
milk
frost/nixon
the visitor

i even liked the curious case of bb
(but that was because i had such low expectations) i thought it was fairly magical. and i most all of the actors drew me in

i was entertained by slumdog, but i would never it consider it best picture material.....

nice to read your highlighting roy's wonderful post....

have a good weekend! i guess i know what you won't be doing on sunday night -