The Cinema of 2000 has thrown up one or two important clues as to what
this decade is going to be about. It is probably the same as every decade
really - people, the monsters within and the loss of privacy. A quick
look back at other decades might also provide some clue.
If the 1940s seemed to be about war, spies and heroes, on reflection
is was more about individuals making decisions that affected a wide
number of people. Film Noir was a perfect expression of that. Mitcham
in Build my Gallows High was a perfect example. People caught
up in their own lives unable to see the bigger picture, or bowled along
by events they cant escape.The dialogue
was bitter and ironic, like the times in 1947
'I sell gasoline, I make a small profit. With that I buy groceries.
The grocer makes a profit. We call it earning a living. You may have
heard of it somewhere.'
'My feelings? About ten years ago, I hid them somewhere and haven't
been able to find them'.
'Don't you see you've only me to make deals with now?'
'Build my gallows high, baby'.
In the fifties crime stories were all the rage and a lot anger at the
kind of post-war society people found were living in. The rise of kitchen
sink cinema and beautiful, wistful movies from places like Italy Red
Balloon and reality films such as The Bicycle Thieves. They also
went out to other places to forget everything in such films as African
Queen, which was personal and heroic.
The sixties were epic. Ben Hur, Cleopatra,
Cinemascope spectacle material that was huge, but never captured the
heart and likeThe Charge of the Light Brigade all safely
historic, a film largely forgotten.
If many films of the sixties are pretty unwatchable now, Finnians
Rainbow or Ill Never Forget Whatisname, perhaps
it was because they were so ephemeral and utterly reflective of their
times. The wartime kids had grown up and they didnt want to see
introspection or social deprivation such as Poor Cow or
WW 111 movies such as Fail Safe, they just wanted fluff
and bright colours, the James Bond movies or Bob,Ted, Carol and Alice
- a sexlife without serious consequences. They also got Blow-Up
and Modesty Blaise as well as the ambitious 2001.
Instant icon films.
The early seventies embraced paranoia, fear of change, spies and highly
charged political thrillers. The Conformist, Three
Days of the Condor, and The Candidate tended to show
that we were essentially powerless in our lives, mere puppets of our
demi-god politicians. Rollerball was just one science-fiction
film that prepared us for a benign corporate dictatorship. The fear
of the computer was everywhere too. At the end of the sixties The
Billion Dollar Brain a fun example of paranoia, fear of communism
and sexual freedom, as the seventies drained away Terminator
pointed to something darker.
The eighties sensed a shift. Bladerunner showed that computers
were not the enemy but Robots would be, especially if we couldnt
tell the difference between them and us. The eighties was still recovering
from seventies Disco movies and spent most of the decade looking for
direction. The sexual revolution had turned sour with Aids and political
correctness was the new fascism. It seemed that no one could define
the decade and many film franchises, such as Bond were getting
very tired. Fame (everyone can be famous), Splash (man will screw a
fish if they look like Darryl Hannah), Steel Magnolias, Mystic Pizza,
Animal House, Ghostbusters entertained us, but didnt really enlighten
us. With Indiana Jones, all those Star Treks and Alien movies, the eighties
were all over the place really, offering nothing new or deep and rehashing
nineteen thirties adventure yarns for a new generation.
(They were hugely enjoyable of course and successful, but too no risks.
Terms of Endearment proved we were up for mawkishness but
Flashdance, Top Gun, Risky Business,
Pretty in Pink and St Elmos Fire gave
us a clue as to the rise of the teen movie in the nineties.
The nineties saw horror reinvented with the Scream franchise, Bond reinvented
and reinvigorated, the rise and rise of teen movies and somewhere in
the mix, a tolerance for the likes of Kieslowski with his Three
Colours. It also gave us Tarantino and his capacity to lift
everything he could from previous generations of filmmakers. The very
disappearance of Tarantino in the 21st Century is testimony to the fact
that the cinema cant just exist on recycling, it needs originality
too. The nineties was very much about exhaustion, with too many sequels,
too many TV stars making bad movies, but did it have an identity?
The nineties started with greed (Wall Street) and Oliver Stone reaching
the apex of his career. Somewhere on the way we found time to enjoy
Bruce Willis being heroic against massively cruel but inept terrorists,
we watched many movies stars in the sunset of their careers make a last
stab at quality movies in the hopes we shant recall their turkeys
and comedy became king again, just as it had been at the start of movies
in the early part of the century. Jim Carrey gave us madness and we
paid to watch. We watched too as independent voices found their voice.
Edward Burns, Cameron Crewe, Whit Stilman, Hal Hartley, Tom DeCillo
and we hoped theyd survive and not be crushed by the machine.
The nineties showed that film-making was still viable, still breaking
new ground in interpreting American social disintegration, films such
as American Beauty, and was still able to scare us, Bruce
Willis in Sixth Sense. Hollywood never tires of making new
stars either, such as Ashley Judd and Lucy Liu.
So one year into the 21st Century, do we have a trend?
Being John Malkovich with John Cussak and Cameron Diaz shows
we have a huge imagination and will to challenge the norm. Coincidentally
John Cussak in High Fidelity reveals that we have lost nothing
in our skills with dialogue and capacity to examine our navel. Magnolia
was a wonderful injection of fluid cinema, dark, yet inspirational.
O Brother where art thou? is the Coen Brothers best and
wittiest movie since Raising Arizona and the most beautifully
shot. They still have a lot to give us and I sincerely hope that O
Brother is a success in the States when it comes out in December.
This film alone is a reason to love cinema and want it to continue.
All four of these movies hone in on smart dialogue, quick returns, clever
observations and here is a clue for the future. Intelligent films and
In France, Sophie Marceau showed us in La fidélité', Director
Zulawski that paranoia about the power of the media in our personal
lives is making a big impact and the French are still making stylish,
ultra modern stories that are at once tragic and very human. (It is
a retelling of the Princess of Cleves). The also gave us Girl
on a Bridge as well, a wonderful almost nostalgic romantic comedy
with knives, that could have been a Truffaut movie from the sixties.
No one in America is making films like these, possibly because women
tend to be the stars in France and their films reflect a much closer
contact with human emotions.
The UK survived Saving Grace and puzzled over Americas
acceptance of this cornball story, but nevertheless succumbed to the
improbable Billy Elliot a throwback to sixties kitchen sink
north versus south cultural cliches. Nevertheless, it is good to have
a success of any kind and whatever it takes to get the punters in to
watch British films. The excellent Croupier was ignored
in the UK and yet has been revered in the USA. The UK still has problems
in accepting our own work as good and providing the distribution network
to enable people to see them. If the 21st century is like the last,
then American cinema will be dominant. But, given some kind of miracle,
the French cinema will survive and what is more, we shall develop a
taste to watch European cinema again, sub-titles and all. Some hope.
As the year ends, Charlie's Angels in the number one movie,
but then, it would be. Angels is genuine fun. The most remarkable thing
about watching this film is that you get the feeling that the actors
had a great time making this and the audience loved it. Bill Murray
was wonderful, each girl was great and it is stupid to compare them
to the previous Angels, these Angels have already proved themsleves
elsewhere. If there is a star, then Cameron Diaz's butt hogs the show,
but hell, this is just the kind of stuff you want to see at Christmas,
isn't it? Can't wait for the next episode. We all need a bit of fluff
now and again, something to make us laugh and feel nostalgic and something
of an antidote to the hard labour of watching Dancer in the Dark.
But as the Way of the Gun shows, we have a dark side too
that is worth watching. See you in the movies in 2001.
© Sam North 2000
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