Stimulation and Substance in Film?

What constitutes a successful film in modern time? There appears to be, more or less, a pattern: a very "safe" story (nothing too abstract or of a minority complex), boring "filler" dialogue, un-original and one-dimensional characters, soulless (in content) to some degree, and harboring hollow thematic elements.

For example, Colin Trevorrow’s catastrophe and embarrassment Jurassic World. It’s not that the box-office record setter didn’t have a plot, it just had a plot that was so full of holes it had no structure. There are countless holes and problems with the concept and story of the latest installment. Frankly, there were no characters, there were only low-caliber actors reading a script with absolutely no heart. The movie was layered with gross product-placement worse than perhaps any other movie in recent memory.

On the other hand, take a look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece The Master. The Master is a culmination of tremendous writing and execution thereof in film. Arguably one of the most original and transformative drama’s seen this decade, The Master was a true achievement from one of the great living auteur filmmakers. Beautifully portrayed by wonderful actors all around, complimented with a mesmerizing score, and shot in astonishing 65mm film, The Master is the epitome of modern art film.

Now, looking at the audience’s reaction to both these films reveals a great about what they look for in cinema. While The Master was hated by many average movie-watchers (considered too complex for general audiences) Jurassic World broke box office record history making almost 2 billion worldwide. Jurassic World was mindless entertainment delivered through over-stimulating CGI and explosions. The Master was a film that demanded patience, and an appreciation for cinematography; the poetry of film. By looking at the general opinion and results from public audience’s, is it clear what is expected and desired from cinema by the general public?

  • This topic reads like an Film101 analysis. There has always been an audience for avant-garde cinema as well as populist blockbusters and you could honestly write many, many books (as many already exist) about narrative style and rhythm in both blockbusters and art-film. But it seems like it'd be incredibly hard to do this in the context of a single article without it resulting to the sort huge overgeneralizations (like "most American families") that this pitch is riddled with. Of course producers are making movies they know people will pay for. I'd suggest refining the topic into a more critique of either style, or possibly write about a couple directors that are conflating pop and avant-garde cinematic techniques to challenge assumptions of both styles. I'd say some Harmony Korine or Paul Thomas Anderson films might be a good place to start. – robarcand 9 years ago
  • The idea of escaping reality through movies and theatre is not a modern trend I'm afraid. Since the 1950s when studios produced big entertaining films that could boost their ticket sales, they wanted to sell dream to people and played on that idea of 'escaping your home and work life for a few hours'. Do some research in film history you'll find a lot of information! Nowadays people go less often to the movies than before - that's a reality. They watch new content on TV, on their laptops, on Netflix... It has become part of the home life. Does that idea of escapism still work here then? – Rachel Elfassy Bitoun 9 years ago
  • Similar to robarcand and Rachel, I suggest reframing the topic. My own interests are in a more nuanced approach to your heavy implication that Americans lack intelligence. I agree with robarcand, and suggest that if your position is one more about culture than film, then you might work at gathering some empirical evidence to support a more representative and less inflammatory claim about cultural expectations relative to the movie industry. There are some fascinating historical studies and narratives, for instance, about how the Catholic Church and the movie "Code" have deeply shaped the structure and content of the movies made for mass consumption. That dissatisfaction with ambiguity you note strikes me as unrelated in any meaningful way to intelligence. After all, appreciating and curating high art, or limited-release art films, is not something at any point in human history that we've understood mass humanity to be capable of completing (let alone caring about). Good luck. – pacrutcher 9 years ago
  • You open by asking 'What constitutes a successful film in modern time? There appears to be, more or less, a pattern...' In response, I would ask what you're defining as success. You cite box office earnings, and ticket sales have a long history of being used as markers of a studio film's success. However, if that's the route you're going, that means that you're largely confining your own observations to the products of the very studios--many very old studios--which, throughout the decades, have boiled their products down to so many narrative equations: add A, add B, make money. That's not to say that such practices are bad: the narratives they produce must have some value, as we're willing to watch them reconstituted over and over, especially if we get twists on their themes. But, again, with the studio you're going to get structure, yet your question indicates that you personally value iconoclasm by comparison. So, I also question your implication of product placement as an indicator of low quality. In citing Jurassic World (which I've not seen), you're dealing with a human future where commercialization has gotten so far as to make possible a dinosaur-based theme park with REAL dinosaurs; almost regardless of what sort of product placement is included in the film, doesn't it all seem realistic given the circumstances? You, on the other hand, imply that we're meant to take an amount of commercialism beyond 'X' as compromising the 'art' of the piece; but what is an acceptable definition of 'art' in that equation, and, more to the point, what defines 'X'? Finally, it seems like you're looking for support of a particular set of aesthetic values. Okay, but how can we get to what those values are ultimately informed by? Can we plainly get at what you consider to be good and how such parameters might contribute to larger discussions of film? – Joe Anderson 9 years ago

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