Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In Which You Decide You Can't Trust My Opinion On Movies Any More

If you ever did, of course.

We watched The French Connection the other night.

Five time Oscar-winning French Connection.

It registered a big "meh".

Now, if there's a period of time in the movies that registers a big "meh" from me, it's the late '60s to the late '70s. Say 1966-1975. Movies from this era tend to have certain elements in common:

1. A mustard yellow/avocado green color scheme. These were popular kitchen colors but the whole decade seems drab and--well, sort of like the '50s-future gone totally degenerate. One thing TFC had over similar cop dramas is that it wasn't all this way. There were some very nice shots and some good blocking, some things that presaged The Exorcist.

2. A gawdawful, ugly, brass-heavy score. That's why John Williams was such a phenomenon with Jaws and especially Star Wars. He brought back the full orchestra and aesthetic music. TFC is slightly different if only in that it relies on some really ugly piano work.

3. An attitude of cynicism and nihilism this generation wishes they could touch. So, in TFC, we have incompetent cops chasing incompetent crooks with a bunch of innocent people getting killed, and the bad guys getting away or getting light sentences because the system is broken, man.

There are probably a lot of other things that I object to, too, but I just plain avoid movies from this era. Even good ones tend to be ruined by one or more of these issues.

The Godfather movies, of course, are both remarkably (and uncharacteristically) beautiful with lovely scores, but the "heroes" are mobsters who are slightly less evil than other mobsters. The Wild Bunch makes sociopaths out of the guys who had been cutting heroic figures in the preceding 50 years of cinema. Serpico has an honest cop lead--but he's the only honest cop in the world, apparently. Even the Dirty Harry movies suggest that Harry's the only honest and competent cop around.

The musical dies during this period, with Cabaret putting the nail in that coffin. I love Cabaret, don't get me wrong, but it cemented the notion that we couldn't accept the musical as a serious art form. Post-Cabaret musicals would either be fantasies, kiddie pix or the music would have to come from an "organic" source. No more random people breaking out into song and dance.

This was the time of Heston's Post-Apocalyptic trilogy: Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and Omega Man. The death of the pro-American war movie with The Green Berets. The death, probably coincidentally, of the big-budget animated feature and Walt Disney. The time of despairing features like They Shoot Horses Don't They and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Not coincidentally, this is both a time critics are often nostalgic for, and a time when box office receipts were phenomenally low.

If not for the (basically) pre-Boomer Spielberg and Lucas, and Roger Corman's influence, movie theaters would probably be oddities today.

Getting back to TFC: It's slow--the vast bulk of the movie is people following other people around! The acting is good, of course. It all feels pointless though, and probably that was the point. Between the nihilism and the super-duper chase scene (which has aged like an episode of "Barnaby Jones"), you had a copy story that you could avoid enjoying for the normal reasons, and could "enjoy" for what it said about The Man.

A Big Meh. For giggles, TFC beat the following movies at the 1971 Oscars:

  • Clockwork Orange, A (1971) - Stanley Kubrick
  • Fiddler on the Roof (1971) - Norman Jewison
  • Last Picture Show, The (1971) - Stephen J. Friedman
  • Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) - Sam Spiegel (I)

  • Films not nominated that year include Harold and Maude and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.


    1. Now, if there's a period of time in the movies that registers a big "meh" from me, it's the late '60s to the late '70s. Say 1966-1975.

      Hell-ooo me too!!

      I took a "Literature and Film" class in college (this would have been ca. 1991) and my prof declared this period to be the Golden Age of film. There are a lot of "classics" from that time I just don't enjoy at all, and I too avoid it whenever possible. (I do like Dirty Harry though)

    2. There are watchable movies in this time period, but they're not the critically celebrated ones for the most part.

      Dirty Harry is, more or less, a kind of cowboy movie. The disaster movies (which I riffed on after reading your last post) are just melodramas--in fact, they're almost "Old, Dark House"-type movies only instead of the haunted/spooky house, you have the building on fire, or the earthquake.

      But the Bigs weren't making any money at the time, while Roger Corman was cleaning up. In fact, a lot of people felt the whole movie thing was over. It would all be television soon enough.

      It was really Jaws and Star Wars that changed that, and the attitude. Which is why, by the way, the critical class likes to say that Spielberg and Lucas killed Hollywood.

      And by the way, movies like TFC are really the best of breed: A whole metric shiteload of movies were made that you just want to kill yourself after watching.

      That's "art", baby!

    3. A whole metric shiteload of movies were made that you just want to kill yourself after watching.

      That's basically it, in a nutshell. That was the sentiment I was expressing in my comments about indie movies about dysfunctional families over at Athouse the other day.

    4. I don't think the current flow of Indie movies are that bad--at least not the ones that get distribution.

      There's one good thing about this era: Suicide is trite. That's why the ending of Thelma and Louise could work, insofar as it did.

      (Although, reflecting on it, T&L's ending was sort of theatrical and surreal. An entirely different effect would've been achieved by showing the clean-up crew sweeping up bits of Sarandon and Davis at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.)


    Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.