How often do you go to the movies these days? I used to go all the time, and while it was rare indeed that I saw anything I thought genuinely worthy of seeing again, very little actually put me off coming back. Now I look at the listings, keen to at least keep my hand in, and the decision has gone from what would I most like to see? to what would I like to see at all? to what can I bear to see? The answer is very, very little and the result is that whole months now go by when nothing other than a Sunday afternoon rep show gets me inside a cinema, though inside a cinema is still my favourite place to be.
Movies have always been bad sometimes. Indeed, they've been mostly bad since at least the fifties, perhaps even the forties. But now they're unendurable. They fall into two categories - silly and serious - just as they always have. But now the silly ones are taken seriously, which means they take themselves seriously, which means they are unwatchably pretentious. And the serious ones are even worse.
The London Film Festival rolled by again this month. Every year it gets worse. Think cinema speaks in many voices? Look at the highlights of the LFF catalogue this year:
Opening Night Gala: Frost/Nixon
The Times Gala: W
Centrepiece Gala: Waltz With Bashir
("One night in a bar, an old friend tells film director Ari about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs... The two men conclude that there's a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon war of the early eighties... this tremendously powerful anti-war movie, presented in the form of an animated documentary... Drawing parallels between Nazi death camps and the refugee camps in which Palestinians were housed and persecuted in Lebanon...")
Tiscali Gala: Che (Part 1 & Part 2)
("A tale of idealism, tenacity and sacrifice, it illustrates why he remains a potent symbol of idealism and heroism around the world.")
Time Out Special Screening: Hunger
("... a work of outstanding boldness and beauty... to be applauded for reminding us in brilliant, uncompromising fashion of the lived experiences of a period of our recent history that is often shamefully forgotten.")
Nixon was a bastard, Bush is a moron, Israel is like Nazi Germany, Che is a potent symbol of heroism, Irish Republican murderers were treated inexcusably by the authorities. If that's not enough divergence of opinion for you, the festival also has The Baader Meinhof Complex, the sexier side of terrorist murder, and a couple of hilarious talks and conferences.
One is called 'The Ethical Problem of Violence on Film'. The blurb opines:
From Bonnie & Clyde and Dirty Harry to Reservoir Dogs and Irréversible, violence in film has traditionally divided both critics and audiences - not to mention the MPAA and the BBFC - in their opinions of what is acceptable and what is not. Film-makers arguably have an ethical and moral responsibility and sometimes walk a fine line when trying to represent genocide, war and other brutal acts of violence on screen, without being exploitative.
Even if such subjects had anything to do with the standard content of debates about screen violence, which of course they do not, why exactly do "film-makers arguably have an ethical and moral responsibility... when trying to represent genocide, war and other brutal acts of violence on screen, without being exploitative". How pompous has cinema become in a hundred years? The point of cinema is take a nickel from a sucker on the assurance that you will take away his cares for two hours. That's it. It's a business, one that once prided itself on giving value for money by providing the best entertainment humans could produce. Now it is a back street enterprise, either a seedy peep show in which you can watch folks being tied to chairs and tortured (in 3-D now!) or a draughty lecture hall echoing to the undergraduate whining of attention seeking show-offs.
Even more hilarious is 'Cinema under George W. Bush: Eight Years of Attack and Counter Attack':
With the US Presidential election just days after the end of this year's LFF, we thought it appropriate to analyse the impact that George W. Bush and his administration have had on US and world cinema over the past eight years. Since the World Trade Centre attacks, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the overall war on terror and the treatment of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Bush's actions have inspired many film-makers to voice their opinions cinematically.
After Fahrenheit 9/11 opened the floodgates, a deluge of responsive films followed, representing every possible point of view. But recently, films like Lions for Lambs, Redacted (both in LFF 2007), In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss have not been fully embraced by US critics, and similarly themed films that have dealt directly with the issues, have only scored well at the box office if they take a principled stand against terrorism.
After years of filmic reflection on the direct effects of US foreign policy on other countries as well as their own, there seems to be an increasing trend amongst US film-makers like Alex Gibney and Kelly Reichardt (both of whom have films in this year's Festival) to analyse what is happening to the collective psyche of their own country. Perhaps this can also be seen, in some way, as a more subtle effect of the Bush era. We bring together a select group of film-makers and social commentators to explore this fascinating topic.
They "only scored well at the box office if they (took) a principled stand against terrorism"! Some people just don't want to learn, do they? I sometimes think these common clay types really don't deserve the geniuses they keep from the necessity of working for a living. Talk about ungrateful!
There is nothing more frustrating than idiots who don't know they are idiots because nobody is willing to tell them. If only it were possible to convey to these people how utterly irrelevant they are to just about everybody in the entire universe, how their drivelling 'insights' are unheard by all but the tiniest clique of people who agree with them anyway, how the only thing more ludicrous than the presumption that "US film-makers like Alex Gibney and Kelly Reichardt (both of whom have films in this year's Festival)" have the right "to analyse what is happening to the collective psyche of their own country" is the suggestion that they have the competence to. It makes you want to stand on your seat at the NFT and proclaim:
I have no idea who US film-makers Alex Gibney and Kelly Reichardt (both of whom have films in this year's festival) are. If I ever find out who they are it will be accidentally. I will never, ever need to know who they are, and my life will not be enriched one jot if any such awareness comes to me unrequested. They mean nothing to me. Without seeing any, I know what their films will be like. Without hearing any, I know what their opinions will be. They and their work do not conform to any definition of 'film' or 'film-maker' I endorse or cherish. And I will not sit down until you show a Laurel and Hardy film.
The other line that made me laugh out loud was the one about the deluge of post- 11th September films "representing every possible point of view".
Oh, yes. I remember those.
No wonder real people have no alternative than to go see Batman movies. My local Odeon has special senior citizens afternoons where pensioners can enjoy a movie at reduced rates with free tea and biscuits. What's this week's offering? The Dark Knight. What else? Watch this and shut up, wrinklies. It's our culture or nothing.