People who say that an aspect of our society used to be better in the past are usually wrong. No, people didn’t dress better in the past, kids weren’t nicer in the past, and society certainly wasn’t safer in the past. Very few things were better in the past than in the present, no matter what your grumpy middle aged neighbor wants you to believe. However, there is one area of our culture that has stagnated and perhaps gotten worse: film.
A couple of weeks ago I was spending time with a friend of mine, Paul, who is a huge movie buff and I mentioned that I always want to go to the theater but the movies that I want to see don’t get released widely and I’d have to travel into New York City to see them (I live on Long Island). Those that do get mainstream release simply aren’t that interesting and usually leave me feeling unsatisfied, like I’ve wasted my time. Paul said to me, “Movies have become amusement park rides and theaters won’t show anything that doesn’t fit that definition.” I thought it was an apt description of the current state of movies.
This has not always been the case. Take a look at Peter Greenaway- he’s one of the most respected film directors of our time but very few movie theaters today will be showing his newest film. In 1989 his shocking and brutal The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover was released, unrated, and you could actually see it relatively easily on Long Island. My friend actually saw at the theater in the town I live in. If my guess is right, all of two theaters on Long Island will be showing his next new film and those are two specialty theaters, and even that might be optimistic as they don’t always show the same films. Major chains, such as Loews Theater and AMC Theaters, simply aren’t interested in bringing films like his to most theaters even if they are critically praised.
Now, I understand that movie theaters exist to make money and that production companies exist to make money so I wouldn’t complain if they don’t give Greenaway’s next film a lot of showings. But, how about just one showing a day? Or even just a few a week?
My favorite director, David Lynch, has stated that while he can get financial backing for his next film he doesn’t know if there’s an easy way for audiences to see it as movie theaters aren’t likely to put his films out for mainstream viewers to watch. This is tragic considering that in just 2001, Lynch’s Mulholland Drive garnered him a nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards. Mulholland Drive was also released relatively widely so that audiences could find it; sure, it wasn’t being shown as often as The Dark Knight Rises but it was at least shown in most theaters. If Mulholland Drive was released today I don’t know if it would get any major showings outside of large cities and specialty theaters in a select few suburban areas.
“Okay,” you might be saying, “but Greenaway and Lynch are very bizarre directors and lots of people might not like their films.”
I won’t argue that they’re not for everybody but how can people try out different styles of film if they don’t have access to them?
I think it’s a sad statement on America’s society if we can only appreciate a small slice of film. Think about this: well over half of the mainstream film releases all follow a few generic plots. Maybe I’m wrong but most films seem to be one of these three options:
a) Romantic comedy- a girl (the film only allows her to become a woman once she has a man) is lonely because she’s not in a relationship even though everything else in her life is going just swell. She meets a guy who seems like he’s a bit of a dick but, oh, hey, he’s real sweet underneath it all and after a few comedy of errors the girl gets with the man and all the evils of the world vanish.
b) Bro comedy- Guy friend are together, want to get laid, and “funny”, often with misogynist and homophobic undertones, incidents occur as they travel through a generic city/country/various getaway. In some instances, the “bros” don’t travel and are in a catch-all location such as a college where different stereotypes can plausibly pop onto the screen. You will also be guaranteed of seeing some female nudity because apparently the audience for these films is not aware that they can find porn for free at home.
c) Action film- You get a plot that is a rip off of a better James Bond or Jason Bourne film with iffy acting and split second nudity. The woman in the film will be capable but, of course, not as capable as the male lead.
Having so much of the theaters filled with films that all fall into these, rather boring, categories is sad and shows a narrow-minded and anti-intellectual society. A society that is open-minded will be more open-minded about the art it rewards. I think American society can do just that but as of right now it’s not possible as movie theaters and production companies aren’t giving anyone a chance to broaden their horizons.
Donald McCarthy is a freelance writer, fiction writer, and SAT instructor. He lives outside New York City. He’s not fond of the beach.