Thursday, April 3, 2008
Hollywood: When Is Film Art? When Genius Meets Insanity
"As chronicled in Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the lunatics were running the Hollywood asylum of the '60s and early '70s. The noun "auteur" was actually bestowed on American filmmakers like Robert Downey Sr. (the father of Junior), Hal Ashby, Arthur Penn, Jerry Schatzberg, Paul Mazursky, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and the great Kubrick. For my taste, the finest film of the era was 1969's Midnight Cowboy, directed by John Schlesinger, a Brit working in the U.S. The buddy story of male hustler Joe Buck and street grifter Ratso Rizzo was the ultimate example of anti-heroicism and we were all anti-heroes. We recognized that life is not a Hollywood movie in which the leading man gets the dame and all is wrapped up neatly with a bow on top. We saw that "decent" men gave us Vietnam and war crimes and that those in the lower rungs of the class system often embodied real decency, potentially more so than the clean stereotypes Hollywood had previously foisted on the marks.
These epiphanies were not the result of mere agit-prop by the filmmakers. They experimented, engaged in flashbacks and dreams, broke the fourth wall. THEY DID NOT FOLLOW THE RULES. All great art is created by artists who break the rules and allow their imagination free reign.
Then one day we woke up: Reagan was president and films were movies again. There are exceptions (the fab Coen Brothers), but even most of the exceptions lack the ferocity and vision of a Roeg. Spielberg and Lucas spewed out childish and manipulative crap for a dumbed-down and subdued nation. What had been a B-movie in terms of story was now the blockbuster. It was morning in America again and we were in mourning. As for Hollywood, there are many reasons for this descent into mediocrity. Beyond the country turning hard-right, accountants and agents had replaced eccentric, dope-addled businessmen who, while not exactly Abbie Hoffmans, were nonetheless willing to take risks.
Again, all great artists take risks. Jean-Luc Godard once said, "The politics of a film is the budget of a film." Where the lunatics once ran the asylum, the bureaucrats were now back in control.
To paraphrase something Coppola noted years ago, the great hope of film-as-art remains with a fourteen-year old girl holding a cheap digital video camera. She won't have to answer to accountants and her personal vision will be available for download on the Internet. The artist will prevail.
When is film art? When artists -- not compromised and spineless yuppies -- make films. They're out there, but chances are you won't find them if you're sitting through twenty-three coming attractions and eleven commercials."
-Michael Simmons (EXCERPT: Huffington Post: "When Is Film Art?" 3.12.08)