Features | The Golden Age of Cinema is Dead

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Nostalgia for the golden age of cinema is a terrible affliction and cannot be cured by the release of yet another Expendables film.

At the start of the previous century, cinema was in its infancy and in that time technology and talent propelled its evolution. Recently, cinema is showing dangerous signs of degradation. Too many new films are now sequels, prequels, remakes, or relying on 3D technology to sell at the box office and unfortunately is appears as if the audience love this kind of repetitive and rehashing cinema. The film industry is not the fashion industry where trends are hauled back on to the assembly line after a few decades. Cinema should be explorative, experimental and exciting.

Yet where does this problem originate? I would suggest that Star Wars began this mighty spiral. The franchise is a goldmine, and with each new film and accompanying action figure there is also the added disappointment it just was not as good as the original. It is common belief that the original trilogy of Star Wars, which began in the seventies, were the superior films, yet here we are eagerly awaiting a seventh. Perhaps it’s best to lay a good thing to rest before you make the best films a sour memory.

However, this is unfair on the other sequels, prequels and remakes that do it right. ­X-Men First Class took the beloved characters and gave them a history without clinging to the previous three films. 22 Jump Street is almost a parody on sequels (certainly the end credits are entertaining) and the creators, Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, do not follow all the same patterns they did with the first film or original television programme. Remakes and sequels can be good as long as film makers add originality and do not just rest on the belief audience’s love for characters and the old narratives will carry it through.

Lindsay Lohan and Zac Efron were rolled off the Disney production line (Image: On Sugar)
Lindsay Lohan and Zac Efron were rolled off the Disney production line
(Image: On Sugar)

Films are just not made the way they used to be. The classic film noir genre has all but disappeared from our screens and musicals which lit up war time audiences are now making cinema lovers weep in desperation for something better. Disney are the only company which escape censure except when it comes to the talent on screen. Disney actors and actresses are a formula: attractive, youthful and ultimately doomed. Lohan, Efron, Cyrus; the promise of talent without fulfilment. If you match them up to the golden age stars they fall short. Gene Kelly, who immortalised Singin’ in the Rain, would dance the steps in a single shot and oozed charm, humour and style. Zak Efron in High School Musical and his later films relies on his amazing body and handsome face. Too many actresses seem to get the job because of their tiny figures rather than a withering stare like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, or a captivating voice like Elizabeth Taylor in The Taming of the Shrew.

Many actors and actresses like Helen Mirren, Tom Hanks, and Robin Williams, who tragically passed away this week, match and surpass the Hollywood greats and fit comfortably alongside Laurence Olivier, Audrey Hepburn, and Lauren Bacall in the hall of fame. Yet there are some actors and actresses that make you wonder how they keep getting jobs. Jennifer Aniston wooed us as Rachel on Friends but now has to resort to gaudy sexual comedy to stay on our screens. Robert Pattinson started well with Cedric Diggory but sadly is not enough of a presence to pull off the lead roles they insist on putting him as, and that rule follows for most of the Twilight cast.

Sadly, it’s not just the onscreen talent which frustrates. Too many directors are making run of the mill films. Hitchcock is probably still to this day the biggest name in film making and his talent has not and I doubt will ever be reached. Psycho’s camera angles has audiences gripped, in the shower scene you feel every slice and cut (despite there being one) and the climatic ending will terrify even if you know it. The Birds will make you look twice at pigeons massing in the city and Rebecca is just a triumph in all aspects. Even in colour Hitchcock cannot disappoint. Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, and Rear Window, which all star Grace Kelly, are tense narratives perfectly told through skilful camera work and lighting.

The shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho is as gripping today as ever before (Image: The Snapper)
The shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho is as gripping today as ever before
(Image: The Snapper)

Modern directors which come close to Hitchcock seem to be in the smaller numbers, especially in the blockbuster charts of Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan are the two most notable directors that refuse to stick to convention and challenge the boundaries of film making. Their ability to take a simple narrative with beginning, middle, end and create a puzzling logic is exciting and fresh. Nolan’s Momento and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs are definitely not hot off the assembly line. Nolan’s Inception, written by his exceptionally talented brother Jonathan, was a film which would not just wash over you and made the audience really think, watch and appreciate clever script writing. And as far as Tarantino is concerned boring sequels, prequels and remakes just do not suit him. His films are controversial, candid and clever. Young film makers need to think about style, narrative and personality. You know a Nolan film when you watch it; a Tarantino film is glaringly obvious, but too many directors are working for box office results instead of seeing cinema as an artistic space.

Unfortunately the film industry is run by the producers and while mass audiences will flock to the cinema to watch the latest instalment of a film there is little hope for a revolution in cinema. Cinema as an experimental art form has now become a minor genre and some modern directors appear to have lost the ability, breathing space or allowance to attempt new styles. Cinema is run by its audience and if the audience do not demand more we can expect the same trends of sequels, prequels and probably 20th anniversary reunions to continue. Next year’s films do look promising, but with 50 Shades of Grey forecasted to be the biggest film for 2015 at the moment it could be even greyer skies predicted in the A-list bubble of box office hits.


Vickie Hesketh

Main image: Eclipse Magazine

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