Irving Thalberg was the sort of person who cherished creative integrity. He was known as “The Boy Wonder” in Hollywood for his youthful looks and his uncanny ability to gather together the best scripts, the best talent, and the best means of production. During his time as the studio head at MGM, he gave the world such all-time classics as “Grand Hotel” (1932), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), and “The Good Earth” (1937). It was a different time, to be sure: a certain level of quality was expected and valued by the general public. Imagine if Mr. Thalberg were alive today to witness the movie franchise overload we have all come to accept: endless superhero movies, endless sequels many times over and over.
It has gotten to a point where, as Matthew Jacobs writes in a wonderful piece for The Huffington Post, that the best days of major motion pictures seem to be far behind us. Well, truly worthwhile movies have become less and less the norm. At the start of the history of cinema, you could say there was a general higher standard of culture. People, as a whole, were better educated, were more well-read, and there was a greater common knowledge to share. That has been on a steady decline. However, it was within relative recent memory that big budget arthouse movies were still embraced in Hollywood. That brings us to my weekend recommendation. Go See DE PALMA (in select theaters starting June 10th), a new documentary by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, brought to you by A24 Films.
DE PALMA explores the work of one of the most interesting directors and screenwriters. Brian De Palma is associated with the American New Wave or “New Hollywood.” The films being made during this golden age of the ’60s and ’70s were innovative, cerebral, and subversive. The big deal was that the big studios were financing them! Today, you’d refer to this sort of filmmaking as “indie low-budget.” But, back then, being anti-establishment was the zeitgeist, baby! A certain level of the unconventional was expected and valued by the general public. Quality was indeed a high priority, the highest priority!
You can say that the original “Star Wars” (1977) is what got us on the wrong track. Because of the crazy success of that movie, studios became fixated with creating more and more movie events. It has taken a while, but the end result is now firmly in place: an endless cavalcade of movie events where quality is a low priority, if at all.
All this begs the question: What is it exactly that the general public expects and values today? Well, it’s a whole new ballgame with all sorts of media. But do we really want to say goodbye to thoughtful big budget movies and leave all the best production to perpetually satisfy the franchise machine? J.J. Abrams is great. But we could do so much more, right? I mean, we can do more if we think of big studio entertainment as having some obligation to create quality work for a mass audience. Is that sort of thinking just too 20th century? Or will the franchise bubble burst? Will the general public continue to steadily reject the endless franchise output? Well, the bubble still has a ways to go before it bursts. For now, spread the word on quality movies and support quality movies.
I’d love to know if DE PALMA is showing in your city. And, if you can, let me know if you went to see it. For now, it is not showing anywhere in Seattle but that should change soon. I prefer to see something special like this in an actual theater (so 20th century of me) but I might catch it On Demand or some such venue. By whatever means, I will see it and post about it.