One of the prime purposes in my life is re-purposing: things that serve one dated purpose and do not change much when pressed into another date and time. The thrift of memory. Think clothes, forgotten lovers, and vibrant viewpoints.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a column on the evolution-devolution of cinema. Here it is re-purposed as if its premise hasn't changed. It hasn't.
Five Reasons Why Cinema Is Dying
Well it's not really dying. Rather, the prevailing art-form of the 20th century is expanding like the universe into an amorphous stew. And like all stews, cooked and cooked and eaten at every meal, you eventually can't tell the wine from the potatoes.
1. There is just too much.
When film became cinema, a hundred years ago or so, we had radio, an intimate, in-the-quiet-of-the-mind form of theatre, and the telephone, better than two cottage-cheese boxes and a piece of string though not quite as intimate, but closer to the intimacy of face-to-face, person-to-person contact. Then came recordings, then came film, then came cinema, then came Hollywood, then came television, then came video tape, then came the stew. Today we have video, it's everywhere... on computers, on phones, on billboards, in the toilet, on refrigerators, in beds. The word film has become an anachronism—movies, we make movies.
2. Everyone is a moviemaker.
All movies are disposable, here now, gone in a minute, an hour, two hours. Also gone is the thrill of touching a round can with 'film' in it which you could even hold up to a light and see pictures. Now we have nothing but 1's and 0's. We have photos of photos of photos. And they end up stewed in video. Hey, you... YouTube me and I'll YouTube you. Everyone in Hollywood, and Bollywood and London is a moviemaker. Here's my camera, here's my shoot, here's my edit (if I edit!), here's my movie. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. I'll be the doctor, you be the nurse, and then we'll switch.
3. Videoless videos.
Have you noticed the number of people who talk, chit-chat, get upset, get depressed about a video they haven't seen? Have you noticed they've noticed that you haven't seen it either? Sometimes they get enraged because you haven't seen what they haven't seen. It begs the question... so what is a video?
4. Movieless movies.
Have you noticed the number of people who talk, chit-chat, get upset, get depressed about a movie they haven't seen? Have you noticed they've noticed that you haven't seen it either? Sometimes they get enraged because you haven't seen what they haven't seen. It begs the question... so what is a movie?
5. The final 100% relentless dominance of merchandising.
Even though your personal physiological value is about $1.98USD, your image could be worth a fortune. We call it Reality TV. In Hollywood they call it Reality Blockbustering. In the "Everyone is a moviemaker" world, they call it "See Me, I can be, I want to be, a Rich Star" (also known as the "roll&rock syndrome" because that music stew has so many people who can't sing, or play or write music but still do the three-cornered 'hat-trick'... money, fame and... money&fame).
Merchandising, or known by its more polite euphemism, marketing, has always been at the base of cinema because cinema has always been a business, the movie business. Though a number of great films were made despite the intrusion of marketing, merchandised they were. With the rise of the corporate studios in the 1920's through the past 50 years, merchandising, sorry – marketing, cooked at the core of cinema and finally became the meal itself. In Hollywood, the Mike Todds and Spielbergs and Bruckheimers learned the U.S. Mint's secret of how to print money... which they did relentlessly, frame by frame, as cinema lost and loses its purpose and some of its potentially great films.
Case in point – Ridley Scott's Prometheus.
I admire Scott... he could have become the first Master Filmmaker of the 21st century. Deeply influenced by two of the four master filmmakers of the 20th century – Stanley Kubrick and David Lean, which he acknowledges – Scott has created three masterpieces (please, I try to use that term carefully)... Blade Runner, Alien and Kingdom of Heaven, along with three other great films... Legend, Blackhawk Down and The Duellists. He's 75 now and he has 125,000 projects on his "gonna get this done" list before he flies off into the fog of his logo. Maybe it's 126. One would think that after 200 commercial advertising projects before making his first film, and after 30 years of commercial V-for-video and television profit-makers, Scott, like Kurosawa, would have mused himself into a final, personal project or two. That could have been Prometheus. It isn't.
I won't offer a review of the film. It's been reviewed to death and into an immensely profitable life, which, conspiratorially speaking, fits right in with the its worldwide promotion campaign prior to release. What I will say is... the film has Scott's masterful visual design and some brilliant photography. What it doesn't have is a layered script, an honest story, truthful characters, skilled acting, and music as a screen character, a hallmark of Scott's great films. The first 45 minutes are good, not great, but good and they portend even better to come. Then it's as if Scott stepped away to another project and someone else came in to direct, and another writer was brought in to rewrite, and another editor entered without seeing the first part. It became a stew, a profitable mishmash that has returned revenue over three times its cost. That's merchandising, marketing, and an elegy to the loss of cinema greatness. It begs the question... so what is a Ridley Scott film?
[Postscript] Sir Ridley's latest bonanza was The Counsellor. What can be said about Prometheus fits The Counsellor like a pair of spa slippers. Dé jà vu! There is also an announced "Prometheus 2" in pre-production, and an "untitled Blade Runner project" and 225,000 other Scott doings. He's nearly 77 now. What is this all about? It's about the fact that our universe is expanding infinitely and Ridley Scott is simply planning not to die, at least not until he gets all of his doings, done..