(As all the films I've watched this week have been research for a new project, there will be no Films This Week, for the reasons explained here. So I thought I'd write this post instead).
A recent conversation with a friend of mine got me thinking once more about Argo, which I praised here, writing: 'look, [Argo is] saying, how good mainstream films were in the 1970s – let's go back to making films like that'. In other words, as both my post and my conversation with my friend made clear, the joy of Argo seems to be the fact that it harks back to the past, to a time when the movie brats were coming of age and mainstream films were borrowing liberally from European art-house cinema.
This era (1970s Hollywood), is sometimes seen as something of a 'Golden' era, a time when auteurs ran rampant before their gate of heaven collapsed. So glorious were the achievements of the filmmakers of this period, they spawned a new generation of offspring: directors who aspired to be like their heroes, and who would reference and steal from them in the same way that the movie brats were borrowing from the art-houses.
And now, from talking to several classes of students on my Life Just Is University tour, it would seem there is another generation on the rise: one influenced by the sons of the movie brats, who have no interest in art-house, and for whom mainstream cinema rules all.
This is not a problem in and of itself, and yet… I don't wish to make so bold a claim as saying that mainstream cinema is declining in quality. There are plenty of genuinely good, big budget, commercial films still being made. And yet… Surely the fact that Argo has been so popular proves that we still have something to learn from the movie brats. Or, more precisely, from their influences…
What made the films of the 70s so fresh, so exciting, so powerful, was that they were borrowing from the great art filmmakers, and in doing so were creating commercial work with artistic appeal. By dropping this influence, and seemingly only wishing to borrow from the mainstream filmmakers who have gone before them, it seems like the new generation is destined to end in erosion, with all the art slowly dissolving away. Simply put, I fear mainstream cinema will eat itself.
Let's hope I'm wrong.
(On a tangential note: film may eat itself in another way too. I'm amazed by the amount of young filmmakers who think it's okay to pirate films because they're poor aspiring filmmakers – and who fail to see the irony of this. So, to sum up: if any young filmmakers happen to be reading this: stop pirating films, and go and buy a Bergman boxset).