ESSAYS, ARTICLES, & REVIEWS
FACING THE POST-STAR WARS ERA
July 21, 2005
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.
1. Yes, concentrate on personal relationships and characterization, but that’s in regard to any and every genre, including action, FX, horror, sci-fi, and everything else. Personal relationships and characterization are better than plots, but plots are necessary, as well. But FX in and of themselves mean nothing; they only exist to enhance the drama.
2. Sequels and remakes are evil, and are always a bad idea. Do not make them and do not see them. If you do see them or make them you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
3. Shooting an entire feature-film hand-held is not new, interesting, exciting or edgy; it’s lazy, stupid, ugly and a great big cop-out. Give the viewer a break, if you’re not imaginative enough to come up with a cool camera move, then just put the camera on a tripod and leave it alone.
4. Pop songs and music videos within feature-films are always a bad idea, and are to be avoided at all costs. If you feel that you must put a song in the movie, put it on the front or the end titles.
5. Not putting the titles up front is not cool anymore. If everyone’s doing it, it’s no longer cool. Meanwhile, the credits go at the front of the movie for a reason, so we all know who was doing what while we’re watching the film. Putting the credits at the end is an inconvenience and a drag.
6. Comic books are, for the most part, bad source material for movies and should be avoided.
7. Novels, short stories, plays and historical accounts are all good source material for movies, and should be embraced.
8. Movies do not need to be interactive in any way. The viewer does not need to be involved in choosing the story’s outcome, does not need to be electrically shocked, nor do they need to be put in the picture.
9. Video games are worse than comic books as movie source material. Avoid.
10. Driving in a car across the country — either way — is not a story. Try harder.
11. Just because you somehow managed to write a full-length screenplay doesn’t make it good. A great deal of writing is rewriting. If your script can’t be improved by thinking about it some more, then it probably just sucks.
12. Vampires and zombies aren’t scary anymore. Try harder.
13. Young, boyish-looking actors are weak and passé. Try casting actors who actually shave and look like grown men.
14. Just because the lead actress is pretty doesn’t mean there has to be a nude scene. Pointless nudity inserted into the script “because sex sells” is demeaning and humiliating to both the actors and the audience.
15. Just because the pretty lead actress has a pretty (or even a plain) female friend doesn’t mean there has to be a lesbian sex scene. Come on, have we all become perverts?
16. Having a large ensemble cast with no lead actor is, for the most part, a lazy, bad idea, and a cop-out. Try harder.
17. You’d better have a really good reason to exceed 120 minutes in length, and you’d better be nominated for “Best Picture,” and deserve it, if you exceed 150 minutes.
18. Three-hour movies without intermissions are forbidden; they are an affront to human physiology.
19. Making the point that there is no point is still having no point. Pointlessness is bad. Try harder.
20. Just because you’ve suffered doesn’t make you an artist. Art is based on craft, which takes practice. Just having suffered is insufficient training for being an artist.
21. Movies are not just for 12-year-olds.
22. Making movies is not an alternative to the lottery.
23. Jump cuts are a bore, and worse, in many, many cases a dramatic cop-out. Go ahead and show me Harold and Kumar smoking the dope and getting stoned, you don't have to jump cut six times to them with joints and bongs and bigger bongs, let me actually see the characters doing whatever the hell it is. Jump cuts were new and cool in 1958 in "Breathless." Jump cuts were even cool in 1976 when Martin Scorsese did them in "Taxi Driver," but that was 30 years ago, now they're neither new nor cool; they are nothing more than a severely overused visual cliche.
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.