In todays market I’m finding out more and more that film is more pulp then art. That is not to mean that all cinema is pulp or not art, but in the days of films like “Shazam”, “Avengers: Endgame”, “Detective Pekachu”, and “John Wick 3: Parabellum” the cinema is not known for it’s art.
Please do not take this as my condescending look at cinema. On the contra I have enjoyed a lot of these movies, and they have a lot of worth in today’s climate. After all movies are for entertainment. They are escapist stories that help us forget the mundane and the frightful. Back in the depression era Hollywood cranked out its share of entertainment. Most of those movies were musicals, film noir’s, westerns, classic horror and serials. In some of them the production numbers and the performances were outstanding. There were such filmmakers as Victor Fleming, Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Orson Welles and Jean Renoir. All these filmmakers made astounding films that are studied today.
But something happened between the 50’s and the 60’s that changed all that. Not that we didn’t have great filmmakers back then, but because studios were losing audiences to television they had to look towards the BIG films to make money. Another factor that changed things in movie distribution was new technology in the form of the Drive-In. As studio’s lost control of their actors, and their monopoly of theaters they could no longer “block-book” their films. Independent studios arouse to take advantage of this and made smaller more exploitative films to grab it’s audience. Hence we got a whole slew of low-budget films, and the world market opened up to even films from Europe. The spaghetti western was a by-product of that era. As technology moved on there became a slew of different types of movies. 3D, cinemascope, technicolor, and dolby sound were all used to draw in audiences. Studios made bigger films with bigger stars in them, and it is right here where things changed, or that’s what I think. See if you agree.
There were filmmakers who worked within this environment and that cared about their work, and through the years we see filmmakers like Coppola, Lucas, and Scorsese still producing superior work, but we are now back to the technology issue. With more and more competition being hammered out by companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu the studios are relying on their “tentpole” films to draw in their audience. Theaters are also doing the same. AMC, Regal, and Cinemark all are converting their theaters into bastions of reclining seated audiences. Even concessions have become fancier, and more prevalent in movie theaters then they were ever. Prices to go see a movie have become exorbitant now, and if you include food you’re night out becomes something where you might need to take a loan out for, so you won’t be doing that on a regular bases. Studios advertising budgets are bloated and they have only a small window to re-coup their costs. Studios are competing with cable, streaming, and even to this day TV.
So are films art or entertainment? I’d say a bit of both, but of late their has been an absence of art. I watched John Wick 3 the other week-end and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I like the series and I was hoping to see if their was closure to the series. Unfortunately I was mistaken. I won’t give any spoilers here. See it for yourself, and I’m sure if you’re a fan you’ll enjoy it immensely, but once again the business side of filmmaking shows up. All I’ll say is that to make the dollars the studios are leaning heavy on their “franchise” films.
You know “franchise films”? Such films as “Star Wars”, “John Wick”, and the whole Marvel universe films. The studios do a great job hooking us and asking us to return for the next movie, but how long can they do that until the audience becomes tired of it, and at what sacrifice does it come? The films are fun, but will they be seen again? 20 to 30 years from now will scholars and audiences in general re-visit these films? I don’t believe so. They will all run endlessly with commercials on various cable stations, and you’ll be able to see them throughout the week or day, and that’s the problem. Entertainment media is expendable. It has a shelf life for the studios. After the initial release of films the studios want their “revenue streams”. Those “revenue streams” will hopefully sustain the studios and keep them in business as they create newer franchise’s.
So does art get lost? That is the eternal question. I believe it does. There are filmmakers who know their history, and who know and admire what has come before. With newer technology these filmmakers are creating images as stunning as ever, and it is up to these filmmakers who really decide if film becomes more then just entertainment. Such filmmakers as the Anthony Russo & JoeRusso, Ryan Coogler and Peyton Reed will most likely pull it off, and of course there are still the filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Joel & Ethan Coen, DePalma, Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino and Spike Lee who can still make more then just entertainment. For movies to become more then entertainment they need visionaries and pupils of the cinema. I am confident that will happen, but with the hyper commercialization of movies I fear that some of those classics may be tampered with, and the more that happens the less the artists vision comes through.
To sum up cinema will become less of an art form if we the audience let it. Our insatiable appetite for content on smaller mediums may dim cinema as art, but as long as movies play in theaters and movies become social events to be shared by it’s audience in theaters I think cinema will remain an art form. But if it becomes a commodity to sell products then the death of cinema is all but inevitable. It’s an argument that isn’t new. Television had been the proponent for many years of the decline of movie going, but it also has been the revitalization of older films where a a whole new and younger audience learned to appreciate the films. Maybe that will happen again, but with new technology comes new problems, and it will be up to the studio’s and the filmmakers to decide how their films will be presented. If that happens maybe cinema will be preserved as the art form it is. Time will only tell, and as always the audience will be the determining factor of preserving cinema’s art through the years, and of course the pure cineaste’s will have their home theaters to forever keep the flame of cinema as art.