Jean-Luc Goddard once said "We're in a time now, when movies, and more generally art, have been lost, do not exist. And must somehow be re-invented." and do you know what? He was right.
Gone are the days of Casablanca, replaced with god awful franchises like the '….... Movie' series (Date Movie, Disaster Movie etc.). IMDB, the internet's number one film rating site, shows how movies have got consistently worse in recent years. The IMDB 'Bottom 100' contains a total of 54 films all made since the millennium. Just think about that for a moment, in 105 years of film, over half of the worst ones are 9 years old or less. Add to this that another 19 of them are from the late 1990s and we can see a pattern forming, can't we boys and girls?
Now, I like to think I know a little bit about cinema. Wait, I take that back. I am a fully fledged film nerd.
I was once asked my favourite film, and then argued vehemently that if you have one favourite, then you haven't seen enough movies. I argued this for around an hour, after which I broke movies down into ten genres, and chose five films for each. That's right. When asked for ONE film, I managed to narrow my decision down to fifty.
Now, surely this would mean I am justified to take an educated guess at what film is going to be a success, and what one isn't, and yet when I look at an Oscar® short-list, I tend to have very little interest in the majority of the films. Could it be that this is the case with most people, to the extent that they have accepted poorer quality films as enjoyable?
Of course, there is a very large sub-genre often referred to as 'so bad it's good'. So many people will list films they consider guilty pleasures. In recent years, popularity has lead to special edition releases of terrible old B-movies like 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'.
The combination of a rising popularity of hilariously terrible films, and the cheap cost of broadcasting rights, led to the making of 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' (mst3k), a comedy series that ran in the States for eleven series, spawning a feature film. In the show, Mike Nelson, a comedian and musician, was blasted into space with two wise-cracking robots and forced to watch awful old sci-fi films. I got a chance to ask Mike about the decline in cinematic quality, a man surely an expert on the subject!
“Bad cinema is the deflation of the expectation, I think: "You are about to be entertained by experts" is what they're saying, and so seeing that go wrong is fun and surprising.” says Mike, laughing to himself, explaining the difference between an enjoyable bad film, like the B-movies he riffed, and the more disliked modern bad movie, “Fail spectacularly and it's fun, fail by not trying to do enough and it's just boring. Bad dialogue can be funny - flat dialogue is a snoozer.”.
But the fact that people don't seem to enjoy a trip to the cinema any more isn't just the fault of the film-makers, “I can't enjoy it because of the other patrons, texting, talking on the phone, just flat out talking” He put this down to the fact that trips to the cinema aren't as important as they used to be, and so people relax too much, showing little consideration for fellow movie-goers. “It's because of the dizzying array of entertainment choices available now. When I was a kid there was 4 channels of TV and you had movies.”
There is some good that comes from this 'cinematic mediocracy', insomuch that it adds to the quality of a good movie, something that during Mike Nelson's time on MST3K he learned a lot about. “You really do appreciate good movies more because you see how easy it is to fail. It is a very, very difficult thing to make a good movie, so bravo to those who do.”.
So, there is definitely a decline in cinematic prolificness, or, in layman's terms “films ain't what they used to be”, but what causes it? Are film-makers creating these lower quality films because that's what the general public wants, or do we watch them, because that's all that's on offer? We have to remember that the movie business is a business. “I think the studios will do anything they can to make money - that is their job, after all, and I have nothing against that.”
And that's when the most important fact hit me, and Mike could tell that it had. Yes, all these films released recently based around stupid fart jokes and the occasional breast shot are terrible movies, but they keep making profits! People keep going back to them, and might say at the time that it was average at best, but will be back to the cinema when the sequel is released!
So, I am very sorry society, but films are bad because it seems that's what you want. If for any reason this isn't the case for you, then I will gladly lead you in a revolution, but until then, I am afraid you will have to manage with the occasional gem, like Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, The Wrestler...wait a minute...cinema is fantastic!