The light on the silver screen flickers. Who will save it?

Television was written into the fabric of this world’s time. People say words have revolutionary power. They are the world’s greatest cataclysm. Like a biological imperative they must be not damned and so the greatest scholars and poets and authors have retained the written and spoken word in their pages’ helix.  Television changed this. The artists of the renaissance, romantics, and the impressionists weren’t wordsmiths. The world’s first television, art, occupied a separate, drunken, hallucinatory world from the writers. Photograph and film are the descendants of this picture glory. Television doesn’t owe the viewer wordplay. It’s there to serve the imagination, and though words are needed, images create the fantasy we see in our mind’s eye. This has always been the allure of television.

The television I see today isn’t the skilled craftsmanship of The Titanic or Star Wars. These timeless classics have both remained on the box office top ten since they debuted two decades ago. James Cameron and George Lucas ripped the veil from the way the world previously saw movies but without the angry, radical disrespect artists today insist on shoving to the world-along with the middle finger. They took vision and made poetry. Nurtured romantic dreams and etched places in the minds of boys and middle aged adolescents. I’ve seen grown men shed tears at Titantic, unabashedly, and hold their breaths as the ship, like nothing that has ever been done before, literally it had never been done before, broke apart. As the camera panned out so the world could see one half of the Titantic sink to the floor of the ocean, slowly, heartbreakingly, 5 billion people hang suspended and hurt. Thirty minutes later when it’s all over, they cry.

Where’s that quality in tv now? In the mad hunt for irony in kitsch deconstructions of today’s cinema, where’s the demand for heroism and bravery that made audiences forego intelligent disbelief for the patriotism, largeness and camaraderie of Armageddon? There’s a moment as the movie’s ending when the surviving colonel on board walks up to Harry Stamper’s daughter. She looks at him enquiringly and he says, “Permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I know.” The entire movie could have been silent but for that one line and nothing would have been taken away from the impact of Armageddon. What a fitting tribute to a hero, a 20th century Jesus Christ strapped to a rogue asteroid hell bent to destroy the Earth. Critics scratched their heads and wondered why such a scientifically inaccurate movie was the highest grossing of 1998. Because people want to transported by a film. They want to see in a movie the humanity of the species, and not just the humanity which modern film obsesses tediously over, but our grandness too. They want to be blown away, okay?

Today, I cringe at some of the movies out there. Every political commentary and ever-clever word baggage. Hurt Locker was no great movie. Why did it win the Oscar for Best Picture? It was an intelligent movie but I agree with James Cameron that the Oscar was given to Kathryn Bigelow because she is a woman. I would add that the elite film establishment was hankering for an appropriate movie in this war-torn time of ours. It was the smart choice. But did it have to be so boring and bleak looking? This is the problem with so many movies today: solipsism. Or else known as the intense dramatization of everything that’s ever happened to a person. Every movie becomes a personal diary and the watcher worships a film of a person worshipping himself. Hurt Locker was an ode to the sky cult of one man, his neuroses and how he exerted his puny influence on everything around him. Whatever man can imagine, he can surely achieve through his sheer presence in time. Those moments when we’re sure that we’re but one speck in this universe, when we’re reminded of our infinite smallness, never materialize. It’s as though time itself is convinced of our narcissism so modern cinema is all about control. Every moment in Hurt Locker that didn’t directly reinforce the addiction of war, the movie’s basic premise, its wall poster blurb, was meticulously and cruelly snipped from the film. And this is what really irks me: you have to search high and low for a good suspense or action flick but after inevitably being disappointed by what’s out there, you have to go right back to the Oscar nominees to be bored out of your mind.

Avatar, Hurt Locker’s main contender at the Oscars, is a magnificent movie. Who will doubt that James Cameron is one of cinema’s greatest conceptualisers? At the time of Titantic’s production, the movie was sneered at for being hackneyed and derivative, a mishmash of old classic romance movies. The movie itself was the most expensive film to date and was doomed to be a colossal disappointment. What a cultural shock it must have been to the post-grunge, dingy cinematic landscape. Most of the movie was shot in breathtakingly crisp colour and the beautiful costumes were distinctly out of place in the distressed jeans and power suits of the nineties.

I worry about the state of television because I have a much younger sister who gorges herself on Disney’s psychedelic Lab Rats and the gang of Kicking It. Unless she’s force fed great cinema she’ll be stuck on a constant twitchy loop of fast-talking punchlines and petulant American brattiness. So I wonder, what will save television. Great animations are far and in between. The princess tales from Disney have faced intense criticism but I think they are superbly spun fantasies. My favourites though are the Jungle Book (it had an amazing soundtrack which was important for future viewings) and Tarzan. What the political pundits have missed completely in assigning gender dogma to Cinderella is that young children never notice the stereotypes. They’re too busy curating the best parts of these movies, endlessly substituting themselves for Snow White or Mowgli in the great adventures of our youngest heroes. Only adults will see sinister in this innocence. And their attempts to fashion something more palatable for young girls will continue to give us train wrecks like Frozen. If one recognizes a dearth of difference between Tarzan and that oozing miasma Frozen, his subconscious won’t be far behind to identify the complete absence of creativity in the latter. But this was hailed as the first feminist animation? Oh, great deity, help our children.

Do I think there’s anything good left on the big screen? Yes. As Disney continues to submerge itself in its own acid, I hope that the few independent studios like Pixar and Dreamworks will keep producing movies the quality of Toy Story, Shrek, Brave and How To Train Your Dragon. But it’s the Japanese who I think are the new heroes of cinema. If they carry on quietly saving animation as Naruto, Cowboy Bebop and Hayao Miyazaki’s brilliant movies have done for the past two decades, my sister’s generation which knows nothing of James and the Giant Peach and the Jungle Book, might have something worth learning from to look forward to.

7 thoughts on “The light on the silver screen flickers. Who will save it?

  1. Television has succeeded cinema as the main form of visual entertainment.
    with a repertoire of dramas such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and the good wife, and absolutely outstanding comedies such as silicon valley and the more subdued ones such as brooklyn nine nine, television is in a state of pure GOLD.
    and i do not believe that disney is to have any blame for their respective quality..the truth is, NO adult, and i mean absolutely NO adult can fairly criticise a kid’s show. why? becasue that’s what it is; a kid’s show.
    it’s made for kids, the jokes are supposed to be simple, the plot is suppsoed to be saccharine. You can’t educate kids on wall street and stephen harwking’s hypotheses, it’s a process.
    for god’s sake, case in point: sesame street.


    1. Agreed. There are good tv shows although i think the exemplary ones are in a definite minority. But I stand by the case for good cinema and for better children shows because children are impressionable. Perhaps not too acutely sensitive which is fortunate, but enough for me to wish I can choose beforehand everything they see- and I can’t. The point isn’t that we reeducate them on hours of quantum physics theory, but that the television that they see is actually coherent, can be learned from. That children will choose something more complex, what matches the fantasies they will modify after watching these shows, is proven by the droves of them that turn to anime and never look back.


      1. i first wanna apologise for my previous spelling errors, i had no plans to actually respond here.
        True. Children are incredibly sensitive and literally anything can cause permanent damage. However, anime in itself is not something that adolescents should be hinged on, anime in itself is highly stylized violence and loads of sexual innuendos.
        I think the basis of what makes a children’s show a definite ”children’s show” is the simplicity of it: Disney provides the simplicity as well as the the vast production scale and marketing that allows them to not only be easily accessible but planted in their brains unwittingly. Networks like PBS and even Nickelodeon have lost their luster and that’s a shame.
        I think when you look at the grand picture; kid’s shows don’t necessarily amount to much, sure they provide that basis, but in the end, and even at the very beginning, reality hits harder than a TV show.


  2. Ok then! So I think am utterly confused here… Why is this a major issue again? Some of the critiques should stay in the US! However, what we should be questioned is what has happened to “good television!” I should rather emphasize on good and CLEAN television! Television has demeaningly evolved over the past decade or maybe longer! Am sure you are fully aware of what entertainment is about now days! Sex majorly!! Comedy is simply not comedy anymore!! And don’t let me even started on some of cartoons and animations (violence and the crushes, etc etc) What happened to good old “Tom & Jerry?” and the teenage television?? Eh! Hannah Montanna .. Among others on the Disney Channel. What are we actually telling the young generation via television and entertainment? Especially girls and it’s still an issue for me why so much of American television is being broadcasted in Guyana!
    I may have completely deviated from your perspective but I just believe that that is more of an issue!


    1. Yeah, television shows can be pretty shallow. That’s my biggest concern with them. We watch foreign television but so what? I’m not aware of the Caribbean producing films the quality of foreign ones. So our children will watch these foreign things, make no mistake. But you’re not allowing for the extent of children’s imagination. I generally don’t believe that children should be sheltered from the world so tightly and they never stay as innocent as we’d like. So if these shows are going to deal with the plight of teenagers I want them to do it in a highly textured way. There’s this show, Skins that I like. It’s British and I think it’s the best I’ve seen really portray teenagers. But if you’re a parent and you don’t want your children watching the material out there, I support your decision to carefully choose what they watch. My sister’s 11 and I’ve heard some of the things she’ll giggle with her friends over. It’ll surprise you how mature it is, even when much of it is an affectation. It’s not just tv she’s getting this from I can assure you. I talked to my friends much the same way when I was her age and this was before the horde of Hannah Montana type shows.


  3. Kim I agree with your point on Avatar and Hurt Locker. I was speaking with my uncle about it. Avatar can be seen as an analogy to what occurred to native people in the americas. While Hurt Locker is your typical patriotic war movie. The “elite film establishment” would prefer a movie about war because its part of the propaganda that is generated to garner support for the country when it is in the midst of a war. Americans do not want to be reminded about how native indians were massacred and TERRORISED. That’s not something the propaganda machine wants to draw focus to.


  4. This article was a bit confusing as it seemed like you were using the terms “Television” and “Cinema” interchangeably. I would like to think that each is different and each should be held in its own respect. They are not the same thing and Cinema should not be regarded as TV (even though you can watch a movie on your TV, the experience is different and some movies can only be truly experienced one viewed on the big screen).
    I respect your opinion of James Cameron as a director. However, I must say I believe both Titanic and Avatar are both overrated movies (especially Avatar).
    I do agree with your point that today, the quality of movies has definitely decreased. Budgets are increasing and while the effort being placed in creating the movie is decreasing. Did you know that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was created on a budget of $281 million dollars (according to Wikipedia)? That was the total budget allocated for all three movies. The budget for the first movie in the The Hobbit trilogy: $200-$315 million. Peter Jackson employed brilliant filming techniques when making the The lord of the rings trilogy. Techniques that required little to no computer generated imagery. Jackson placed a massive effort into creating these films and put together, all three films together gained 30 academy award nominations, of which they won 17. His Hobbit films were created using large amounts of CGI and they have garnered far less cinematic merit because he found an easy way out. Films of today are cheap and attract audiences with marketing gimmicks like 3-D viewing. But I believe that the small screen is now picking up where cinema left off. With the advent of ground-breaking shows like Breaking bad, True Detective, House of Cards and other shows which are attracting the talents of actors commonly seen on the big screen, I believe an artistic medium which has been around since the 1920’s is now being tapped. TV may very well become the new cinema.


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