I liked a lot of stuff in Rob Nelson's interview with uber-film guy David Thomson in City Pages (link via Arts & Letters Daily), especially Thomson's positive take on the old-fashioned studio system and how that relates to what TV networks (like HBO) are doing now.
I could have done without some parts, like the section near the end where Nelson trots out his favorite directors for Thomson's benediction. This kind of thing seems almost obligatory in any interview with a "famous" film critic, but it always strikes me as being pretty fanzine-ish.
However, what I want to bring up here is the certainty that both Thomson and Nelson have that the movies, specifically Hollywood movies, are simply getting worse.
There's been a lot of commentary about the declining movie audience and box office this summer and much of it has taken up the line that the audience is shrinking because this year's crop of summer movies are appreciably worse than last year's.
What I find really funny is that in the 1980s and 1990s film critics used to complain that only the big, bad, stupid movies became hits, while the challenging, good, smart movies had no luck. It was accepted by both film critics and film industry types that the best way to ensure a hit was to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Now, I'm not suggesting that there haven't been big changes in the way movies have been made over the last 25 years. I'm also pretty sure that because of all the competition movies face from video games, the internet, and all the other usual suspects, Hollywood's teenager-centric marketing strategy has reached the point of diminishing returns.
But I don't think that the movies have really gotten much worse.
When people look back at past decades, they tend to remember all the good movies, while conveniently forgetting all the crappy ones. Meanwhile, we can't escape the massive hype for all of today's crappy movies, which often makes it harder to find the good ones.
Here are some of the big hits of the 1980s: Any Which Way You Can, Smokey and the Bandit II, Little Darlings, Sharky's Machine, 2010, Rocky IV, Top Gun, The Golden Child, Three Men and a Baby, Dragnet, The Living Daylights, Cocktail, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4.
What's immediately striking is that most of these stinkers are targeted at adults, while today's crappy movies are aimed at teens. Now, I can understand that film critics might prefer bad movies for grown-ups over bad movies for kids, but you just can't get around the fact that we've always been surrounded by bad movies.