This has been a remarkably shitty year for movies. Usually, by early fall, some fairly decent movies have been released. The kids are back at school and now is the time for drama without boogers and robots. People exchanging actual dialogue. Facial expressions with nuance and subtlety. Except for a couple, such as 50/50 and Drive, the movies have been mind-numbingly awful. What is Al Pacino doing in the steaming pile of human fecal matter that is Adam Sandler’s Jack And Jill? I like going to the movies to get away from a world that is in the throes of imminent disaster. Catastrophic rot. I go to the movies for escape, yes, certainly, absolutely, but also for something a little extra, a trace of insight, a whisper of truth, a thoughtful exploration of the human soul, with maybe a sword fight or two and a dinosaur for good measure.
But it’s not just the movies Hollywood has been issuing like ground meat from an automatic stuffer. It’s the venues themselves. The audience. The management. The seats and screen and sound system.
A recent example: Roberta and I went to see The Descendants last Tuesday at the Guild 45th. We arrived early, and so went across the street to Starbucks to wait for the box office to open for the 2:30 matinee. While sipping my hot chocolate, I saw a man ascend a ladder to the roof of the Guild 45th, but thought nothing of it, assuming he was up there to clear away some leaves or check a minor leak.
At 2:00, we went to buy our tickets. We went into the theater and sat down. I could hear someone pounding on the roof, hammering, throwing heavy weights around. This continued into the previews. I went out to the lobby to complain. I asked the young woman who took our tickets if this guy on the roof was going to keep working through the movie. She followed me into the theater to check how loud it was. She heard the pounding instantly, and said she would go tell the manager. I figured the problem would be quickly solved.
But no. Movie began. The Descendants is not Savage Guns, Pearl Harbor, or Transformers. It’s a quiet movie, heavy on dialogue, pregnant pauses, facial close ups. I tried for an hour to get absorbed in the movie, but couldn’t. No one else seemed to mind. There were about 30 other people in the theatre. Finally, I gave up. I signaled to Roberta, and we left. We were refunded our money and given two free tickets.
But I can’t help wondering: what the fuck was the manager thinking in scheduling some guy to do roof construction during a movie? The mind boggles.
Could it be that people just don't give a shit about quality anymore? Or am I a whiny prima donna who expects far too much from the world?
I worry that the movies are dying. Fewer and fewer people, it seems, are willing to go through the bother of getting into a car and driving to a theater, finding a place to park, hoping the theater has a lobby in which to get out of the wet and cold, and they won’t be surrounded by nincompoops who spend the entire time texting.
When Roberta and I saw Stiegg Larson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo last year, there was a young woman in front of me who took out her cell phone and began texting. The bright light from her little instrument was distracting. I found it difficult to keep my eyes focused on the screen. There was a luminous blur in my peripheral vision, and the light itself kept drawing my attention, away from the action and dialogue on the screen. I thought she just needed to check something urgent, then would put her little toy away, and get back to the movie. But she didn’t. After about ten minutes, I couldn’t tolerate it anymore. I leaned forward and asked her to put it away. Which she did. I was glad of that. Her boyfriend was a bruiser. I didn’t want to mess with him.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been bothered by people texting. It happens a lot. Why anyone would pay 10 bucks to see a movie, and then not see it, but text away on their little gadgets, is beyond my comprehension.
I see this behavior, and other forms of rudeness which have become much more prevalent, as signs of a dying culture. I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing the Romans went through, circa 400 AD, before the inevitable and final collapse into the Dark Ages.
Those displaced Romans and Christians still had a planet, though. We don’t. Our planet is swiftly becoming inhabitable. No water to drink, no air to breathe.
Meanwhile, until the atmosphere catches fire and angels descend blowing trumpets and God kicks the shit out of Richard Cheney, I want to see movies. I want to see a movie in which God kicks the shit out of Richard Cheney.
Or Obama. Anyone who is responsible for our demise. Or tells whopping lies to get his or her ass kissed. I’m not real big on the truth, frankly, I tend to prefer illusions, for obvious reasons, but I hate it when someone gets away with a deceit so colossal it would shame the devil.
In the Scorsese documentary about Fran Lebowitz, Public Speaking, Lebowitz remarks that a high level of connoisseurship is vital to the arts, and to culture in general, and that a significant population of connoisseurship was lost during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the mid to late 80s. Arts became more vulgar, everything had to be “broader, more blatant, more on the nose.”
I see that happening now. I don’t blame AIDS, I blame another epidemic: technological materialism. A mindset that is capable of referring to Steve Jobs as a visionary, or Bill Gates as a philanthropist. This is a society whose perceptions have been blunted by cheap entertainment and whose intellects have been bludgeoned by propaganda. I agree with Lebowitz: there needs to be more democracy in our politics, and less democracy in the arts.