About Us

Contact Us


Archive 2

Archive 1




by Sam North

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 1940’s 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 can’t 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 like‘The 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 ‘I’ll 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 Elmo’s 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 can’t 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 shan’t 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 they’d 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 witty movies.

Sophie Marceau

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 America’s 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

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article