Recently actor Dustin Hoffman made small little ripples in the movie community by stating that current movies are garbage. Although the statement really does not matter in the long run, the cynical internet movie goers jumped on board his statement, lamenting that the good ol’ days of film are long past, that everything now is derivative garbage consigned to do nothing more than rot the brains of our generation.
Now I can not completely disagree with that assessment. It is a simple fact that commercial shlock has made its way into the highest grossing movie lists for the past few years. Notably movies like The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Transformers 4 made a bit of money in the past year, a fact that I have lamented about in the past.
But going and saying that all contemporary movies are garbage is quite ignorant. And having rose colored glasses about the 60s and 70s of film making ignores a whole cinematic past.
The reason that we still talk about certain movies from the 60s and 70s is because we they are the enduring classics. They are the great films that we remember simply because they were great. For every Star Wars or The Godfather that came out, there were many other terrible films that have slipped into obscurity.
Let’s look at two examples.
1968: The year of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Night of the Living Dead. Also the year of such classics such as Barbarella, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Swimmer, The Devil Rides Out, The Love Bug, Fire Creek, etc. Just going through the list of 1968 films on IMDB shows tons of films that nobody remembers and were just commercial shlock of the day.
1977: The year of Star Wars and Annie Hall. The year also saw such classics as Saturday Night Fever, The Deep, Kentucky Fried Movie, Ocra, New York, New York, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, etc.
See what I’m saying?
If you end up judging the art of one era just by its best examples, of course the 60s and 70s are going to look amazing. Complaining about how modern movies have nothing on the old movies operates with the logical fallacy of comparing our worst movies to the best of the past. Sure, if you compare Transformers to The Graduate (1967) that era seems to be far superior than ours. But it works both ways. If I am going to compare Mad Max: Fury Road to Camelot (from the same year) than 1967 looks pretty weak.
This sort of veneration of the past comes from the modern cynical internet age of movie criticism, where everything is terrible, nothing is good, every movie has irredeemable flaws. We live in an era where Cinema Sins can get by tearing up Ironman 1 and posting a 20 minute video dissecting a children’s animated film for plot holes. We live in an era where random guys with keyboards can get popular by trying to boycott Mad Max because it has a female protagonist. So instead of looking around them at the great movies that have come out in the past 15 years, old washed up actors and internet trolls can be spewing their trendy, hip cynicism and even get their own Youtube channels for it! What a time to be alive!
In the long run it does not really matter. There are tons of exciting and artistic films coming out that may not be making billions, but are still proof that we have great film makers today. Even though we have Michael Bay and Zack Snyder, we also have Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, The Cohen Brothers, Darren Aronofsky, Terence Malick, and so on. And those are the film makers that our generation will be remembered by. Film makers who took the technological innovations of our day (or eschewed them completely) and used them to create masterpieces.
So troll all you want internet commentators. I’m going to go watch some movies!