Sunday, September 30, 2012

American Movies are Not Dead: They are Dying

Ed here: This is an excerpt from a long piece on American movies by David Thomson that appears in the current The New Republic. An amazing piece of work.

"THOSE FILMS from the late 1950s had another sour attitude in common: they seemed to wonder whether the movies have gone on and on for long enough, so don’t we know every story by now? If you look at Rio Bravo (and this held even in 1959 when it opened), it offers a whimsical, affectionate example of a “suspenseful” Western. (Will the sheriff win? It was intended as a corrective to High Noon.) But that is perfunctory compared with its witty and digressive parody of such a Western, and its cheerful admission that this is really some actors, writers, and a director questioning and mocking the cockamamie routines and rituals of a Western. It isn’t a story, it’s a movie commentary, edging toward pastiche and camp. Similarly, Anatomy of a Murder is less an authentic trial story than variations on the hackneyed theme of the courtroom film. North by Northwest and Psycho tease us for believing in their absurd stories while delighting in the trickery that prompts that belief. As for Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, it was the first candid admission that movies came out of a madhouse, stupefied by inside references, but unaware and uninterested in any external reality."
"How far did those directors understand the abandonment of narrative earnestness? I’m not sure, but it hardly matters. Film has always had a technological drive and a money habit that undermine the artistic solemnity of its auteurs. So when it comes to regretting the death of the movies and the way digital imagery and projection have put a blue-steel armor on the passion of light in photography, I have to insist that we were killing the medium long ago by grinding story down to sawdust, and encouraging the self-consciousness of disbelief, and undermining the innocence of sincere sentiment."

For the rest go here:


Anonymous said...


Mathew Paust said...

It's one thing to say straight narrative in movies is dead, and quite another to say movies themselves are dead or dying. I'm no expert or cinemafile, but I like all of the movies mentioned here as somehow "undermining the innocence of sincere sentiment." I prefer reading to watching movies, but occasionally a movie can reach me in a way a straight-line narrative hasn't. I think the two media can compliment each other,each in its own way. I don't understand the harm if they're not parallel. I feel I could go on and try to elaborate with particulars and examples, but I'm tired right now and simply don't have the energy. I hope I've made a valid point.

Dick Lochte said...

Is Thompson really saying that any film that doesn't take itself too seriously is marking the death of motion pictures? If so, he needn't worry. Movies like SOME LIKE IT HOT and NORTH BY NORTHWEST are rare birds and the medium still has its share of "sincere sentiment," or, as some would have it, pretentious claptrap.