July 21, 2005
Facing the Post-Star Wars Era
The last Golden Age of movies was from 1967 to 1977, and it ended with the release of the first Star Wars film. I didn’t come up with this concept, nor did Peter Biskind with his book and subsequent TV series, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, it was all understood long before that — the late 1960s and the early 1970s, due to shake-ups in the industry, as well as new freedoms in the culture, led to some very good movies. Meanwhile, though, Peter Biskind actually says that the Golden Age went until 1980, with Heaven’s Gate, but he’s wrong. There was a major change between 1977 and 1978, and most of the movies released in both 1978 and 1979 were really terrible, and since I went and saw everything at the time I was very aware of the change. In 1978 perhaps Mr. Biskind does not recall sitting through — Damian: Omen 2, American Hot Wax, Bad News Bears go to Japan, The Betsy, The Boys from Brazil, The Brink’s Job, Caravans, Casey’s Shadow, The Cheap Detective, Comes a Horseman, Convoy, Corvette Summer, Dear Inspector, The Deer Hunter, Every Which Way But Loose, The Eyes of Laura Mars, F.I.S.T., FM, Force 10 From Navarone, Foul Play, Goin’ South, Hooper, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, If I Ever I See You Again, International Velvet, Jaws 2, King of the Gypsies, Laserblast, Magic, Mr. Klein, Moment by Moment, Rabbit Test, Return from Witch Mountain, Same Time Next Year, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, Silver Bears, Slow Dancing in the Big City, Thank God It’s Friday, A Wedding, Who’s Killing the Great Chef’s of Europe, and The Wiz — but since I keep a list of every movie I’ve ever seen, I certainly do. There had never been that many God-awful movies released in a row before, ever (although there has been consistently since). 1978 cannot be part of anyone’s Golden Age. Take my word for it, the dead-end of the last Golden Age was definitely Star Wars (and I was at the very first matinee screening on May 25, 1977 at The Chinese Theater in Hollywood).
Over the course of the next thirty years we have not only endured five more Star Wars films (making this one the sixth, not the third), we’ve also endured the worst artistic slump in the 100-odd-year history of motion pictures. Never before has there been thirty unrelenting years of bad movies that miraculously and horrifyingly seem to get worse every year. I sit here in the midst of a summer where the ingenious cinematic highlights have so far been: the fifth Batman movie, the sixth Star Wars movie, a remake of War of the Worlds, and a remake of the TV series Bewitched. Every time I think we have reached the nadir, the very bottom of the barrel, Hollywood manages to stoop even lower.
So, immediately previous to this summer’s release of the sixth Star Wars film, George Lucas said in an interview with “60 Minutes” that he swore that neither he nor anyone else would ever make another Star Wars movie. However, I also recall George Lucas once proclaiming that he would never, ever direct another movie, and look who directed the last three Star Wars films. But taking him at his word, maybe this horrible period is now over, the dreaded the Dark Ages of cinema, the Star Wars Era has ended.
Neither you nor I can know what new period of cinematic glory we may be entering, if indeed any, but we can fantasize, can’t we?
I believe what’s needed is an updated, international version of Scandinavia’s Dogma 95. For those of you living under a rock for the past decade, the philosophy of Dogma 95 stressed personal drama and characterization over special effects and action, which is good, but they also banned the use of tripods, dollies and Steadi-cams, as well as special effects, which was just stupid, and ultimately undermined and negated the movement. How could you take it seriously when you couldn’t apply it to most movies being made? Not to mention that shooting all hand-held is just a plain-old bad idea.
If you can’t lock your camera down and do smooth camera moves it is not possible to create beautiful montage — the juxtaposing of one image against the other — and therefore you will never make a great film. The idea of Dogma 95 was to improve the state of cinema, but their philosophy was so flawed that within it a great film could never be made, and in ten years none were, so that’s an obvious failure. Nor has there been a renaissance of Scandinavian movies, I might add (and the Scandinavians have had a huge impact on world filmmaking at various times).
Dogma 95 was a flawed failure, but definitely moving in the right direction.
I’m now pleased to introduce Dogma 2006. It is based on the foundation of Dogma 95, but I believe it is more practical and based on real world conditions. Hopefully, we can all use it to move forward into a glorious future.
If we want to improve our movies, and our society, we must take it upon ourselves to make things better. Apathy is the death of all that’s good. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, this is our one and only life and we’ve got to reach for all the gusto we can.
Art matters. Movies matter. They are much more important than just a way to kill time, and a lot more important than just entertainment. Movies are our society’s soul up there on display for everyone to see.
Our art tells us where we are as a society. Right now our art is saying — there’s nothing new under the sun, it’s all been done before, and it was all done better the first time. That’s a sad, defeatist message.
Everything does not have to keep getting worse and worse, not if we don’t want it to. But for things like movies or music to improve, first we must want them to improve. Then we have to go out and do something about it.
Who knows, the next Golden Age could be lurking right around the corner.
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