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Arthur Meiselman
Five Reasons Why Cinema Is Dying

October 2012

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.

Five Reasons:

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 videotape, 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 even though they haven't seen it? Have you noticed that 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 even though they haven't seen it? Have you noticed that 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.
It appears that your body is worth about $1.98USD, but 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 "rock&roll 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 do try to use that term carefully)... The Duellists, Alien, and Kingdom of Heaven, along with three other great films... Blade Runner, Legend, and Black Hawk Down. He's nearly 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 its tsunami of a 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 mishmosh 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?

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©2012 Arthur Meiselman
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Arthur Meiselman is a playwright, writer and the Editor of Scene4.
He also directs the Talos Ensemble and produces for Aemagefilms

For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


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