Monday, June 27, 2016

Can the Theatrical Film be Resurrected?

Theatrical movies look bigger, bolder, and in many ways, more beautiful than at any time during its one hundred year-plus history as an art form. 
And yet, what we often now see up on the big screen is... less. 
Less variety in subject matter/genre. 
Less substance in the storyline/themes that are worthy of discussing with friends/family/online. 
For at least the last ten years, the theatrical movie has fallen out of favor as the number-one place to stir the passion of the entertainment public. 
When we now talk about what we’ve seen, or solicit advice from others about what we should watch, the conversation is inevitably about TV, not theatrical movies. 

If you’re too young to remember, you’ll just have to trust me when I write that there was a time when a hit movie could dictate fashion changes; unleash brand new trends, and often times lead the way in the public discussion of controversial subjects. 
The Film world’s influence in modern society began with the European New Wave filmmakers in the 60’s led by Lester, Godard, and Truffaut. That movement inspired the 70s filmmaking reformation in this country where the major studios had been producing big-budget disasters that were no different than the same kind of movies they had been producing for the last three or four decades. Young filmmakers like Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorcese ended up shooting movies that were produced and distributed by the major studios. Their films appealed to younger audiences that became excited about movie making as an art form. “Taxi Driver,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Apocalypse Now” became movies not only tackling new subject matter, but doing it in a way that was driving the public debate as well. 
Somehow, all of that influence has largely vanished and feels now like ancient history. 
Today, when the discussion about theatrical movies occurs at all, its mostly along the lines of die hard comic book enthusiasts exchanging their views on such topics like whether actor Ben Affleck is worthy enough as an actor to play “Batman.” 

This is not the first time that theatrical movies have lost their connection to the cultural zeitgeist. And there are experts who believe what has happened is just part of an “historical cycle,” a common and predictable event, which often ends up repeating itself over and over again. Those who believe this theory (I was once one of these true believers) caution that there is nothing to worry about. The natural forces will balance everything out eventually. What was once up will come down. What goes down will often rise up again. All the creative power we now see on TV will eventually migrate back to the production of studio films. We just need to wait until the cycle plays itself out. 
But I'm afraid. 
Not everything in history ends up repeating itself. 
What was once thriving can actually go extinct. 
Specifically, I fear that the Theatrical movie as an art form has lost its way. 
At one time Theatrical Movies were the perfect blending of art and business in delivering entertainment to the mass audiences. And the combination inspired the best and brightest minds for the last fifty years to seek a career in Hollywood.  
Not so much anymore.