Do movies matter anymore? When I was growing up movies mattered not to just me but to culture as well and movies had a significant impact on that very same culture… now though it seems that movies are simply there and have no real impact (besides distracting the masses from reality as I explained a few weeks ago). Mainstream or underground, low budget to mega budget, realistic to insane… I love movies, I always have and with that love of movies I perhaps let my inundation of them into my life grab me more than it did others yet I regret nothing.
I was brought up on movies in the era of the late night cable hosts the like of Joe Bob Briggs or Rhonda Shear and the equally enthralling UHF hosts such as Elvira. These guides to the other side of film (they rarely had mainstream fare) gave you an appreciation for the movies in general on top of the specific film being screened. Sure, the hosts usually made fun of the movies for being… less than good but that never dulled the enjoyment you got from sitting through them. If not for Joe Bob, Rhonda or Cassandra (Elvira) I doubt I would be the warehouse of useless movie knowledge I currently am and I would not have the fine appreciation of directors such as Andy Sidaris, John ‘Bud’ Cardos, Charles Band, Lloyd Kaufman or Tobe Hooper. I would not have made names such as Tor Johnson, Sybil Danning, Rinse Dream, Reb Brown or Franco Nero commonly used words in my lexicon. The Cannon, New World, Full Moon, Troma and Avco Embassy logos became seals of approval to me. I love film and I love the art of movies, I want to know the behind the scenes struggles, the battle with the censors, the ego deathmatches of the stars and the director, how an insane concept was brought about and how some of these films become such disasters they are glorious to behold. Today though, most people don’t care how a film is made, why a film exists or even what the point of a film is… they only seek to be “entertained” for 90 minutes before moving onto the next thing to distract them.
When the VHS boom hit in the early 1980’s* it opened up a whole new world of film to people that could (or would) never have encountered many of the amazing films that the mainstream industry had suppressed. Prior to VHS** late night syndicated TV was the only real way to see movies after they left the theater as very few films ever got re-released but late night TV was full of commercials edits to appease the FCC. Back in those days when you made a quick exploitation film you made your money in the theater and MAYBE, just MAYBE, you could sell it to a syndicator for a few bucks, but after it was done theatrically it was pretty much done. Pay cable was still monstrously expensive at this point but they did offer another new avenue to view oddball movies due to the same reasoning that VHS was such a bastion of variety for films… the major studios refused to sell their movies to either pay cable or VHS. Yup, the studios thought that video tape and HBO would hurt their network TV sales so in their absence the smaller guys pulled up the slack. Sure, in this era you might see an MGM film or a 20th Century Fox movie on pay cable or VHS but this was a good 2 years after it was out of theaters and forgotten about, on the other hand Troma, New World and Avco Embassy unleashed their entire libraries to cable TV and video… and they were a huge hit. Movies were so sought after on home video just about anything would get released and even sell well, the audience was ravenous, same with pay cable, you had 168 hours to fill a week and the reason people were paying you $25 bucks a month in 1984 dollars for a single channel was to watch movies, so damn it, movies was what you gave them. With you spending that much (adjusting for inflation that comes to $55 for a single channel) you wanted movies and since the 4 major movie channels (HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and The Movie Channel) made out like robber barons that means people paid and that means movies mattered to people. Sure after cable came down in price and really caught on the majors took over and the smaller studios were systematically pushed out but it showed that the people still gave a shit about film. Softcore and adult can not be discounted either, there is a reason that Cinemax became known as Skinemax to us that grew up in this era, cable was where you see boobies and simulated sex by the glow of the TV screen, that was a HUGE draw.
The cinematic artform still had art in it at this point (argue that with some of the movies but it was still art) which is something I will arrogantly posit that is missing from most films today. You had real craftsmen that poured everything they had into matte paintings, visual effects, prosthetic makeup, model work… and now all of that is done by a computer. Yes, the computer does the work today, sure the CG guy has to input the start and stop points but damn it, I know people that work in this industry… you tell the computer what to do and IT does the work, not an artist, a machine. Call that arrogant or even snobbish, I don’t care, the fact is that artistry has left the mainstream film industry. When I look at movies such as 47 Ronin or even Iron Man 3 and I see that over 60% of the film is green screen I see that filmmaking standards have dropped to such a degree you are not making live action anymore, you are making cartoons which happen to feature some live action. I am in the minority in this I know, but the modern audience wants only spectacle and care less and less about story or character. Who cares why this thing spolded just that it was AWESOME when it did. Part of this problem is how much money is spent on these things, I mean Avengers 2 has a one BILLION dollar budget when the below the line costs are taken into account. Think about that, ONE BILLION DOLLARS TO MAKE A MOVIE. Now, you might be saying that right there proves movies matter more than ever but I will tell you how wrong you are, that simply proves how little movies matter AND how out of touch the studios are on this matter. Look at the most influential movies on culture, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Alien, The Road Warrior or even Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, look at how they were all modest budgeted films that while attempting to be more ended up in being game changing films. Now, look at the last 13 years of films, the money spent on them has grown while the returns have fallen and this inverse acquisition of funds should show you that no, movies do not matter anymore.***
Lets stick with the last 13 years again and go back to how movies affect culture. Look at my list above again The Exorcist, Star Wars, Alien, The Road Warrior or Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, each of these films changed not just film but also mainstream society. These films worked their way into the culture of pop in ways that modern films simply can not. Sure, lots of people liked Twilight but that was a cultural success as a book so it’s movies’ making it into culture is meaningless in this regard. The Avengers was a hit with audiences but film culture changed little to none in it’s wake. Paranormal Activity created a band of knock-offs which similarly failed to break into culture. Modern movies just do not have the staying power that the older films did and that says more about the audience then it does about the quality of the films themselves. The audience just views movies as an escape these days and not as a storytelling medium rife with possibilities to enlighten, scare, educate or illuminate. They are just 90 minutes of shit blowing up, violence and seizure inducing editing. The audience cares little about the how or why a film is simply that it is. This lead to the death of movie magazines such as Cinefantastique, Film Threat and Starlog which were all about how a movie was made and more importantly why a movie was made. Services like Netflix only proliferate this as most people that watch movies on Netflix do so only to “kill time” and could not care less about the making of the film they just watched. Netflix streaming does not offer the commentary tracks, deleted scenes, behind the scenes specials or any of that yet more people watch movies on Netflix than any other source today which gives me this feeling that they simply do not care, they were entertained so once the credits rolled they just moved on.
To get real elitist here I will say this straight out, the ease of services such as Netflix hurt the value of film as a whole. Yes more people can see more films easier, that is, in theory, a good thing, but the movies they view have no meaning to them any longer. If you can just dial up a movie, any movie any time then it has no real value to you, now true, when you could purchase a VHS tape or a DVD and watch that movie the same way you got to the same place but you still had to SEEK OUT that film, it had enough meaning to you that you were willing to lay down dollars for it and buy it, with streaming it’s just there and once it’s gone, it’s gone, no big deal. In the late night UHF days these movies came on once or twice a year so you had to budget out your time to watch them and they were special and you treasured them and yes, the journey made it worth more, there is no journey or even effort today to find a movie. It meant more to me when I had to go through hell to see a film and even with those late night hosts we didn’t get to choose the film, they chose them for us and we trusted them to guide us. I would never have watched some of the movies I love today if Joe Bob had not told me how awesome it was and then ran it for me… with Netflix you simply have so much choice everything becomes meaningless. I might be a true snob in that regard but that is how I view it, you can disagree but you have the right to be wrong.
*VHS had been a stable format since the late 1970’s but really exploded in 1982.
**I keep using the term VHS since, lets face it, Beta never had a foothold and Laserdisc was always a collectors format.
***Yes, a few of these movies made more dollars in returns but that is due to ticket prices more than tripling since 1980 and with lower numbers of tickets sold across the board that indicates fewer people give a crap about movies anymore. When you have to charge more for fewer people you are not coming out ahead in the long run.
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