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May 30, 2007

Meat, Movies and Mortality

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

This morning Terry Teachout does a riff starting with Seventh-Day Adventist meat substitutes and winding up dealing with death.

In the midst of all this he brushes past the film industry. Following a John Simon quote, he tosses off the following generalization.

Simon got it on the nose: in Hollywood, ordinary middle-class life is a state to be escaped, not examined. The only thing missing from his pithy indictment was the reason why. Today, the answer is plain to see: even more so than in 1974, American movies, like Trix, are for kids. The business of Hollywood is business, and since teenagers go to the movies far more often than their parents, they are the audience for whom those movies are made. Grownups stay home and watch workplace sitcoms; teenagers go to the mall and watch films in which none of the characters is married or has a real job. That is the world they know, and they expect to see it on the screen.

Michael is the movie maven hereabouts, so I won't offer my two cents other than to say that most of the previews I see when I'm in a theater (which is seldom) seem to fit what Terry's talking about.



posted by Donald at May 30, 2007


So true! The best thing we can do is to patronize, and so support, the movies that are not like this. I recommend, in this connection, "Away from Her," which is about two old people dealing with old people problems -- and quite beautiful! (As is Julie Christie, I was delighted to see, after all these years!)

Posted by: Lester Hunt on May 30, 2007 11:48 AM

True enough in regard to the kids.

For the new to the city college grads, the movies serve a different purpose. Supposedly intellectual, they are in fact emerging from the leftist indoctrination they received in college and struggling to merge that indoctrination into a practical philosophy in regard to work and romance. If they graduated from a humanities program, they were indoctrinated in the Marxist babble of feminism and gay activism. So, they are struggling to accommodate the condemnation of marriage as a means of oppression, as they were taught by the feminists, with their desire for a workable romantic life. In stark contrast, they were taught that gay marriage is fashionable and that gay couplings are politically preferable to straight relationships. This is because gay men do not "oppress" straight women" by touching them with that poisonous penis. Gay men have the decency to take it out on one another.

So, in our "intellectual" cities, the young flock to watch leftist propaganda movies for instruction on how to proceed in a way that is ideologically permissible. "Brokeback Mountain" is pure propaganda at its best, in that it characterizes gay sex as the romantic ideal and straight men as the demonic oppressor. "An Inconvenient Truth," gives one the opportunity to bemoan the culture of acquisition at the same time that one is striving to get to the top of it. At least, one is feeling guilty about it. This makes the viewer part of the in-crowd, those who know the sacred truth.

The witless "stupid movies," as my daughter calls them are adequately defined by Donald's posts. I think that the leftist propaganda movie for those passing from adolescence into the adult world is the other side of the coin. The dilemma is always the same: How do I square living in the adult world with the heavy handed Marxist indoctrination I received in my college courses?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on May 30, 2007 12:06 PM

hmrmph: TT clearly has a PhD in the bleedin' obvious.

Posted by: dearieme on May 30, 2007 12:50 PM

TV is for dramaqueens too, middleclass attitudes I think are some difficult attitudes for entertainment. But juvenalia ain't a response of a adult!

Posted by: Brian Hadd on May 30, 2007 12:54 PM

It's not just that movies are aimed at the teenage demographic. In most cases they're aimed at the teenage male demographic. Put differently, movies target a group that probably accounts for no more than 10% of the country's population.

Posted by: Peter on May 30, 2007 1:12 PM

American Beauty is probably the biggest offender with regards to what Donald is talking about. And awful flick without a single true moment. I happen to love filmic examinations of suburban life, being a suburbanite myself. Little Children, with Kate Winslet, I thought did a good in representing both the comforting and suffocating qualities of the suburbs. Although the ending was way overblown.

Posted by: the patriarch on May 30, 2007 2:13 PM

It's really amazing, the extent to which the current American film fails to address adult life; which, in the United States, pretty much translates to the condition of the middle class: its dilemmas, its foibles, and its great redeeming strengths.

Thinking about how to respond to this post my mind chanced on the playwright and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. He wrote about regular people and real situations. He's most famous for Marty, and much later, Network. But back in the '50's, at the height of his influence, he wrote the screenplay for The Bachelor Party. Ever hear of it or see it? It's essentially about a participant in the great middle class struggle - a young married guy who's almost, but not quite, overwhelmed by the frustrations of his condition, the middle class conditon - who falters...and recovers. And it's full of sympathy for, but doesn't sentimentalize, both his dilemma and that condition. But I had to go back to the '50's to find such a film.

It's almost certainly true, that, for the reasons Shouting Thomas enumerated, such a film wouldn't, couldn't be made today. Sympathy. That's key. Sympathy for the ordinary, the average, the normal. That's what's missing in those who write and produce today's movies. That's why our current movies can't be adult.

Posted by: ricpic on May 30, 2007 3:21 PM

Holy cow, it's just like in "Frequency"! Thomas is communicating with us from 1970! (Don't tell him what happens to him in the future, or everything will go bonkers.)

Seriously, now. That perspective was marginalized by the time I entered a major university in 1994, to a few loony departments plus a few stragglers. I remember watching "Pulp Fiction" and "Short Cuts" and "Raising Arizona" and "Clerks". I cannot by any stretch of the imagination see any of these as a "leftist propaganda movie for those passing from adolescence into the adult world". I'll force myself into a generalization: these films helped us think about dealing with the present moment, in a world where plans are thwarted and chance rules the day. They helped instill cynical humor, disrespect for ideology, and perverse love for the thwarted plan.

Later on came "Magnolia", a film that took this perspective, and grafted onto it a hope for some kind of redemption through empathy. Around the same time there was also "Lola Rennt", which suggested a spiritual path involving a passionate relationship with chance.

So I could draw a Pauline Kael line through the films of my twenties, but it wouldn't be much about second-wave feminism or crazy Seventies power theories. What it was, though -- was that set up by the nature of universities and learning in my time? Quite possibly. When it's apparent than you're not building an intellectual edifice, but rather groping around in a jungle as it grows ever more mysterious, this sentiment has to somehow get reconciled with the plan for a responsible adulthood.

Posted by: J. Goard on May 30, 2007 3:28 PM

Goard, the movies you cite, while I enjoy all of them greatly, are the epitome of a prolonged adolescence that many people in this country seem to hold as the ideal. I don't have time now to go into it, but I will later on today.

Posted by: the patriarch on May 30, 2007 4:21 PM

Dramatizing ordinary middle-class adult problems makes for boring cinema. That's why Hollywood doesn't make them. They did in the past, and the films all had titles like "Winter People" or "Lonely Aspidistra" or something, and nobody went to see them, with good reason.
Frankly I'd rather watch Spiderman than suburban angst any day of the week. I have enough ordinary middle class adult problems at home.

Posted by: american fez on May 30, 2007 5:41 PM


I very much agree. I was disagreeing with the Shouting Thomas post, in that none of them essentially involve coming to real-world terms with a sexual/racial/class utopism instilled in universities.

Posted by: J. Goard on May 31, 2007 3:05 PM

Oh. Then yeah, I also agree. It's an agreement-fest!

Posted by: the patriarch on May 31, 2007 4:42 PM

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