Dave's Progress. Chapter 31: Confessions of a Cinephile, or, Whatever Happened to Hollywood?

Over at MAGMH we have just started our "Local People, Local Lives" campaign, a new and innovative campaign which seeks not only to bring about a change in attitudes to mental ill health amongst the population of Stoke-on-Trent, but also to enlist and empower volunteers by making and distributing various anti-stigma materials. The campaign will, perhaps, not be like the already existing "Time to Change" in that we will be using new "social marketing" techniques to get our messages across. That is to say our messages will be more subtly conveyed and less direct. I could, for example, talk about my love of cinema, only bringing in an anti-stigma message later in the piece. So, that is exactly what I am going to do here.
Indeed, I am what you might call a "cinephile". Once again, I must point out, that this term has nothing to do with the molestation of the young, the suffix "phile" merely, in this instance, referring to a lover of film. As I have a collection of around a thousand movies both on tape and DVD at home, I surely qualify as a hardened lover and collector of films.
I think I first fell in love with the movies as a child, and to me, the 1970's remains a golden era, particularly in Hollywood. It was at this time that the so-called movie brats (names such as Spielberg, Coppola, Scorcese, Altman, Ashby, DePalma, Cimino, Lucas, Malick, Nichols, Allen, Rafelson, Penn, Schrader, Hopper, Friedkin spring to mind) began to appear and seemed to take over Hollywood. Indeed, there seems to have been something of a seismic shift in power in Hollywood during this time, where directors seemed to get more of their own way and the infinite power of the studios was somewhat curtailed. Gone seemed to be the days when directors were there merely to put the actors on their marks and churned movies out mechanically, like Michael Curtiz, whose, I believe, eighty-seventh film, was the abiding masterpiece, "Casablanca". Instead directors began to take control, making the movies that they wanted to make. And seeing the names above, one is reminded of movies like "Jaws", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "The Godfather", "The Conversation", "Apocalypse Now!", "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "MASH", "Nashville", "The Last Detail", "Carrie", "Blow Out", "The Deer Hunter", "Star Wars", "Badlands", "Days of Heaven", "The Graduate", "Annie Hall", "Manhattan", "Five Easy Pieces", "Bonnie and Clyde", "Easy Rider", "The Exorcist", "The French Connection" and "Chinatown".
Also, with these new directors came new influences. Particularly people like Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg were influenced by European as much as American film and also by television. So it was that watching any of these films seemed like a wholly new experience for cinema-goers. The subjects and content of the movies also appeared to be darker and more complex than anything that had been seen before.
This golden era of film making probably began with Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" and ended with Scorcese's "Raging Bull", both masterpieces. But it was probably Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate", now an almost universally respected film, that put the nail in the coffin of the director oriented era. In the end, it would again come down to unmanageable budgets and money which finally curtailed the director's romp through Hollywood. For a full account of this era you should read Peter Biskind's brilliant "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls- How the sex 'n' drugs 'n' rock 'n' roll generation saved Hollywood." Not only is it an accurate historical depiction of the era, but also contains juicy anecdotal material, such as when Dennis Hopper decided to go on a drug-infused "geographic", eventually ending up on the wing of a comercial aircraft, professing that he was being watched and followed by the FBI.
But now, what do we get instead? It seems that the studios are firmly in control again and the majority of what comes out of Hollywood seems to be, to my mind, complete bilge. The more DVD's I watch, the more I come to the conclusion that Hollywood has lost its way. As I look through the shelves of my local DVD rental shop, all I seem to find are either the mindlessly sentimental rom-coms with unforgivable titles like "He's Just Not That Into You", or mindlessly violent cartoon strip adaptations, of which only the recent "Batman" movies stand out as anything approaching "art". And anyway, it is the British director, Christopher Nolan, who has brought the "art" into that particular undertaking, and even his previous films, such as "Memento" and "Following" stand a much better chance of going down as classics.
What really irks me about most Hollywood movies, though, is the way in which they seem to proselytise about American ideology. They, indeed, as one philosopher once pointed out, seem to be veritable purveyors and inculcators of ideology. I believe it was Nathaniel West, in his book "The Day of the Locust" who first coined the term "The Dream Factory", and indeed, this would seem to be exactly what Hollywood is. An endless purveyor of perfect lives, bodies, situations, all screaming at you that you're somehow not good enough. Or that the dream has escaped you. Or that the dream never was real, but they'll continue to push it anyway. Moreover, the morality of most of these films is purely black and white, while a real film-maker like Scorsese has commented that there are only ever infinite shades of grey. So, where has the moral complexity of the '70's gone and where, as we stare into war and economic collapse, is the darkness?
OK, so perhaps I look at things through rose-tinted spectacles. Let's just admit there has always been and always will be, bad films. And, films like "Rendition" and "Syriana" have looked into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and America's role in them. Also, there are film makers out there like Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers, who are making films worthy of the title "art". Indeed, there is even the phenomena of the new, new Hollywood, with people like Alexander Payne, Richard Kelly, Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufmann all producing films that are funny, quirky, insightful and intelligent. So perhaps, as it is with us humans, it is just that my earlier years seemed a lot brighter. Perhaps I have become just another grumpy old man.
But what, I hear you say, has all this got to do with schizophrenia and the anti-stigma message. The answer is, bugger all, really. There's more to me than just my diagnosis you know. Which, I suppose, is the point.
That's all for now from your normal, average, delusional and paranoid man.


sunseeker said…
Fabulous! And you are absolutely right, there's so more to you than just your diagnosis... and that IS exactly the point

Thank you for yet another entertaining, enlightening installment. I look forward to he next one!

Sunseeker x
dcrelief said…
Hi David,

Craftmanship, artistry, 'quality assurance' have gone the way of the Hollywood back-lot restaurants; Micky D's gives you hearburn as well as change for your pocket. The only thing I've noticed is better quality music; sometimes I'd like to ditch the dialog and go straight to say, Annie Lennox.
I like knowing you're a movie buff. Writing reviews would not seem a stretch, at all, for you! There's a few I'll avoid now as:
"buggerlicious". Thank you.
In peace,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Another highly informative blog that displays your obvious passion for the film industry. I think Dixie makes a good point about the possibility of you becoming a reviewer of movies.
Although, I must confess, that I am not an avid fan of movies; I do watch the occasional bit of a film on television. Almost every film I see, late at night, seems to have been filmed in Vancouver, usually disguised as some American city. So instead of actually getting absorbed in the film, I keep thinking, 'hey I know that building, that tree etc. Sorry I rambling...
You are right there is more to you than your diagnosis. As a matter of fact David, I never give it thought. All I see is David, a thoroughly decent chap who has my utmost respect. It has been my pleasure to have been involved on the "Local People, Local Lives" campaign with you.
With warmest wishes, Gary.
David said…
Dear Sunseeker,
Always a pleasure to hear from you. I would just like to say being at MAGMH has been very positive for me. It has given me much more confidence and that all-needed "structure" to my days. So, I am ever grateful for that and hope that I give as much as I get.
With Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear dc,
Thanks once again for commenting on my blog. I shall slide over to yours soon.
Well, film reviewer, eh. Perhaps I could give that a go too!
Thankyou for your continued interest and compassionate responses.
With All the Best,
David said…
Dear Gary,
I am glad that you don't give my diagnosis any thought. That is, after all, I think, the whole point of our new campaign. That we can see past the stereotypes and, erm, bullshit, just to see the person.
Your feelings of knowing just an ordinary, decent chap are fully reciprocated by me.
See you next week.
All the Vey Best,

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