Thursday, March 24, 2016
Atlantic--a plea for lazy film critics and film historians to stop recycling the ignorant and easily disproven notion that Hollywood has "run out of ideas", cinema has not had its own ideas since its inception.
Since television is a younger medium than film, the field of television studies is currently grappling with the same conversations that film-studies scholars were having in the 1970s. Only recently has television itself reached the stage where it’s able to “legitimatize” itself and make claims for its status as art. Some critics feel that the current golden age of television (which many date to the premiere of HBO’s The Sopranos in 1999), like the “golden age” of cinema in the 1970s, is in a state of decline due to its insistence on repetition. But as Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff noted in a 2013 essay for A.V. Club, “The dirty little secret here is that essentially every decade except the 1960s has been proclaimed the ‘golden age of TV’ at one time or another.”
In other words, critics and historians of television, much like their counterparts in cinema studies, are constantly searching for that ideal moment when the art form they love was considered to be at its purest, to be reaching its richest potential. But to dismiss movies, or TV shows, because they’re inspired by, or part of, a preexisting franchise or series, is to ignore the entire history of the moving image. Cinema has always been rooted in the idea of multiplicities—that is, in texts that consciously repeat and exploit images, narratives, or characters found in previous texts. Self-cannibalizing cycles and sequels, and even the practice of making films out of toys and board games, are filmmaking strategies dating back to the industry’s first decade, not a symptom of contemporary culture’s inability to create anything new. [emphasis added]
This kind of complaint almost can't even happen in other art forms. Can anyone name a case wher someone condemned J. S. Bach's Goldberg variations on the basis of Bach having not come up with his own theme to compose variations for? Was J. S. Bach a poser who couldn't come up with his own good tunes because he was perfectly content to make use of hymns penned by someone like, oh, Martin Luther? Now, sure, there were folks like Berlioz who didn't like Bach's music but his complaints had to do with objections to the Baroque style more generally, not a complaint that Bach didn't come up with his own ideas.
But in cinema ... it's as though film critics who haven't steeped themselves deeply enough in the history of the art form are just legion enough that a few of them complain about how nobody's got any original ideas these days ... as if there were ever eras of cinematic history in which that was the case. If social conservatives pine for a 1950s suburbia that never truly existed there are film critics who pine for epochs of cinema that also exist only in the magical thinking of minds of grumpy soapboxers. It's been okay for more of human history to be artistically indebted to previous generations than some generations seem comfortable with.