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Why Movies Really Suck

Computer imaging and the decline of imagination

Feb. 18, 2014
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Citizen Kane
Movies have enjoyed wide appeal since the dawn of the nickelodeon. However, no one could have imagined that cinema would become a disposable subset of a gargantuan tentacled monster called computerized entertainment, reducing the 20th century’s only new art form into an oversized video game. The relentless application of computerized special effects forces us to question our own visual senses, leaving us stranded in a weird twilight limbo devoid of any kind of emotional empathy.

It’s getting worse. The influence of rapidly advancing technology has not only altered our perception of film but has largely eroded our valuation of the movie-going experience into a hedonistic form of aesthetic self-denial. Unlike music or literature, the immediacy of film is instantly subservient to the realism of the motion that moving pictures make. By imposing an artificial sense of suspended reality, a computerized frame distorts the common-sense logic of our visual response, trivializing our emotional reaction, leaving us stranded in an artificial world of bloodless visceral sensations. Computerization destroys our perception of what is real, eliminates any possibility of aesthetic involvement and traps us in a pleasant but sterile emotional vacuum.

What we see is not what we are getting! In discussing the latest remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Shirley MacLaine commented, “Imagination doesn’t even matter any more in the Internet world…it’s a tragedy about what we’ve become.”

For many younger moviegoers, as long as a movie is fun and offers immediate visceral satisfaction (unlike so many independent films drearily immersed in social consciousness), they will be happy. The experience of film as an invaluable, life-altering phenomenon remains foreign to their emotional range and frame of reference. Recent favorites such as The Avengers could be described as $200 million B-rated pictures, but no one seems to mind. To criticize the popular work of Ridley Scott, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton or the bizarre experimentations of Darren Aronofsky is to be dismissed as antiquated and snobbish.

But the past lingers, strongly supported by the endurance of Turner Classic Movies. Expensively packaged box sets of the ever-popular Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind and Casablanca continue to be released. These movies are more than 70 years old. Films from what critic David Thomson calls “Hollywood’s Silver Age”—including work by Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese—retain distinction. One wonders whether such critically acclaimed recent films as Inception and Pan’s Labyrinth will retain their hold on the imagination 70 years on. Even the more popular Lord of the Rings and Star Wars franchises may not maintain their luster indefinitely in the face of an increasingly disposable culture.

The art of filmmaking is not a handmaiden to reality. Rather, it liberates the storyline from its narrative, allowing feelings to emerge that are unique, hauntingly familiar and not previously accessible to our consciousness. These feelings are brought into focus with startling immediacy. It’s like looking out of the corner of your eye to discover a new sense of wonder. David Thomson characterizes Citizen Kane as narrowing “the gulf between concrete things and their mysterious emotional meanings.” One focus of art has always been the transcendence of the ordinary—the liberation of the audience to discover eloquence and meaning in the unusual and the atypical, which is why we experience most memorable films as one of a kind. If not the case, why are such disparate films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battleship Potemkin, The Searchers, Singin’ in the Rain, Citizen Kane and Vertigo acclaimed among the Top 20 movies of all time in the British Film Institute’s prestigious survey? The effect of a great movie experience? “Once our consciousness is penetrated,” as Thomson says, “we never forget the scar.”


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