Saturday, May 30, 2009

What Are Movies?

You don’t have to be a machinist to know that a device cannot work properly if its cogs are clogged with gunk, or if a piston ain’t firing, or a thingamajig isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. If one little element is out of place, the contraption in question may run quite badly, or may not perform at all.

Movies are machines. They are not paintings or statues; those things do not move, and as extremely arousing as the best of such artworks are, they are much less complicated (let's face it).  Movies are machines.  They are the combined efforts of actors, directors, writers, art directors, cinematographers, editors, costume designers, musicians and artists of all stripes. If a film has all of these elements working in congruence, but then has the misfortune of having, say, a make-up artist who can’t form a fake beard to save his or her life, then the whole magilla can come crashing down on everybody. Then, all the efforts of so much money and human productivity--millions of dollars and manhours--are all for naught.

Movies are devices that are there to make us feel or think certain things that, in circumstances outside the experience of watching the movie, we wouldn’t be thinking or feeling at all. If one wants to go someplace, but the vehicle has a busted catalytic converter or something, then sorry, but one isn’t going anywhere.

Jean Luc-Godard, for a long time an idiosyncratic maker of machines that sometimes work and sometimes do not, once wisely said that if the movie industry were the airline industry, there would be cataclysmic crashes popping up repeatedly all over the globe, and the customer complaints would be overwhelming.  

It’s my opinion that there are indeed such crashes befalling us movielovers all the time. Despite giving us such exquisite machines as The Fall, The Wrestler, Wendy and Lucy, Let The Right One In and Wall-E, 2008 was a year in which there were many "bombs," as they are tellingly known as in the industry (and that's another kind of machine, too). In fact, I’d say that 2008 was one of the most miserable years in movie history, and further proof that the art form is dying, or at least in the process of undergoing a radical evolution.

I’ve been a movie fan all my life. A diehard. But I’ve found recently that I no longer visit the theaters with the idea that something great is in store for me. In fact, I buy my tickets with great trepidation—with the sense that I’m about to be hoodwinked, played for a sucker by an industry that profits on constantly disappointing the good faith its patrons put in the motion picture biz. This would be all right if movies cost a buck fifty to experience. But when one is paying 12 dollars for a movie (as is the case in New York City)—that is, 12 bucks for a mere two hours of entertainment that may either make you cheer or wretch your guts out—then this indeed is not alright. Would you plunk down 12 simoleons for a box of soap flakes that only got your clothes clean 10 percent of the time? I didn’t think so.

It’s always been my goal, through my writing, to help fix these devices we call movies. I don’t want to see movies die; I want them to thrive (artisitically more than in popularity--after all, despite the industry's soul-sickness, the profits are up in 2009). I know they can once again reach the heights they did in past decades. After all, there are a million, billion great stories left to tell. But with the internet, TV, video games, those old things called books, and so many other sources of entertainment out there sucking up our free time, I also know that the movies, like the presently failing American car industry, are doomed if they keep churning out so many poorly-designed machines. And I don’t want to see them end up on the cultural scrapheap. So I’m here to help.


MovieMan0283 said...

I like this post a lot, and it sums up my feelings about theater-going perfectly: "In fact, I buy my tickets with great trepidation—with the sense that I’m about to be hoodwinked, played for a sucker by an industry that profits on constantly disappointing the good faith its patrons put in the motion picture biz."

I almost never see a movie in theaters anymore. This is for two reasons: financial, and the ritual of aesthetic disappointment. Yet I feel I'm missing something watching DVDs exclusively: not just the communal gathering or the size of the screen, but the submission of oneself to the larger-than-life experience which elevates (or at least differentiates) the cinema above other, more workaday entertainments.

That said, this piece, especially given it's closing sequences feels like more of a preface than a there more on the way?

Dean Treadway said...

There is, MovieMan...I'm thinking of calling the series COGS IN THE MACHINE. I'll tackle a different facet of the movies each time out (my first subject is going to be SOUND AND MUSIC, next MARKETING, then CINEMATOGRAPHY, STORY and so on.., But I'm gonna keep each essay similarly to-the-point. Glad you liked it!