movie theory I
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kelly

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This forum talks about movies a lot -- which, as some of you know, is actually a bigger hobby overall for me than music is. If you're looking for something about headphones, skip this thread. If you want some bizarre twists of logic on my taste in film (or if you just want to argue it), read on.

The first principle of movies is the basic argument that: "There are only five basic plots that cover every given story ever written." From this, you may derrive the cliche, "There are no original ideas under the sun." By and large, if you want originality, film is the wrong place to look for it. What I'm looking for isn't an original plot, I'm just looking for a good execution. Follow that philosophy and you'll be a happier movie goer--at least some of the time.

So what's a good execution?

I'm glad you asked.


I believe in all sincerity that movies were better a long time ago than they are today. This isn't nostalgia talking here. For me, a lot of what I'm referring to are films that came out before I was even born.

Why? Well, think about this. What are the elements of a modern film? Plot, dialog, the appropriate amount of sex and/or violence and special effects. You could almost boil it down to ratin those criteria alone. Travel back in time a little and you notice that... there's less sex and/or violence and hardly any special effects. Frankly, the plot and dialog had to be good because well, that's all they had. (Note: I also apply this theory to 2D video games with poor graphics. Disagree all you want, but I don't see anyone wanting to go back and play Tomb Raider again... and Pac-Man's on almost every console.)

So... There are tons of those classic films. How do you sort them out? You see, today, in today's age of film making, the talent (the actor, what have you) means very little. That is to say, you can easily get a $20 million actor in a BAD movie. A movie you'd never want to watch a second time. How does this happen? Again, the actor is just one element. Today we have to ask what ten companies did the special effects, who's directing, who's producing, who's doing cinematography. The answers would sometimes surprise you. You see, a lot of the people who get their opportunities in Hollywood get them from relatives, from friends, associates, people they sell drugs and women to... Let's just say... there are an awful lot of writers out there and the writers aren't always picked based on what they've written.

Back to the talent. Back then, the talent mattered. You were going to make five films in three weeks time and you had an awesome actress that everyone loves. What do you do? Simple, you give her the best lines. You get a good script. Writers were a commodity back then, not some bigshot son of someone famous. Good scripts migrated to the top talents. Surfing the classics is almost just that easy. (Oh and by the way, check the other people on the top movies--those directors and cinematographers I almost dismissed. You see, the good ones followed the big movies back then too. Now the good ones can't even get funding because they're pushed out by the Hollywood's people).

So I'm saying only old movies are good? No, not at all. I'm just saying the likelyhood is greater and they're easier to pick out. Today, it's not so easy. I'll have some theories on that later. Let's see if anyone bites on these presumptions first. Any takers? Am I full of it or do I make some good points?
 
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Matthew-Spaltro

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Quote:

Originally posted by kelly
You see, a lot of the people who get their opportunities in Hollywood get them from relatives, from friends, associates, people they sell drugs and women to... Let's just say... there are an awful lot of writers out there and the writers aren't always picked based on what they've written.


(snip)



Like who? Give me some names. How about that Jolie woman?
 
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Matthew-Spaltro

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Kelley this has nothing to due with what you are talking about but was Dallas were Walker Texas Ranger was filmed? Chuck is my hero
 
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markl

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kelly,
The main difference between films of today and those of yore is the outrageously escalating costs of making and *marketing* movies. A single movie can sink an entire studio, so they are engaging in risk-aversion with today's blockbusters. A major studio today doesn't release a fifth of the number of movies that old studios put out. They could take some risks in the past because they had so many other films in the pipeline to balance out. Also, given that they could make more films, they also therefore had more opportunities to produce "masterpieces".

"The first principle of movies is the basic argument that: "There are only five basic plots that cover every given story ever written." From this, you may derrive the cliche, "There are no original ideas under the sun." "

Nonsense. Just because Hollywood is afraid of new ideas that don't fit into any of the established genres is not proof that there are no new ideas. "Wow, what a cool original idea, but how do we sell this concept in a 30-second TV ad?" So, we get stuck with re-treads of old ideas that are easily understood by the movie-going public, and present less risk for studios ("hey it worked in the past...") who now have over $50 million invested on average. It costs too much to do something interesting and new. That said, good, original movies do still "slip through".

"I believe in all sincerity that movies were better a long time ago than they are today. This isn't nostalgia talking here. For me, a lot of what I'm referring to are films that came out before I was even born."

The movies that are remembered today and re-run on TV that you've been exposed to represent the best of the best of 50-60 years worth of movies. Not fair or accurate to compare that to the films of the last 5-10 years. Yeah, Cassablanca is a great old movie, but what about "Bedtime for Bonzo"?

"Why? Well, think about this. What are the elements of a modern film? Plot, dialog, the appropriate amount of sex and/or violence and special effects. You could almost boil it down to ratin those criteria alone."

Yes there's a formula, and the trrouble is, that formula works again and again. Target audience for movies (the folks that actually still go to theaters) are kids who aren't as aware of the cliches. It's new to them and it works. If we want to blame someone for the sorry state of mainstream film, moviegoers who drag crappy movies over the 100 million mark are just as much to blame as the studios who produce them.

"You see, today, in today's age of film making, the talent (the actor, what have you) means very little. That is to say, you can easily get a $20 million actor in a BAD movie."

John Wayne, Jimmy Stuart, Gary Cooper, Betty Davis et al made plenty of turkeys, too, but these haven't survived in our collective memories. Also, in those days they were contractually bound to studios and had to make whatever movie the studio bosses wanted them to. They had no power. Nowadays, actors are free agents and no movie will get made without a big-name actor attached, and often, it's the Tom Cruise's of the world that find scripts and get movies made. It's the risk-aversion of the major studios and the outrageous cost of making and marketing movies that drives this phenomenon. They need "bankable" talent.

"Let's just say... there are an awful lot of writers out there and the writers aren't always picked based on what they've written.... Writers were a commodity back then, not some bigshot son of someone famous."

There is no more lowly creature in the world of cinema than the writer. I suggest you rent the delightful Coen Bros movie "Barton Fink" ASAP to see that it's *always* been that way. Get Mamett's "State and Main" (another gem) for a more modern spin on this theme. You've heard the joke about the would-be film starlet who was so dumb she slept with the writer? Anything edgy gets shaved off and made homogenous long before it gets to the screen by forces outside the control of the humble writer.

"So I'm saying only old movies are good? No, not at all. I'm just saying the likelyhood is greater and they're easier to pick out. Today, it's not so easy."

Again, you're comparing 50-60 years of cinema history to the last 5-10 years meager output. Not a fair comparison.

markl
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by kelly
So I'm saying only old movies are good? No, not at all. I'm just saying the likelyhood is greater and they're easier to pick out. Today, it's not so easy. I'll have some theories on that later. Let's see if anyone bites on these presumptions first. Any takers? Am I full of it or do I make some good points?


Hmmm, maybe it has to do with the fact that those same five basic plots have been exhausted to death over the decades of movie making?
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by markl
kelly,
The main difference between films of today and those of yore is the outrageously escalating costs of making and *marketing* movies. A single movie can sink an entire studio, so they are engaging in risk-aversion with today's blockbusters.


damn, markl!

this was exactly was i was going to post. well said, man.

unfortunately, i see this happening more and more with music recordings as well.

i try to stay away from movies that are overly hyped because they usually suck. but older movies are never hyped -- thus, no expectation . . . and no let down.
 
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The overall poor quality of music,motion pictures and TV is due to the short attention spans of the general public.If 99% of the public can't be convinced in 30 seconds or less that something is good then they won't buy or watch or listen to it.I love movies as well but I loathe Hollywood.I think HBO does a better job than most studios.
 
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I am far from a movie expert, but how about explanations for two completely different movies. Both seem to be more writer driven than most, and if there is a well retread formula I'm missing it.

American Beauty


South Park, The Movie
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by kelly
Any takers?


Apparently not
 
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Kelly, I agree with everything Markl wrote (especially the fact that you compare the best of 50 years to the last 5).

However, even where plain genre is to be discussed, I'd say there is much new under the sun. Only in the past 20 years has postmodernism preoccupied cinema to such an extent (from Peter Greenaway to the stylized The Cell to the Coen brothers - pick whichever movie). In fact, IMHO it completely redefined the gangster pic (see Pulp Fiction).
Does the narrative sometimes suffer for the stylistic? Sure, but you can't argue that cinema has not changed.
 
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kelly

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The purpose of this thread wasn't really to debate but rather to throw out my own thoughts and then see what you guys think. I apologize to those of you who have grown accustomed to me "always just wanting to argue."


For clarification purposes only:

I never actually gave any specific date ranges of which films I was comparing in my broad generalization. The "last 5-10 years" is not actually what I had in mind.

I never intended to argue that "cinema has not changed." My assertion is that there are only five basic narratives and that because of this originality is simply not something I seek in film.

I believe Walker, Texas Ranger was indeed filmed in Los Colinas where small film and production businesses exist within the Irving city limits (still in Dallas county). We've also had a handful of movies made in the college town of Denton, north of Dallas.
 
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markl

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(closes can of whup-ass)

So, what do I win?


Guess there won't be a "movie theory #2" then?


markl
P.S. kelly doesn't want to argue? Are you feeling OK, man?
 
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markl, what about movies like "Evil Dead", "El Mariachi" and "Spy Kids", made with tiny budgets but wildly popular. Isn't this the kind of innovation that movie studios need to return to, with no risk of bankruptcy? They all follow each other. One year we have two or three films about Mars... then we get a year with a few WWII movies.

The reason we see so many bad movies is probably the same reason we hear so much bad music. Our fellow human beings are stupid, and they are happy to swallow what they are told, and like it. It isn't often that they decide to like something without being told.

How the hell do you make a film about CROP CIRCLES!
 
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markl

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Quote:

markl, what about movies like "Evil Dead", "El Mariachi" and "Spy Kids", made with tiny budgets but wildly popular. Isn't this the kind of innovation that movie studios need to return to, with no risk of bankruptcy?


Today's studio mogul is a division manager of Ultra-Mega Global Corp. He's a businessman, not a film-maker or film-lover. He is not incented to take big risks with big money, and all those films you mention were made with the spare change that fell off the money table. Small movies are less scrutinized by the money-guys.

Quote:

The reason we see so many bad movies is probably the same reason we hear so much bad music. Our fellow human beings are stupid, and they are happy to swallow what they are told, and like it. It isn't often that they decide to like something without being told.


While I'm the last person to want to give my fellow man much credit
, we geeks need to realize that we are the minority, and our geekish obsessions are not shared by most people. Most people are happy with what we classify as bad or mediocre movies. Why? They have lives! Other interests outside our narrow focus on music and/or movies. If they were as interested or as in love with the art form, they wouldn't tolerate the crap that they do. That is the optimist in me speaking.

markl
 
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kelly

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...or maybe they are just hopelessly apathetic about each and every aspect of their pathetic lives and their relaxed standards of music and film are merely representative of that existence.

When Robert Rodriguez successfully produced El Mariachi in Mexico with a scant budget, the studios quickly gave him funds to RE-make the move into Desperado. (Some would call Desperado a sequel but most of us would simply call it a remake.) The remake included higher profile actors, more action, more guns, more violence and more one-liners.

To see another example of this, see also La Femme Nikita and Point of No Return.

I intend no offense to fans of Rodrigez and Luc Besson, but I did enjoy their first versions of those films better than their budget lifted remakes.
 
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