Mid-Term General Observations about Film

After reviewing about half the films in my collection and realising that I would not be finished in a single year as I hoped, I posted my intent to continue with my blog, The Movie Project.  Three years on, the project is on-going.  However, the total number of reviews will be over two hundred, rather than the 160 or so originally planned.

And now for some general observations and notes. As I suspected, I don’t think you can really say that films used to be better in the past than now. Some of the very best movies in my collection are from the 2000s: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Moulin Rouge, Batman Begins, (Batman) The Dark Knight, (Batman) the Dark Knight Rises. I’d put any of these films up against any classic movie from the past — and they’d come out on top, and not simply because of advances in special effects. I personally think special effects should be used to help realistically bring the story to the screen – and an effects-laden story without heart, without character, without story, never means anything to me. On the other hand, there is a tendency among film critics to sometimes dismiss a film simply because it uses a lot of special effects. This is frankly a ridiculous prejudice on the part of some film critics. Some films need special effects in order to be told correctly and in order to work as a film — it’s another tool in the director’s toolbox, like music, like sound design.

Another observation, and anyone who watches a lot of movies – and not just current movies, but all movies should have noticed this, is that each era seems to produce a certain type of movie, or at least become known for a certain type of film. The 1930s for example were known for musicals and the beginnings of Film Noir. Film Noir virtually defines the 1940s. The 1970s, by contrast, were known for comedy. The 2000s seem to be producing a lot of big budget, effects-laden epics (a echo of the 1960s maybe?). I wonder if any film historian or film studies professor has ever used a decade by decade approach to presenting the type of films that defined a decade.

Graphical Evidence of Hollywood’s Discrimination against Older Women



Leading Men Age, Leading Women Don’t | Vulture

There are more charts if you click through.

It took me a long time to realise why the male age line isn’t straight, but it’s because the years along the bottom axis aren’t equally spaced. Good visualisation of a depressing point, otherwise.

A very visual interpretation of Hollywood’s attitude towards women.  After 30 or 35, women no longer get good roles in Hollywood (they do in Britain though – see Dame Judi Dench, Helen Mirran, Diana Rigg, etc).  However, some leading men continue to be cast as romantic leads despite their age, Richard Gere being a prime example.  I’d like to see Morgan Freeman on this same chart, especially as he often plays parts without a female romantic lead tied to his role (e.g. the Batman Dark Knight trilogy, Now You See It, Bruce & Evan Almighty, etc).

But this is a very good example, a visual example, of how Hollywood discriminates against women, especially as they get older.

Oddly enough, Hollywood also discriminates against short men – forcing them into comedic roles.  (When’s the last time you saw a Hollywood Blockbuster with a lead who was less than six feet tall?)

Films don’t always need a happy ending – but they do need a satisfactory ending.

Many of my favorite films do not, in the classic, absolute-ist, sense have a happy ending.  But the ending is satisfactory for the world or universe of the film – for the characters, for their time, and for their place.

For example:  Casablanca.  Casablanca is about a guy, Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, who “sticks his head out for nobody”.  He’s a cynic.  He owns a bar — and never drinks with customers.  He evens lets a friend get killed right in front of him, without lifting a finger to stop it.  Bogart’s Blaine is an old-fashioned, film noir, protagonist.  Then his old girl-friend shows up, with her husband, resistance leader Victor Laslow.  Suddenly, we find out why he’s such a cynic — he lost his true love in the German invasion of Paris.  But when Ilsa arrives in Rick’s “gin joint” – she’s shocked to find him there, and she explains – she never joined him as he left Paris because she discovered that her husband was still alive, not dead.  The film, among other threads (all executed beautifully – another hallmark of great films) then focus on what will happen between Ilsa, Rick, and Victor.  And with one of the best final scenes in the history of film… Rick puts Victor and Ilsa on the plane to Lisbon, and he walks off with Louie (Claude Rains), the corrupt French police official – who’s also found his way, through Rick’s actions.  Rick sacrifices his own feelings for Ilsa – for the greater good, saving her husband, and doing what’s right for Ilsa — when she can’t make up her mind.

This is a satisfactory ending.  Rick has grown, no longer the man who won’t lift a finger to help someone, even a friend, he sacrifices his feelings for Ilsa because he knows it’s the right thing to do.  Along the way he inspires Louie to stop just putting up with German occupation of French Algeria, and suggests the two will do something.  The happy ending would have Rick and Ilsa together, perhaps with Victor dying, perhaps with Victor urging her to be with the man she loves, but the actual ending is much better.

Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings three-film adaptation of a single work, all have elements that, in the end, aren’t in the strictest sense – happy.  People die, characters don’t get together, or a hero inspires others at the cost of his own life.

At the same time, some of the genres of film I really don’t like – the “rom-com”, the Western – tend to have trite, tacked-on, happy endings that are very fake and unreal.

It is true that there are some happier films I love – the Star Wars Trilogy, the Indiana Jones films, Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals.  All have spark, wit, fun – and happy endings.

Certainly, a steady diet of depressing films would be bad for anyone’s psyche.  It would be like listening to 90s alternate-rock all the time.  But also a traditional romantic comedy where the couple don’t end up together would be very unsatisfactory.

Still, Powerful, moving films, often have endings that are satisfying, moving, and filled with the suggestion of hope.  This is why I love films like Les Miserables and Moulin Rouge, even with the Major Character Deaths – in the world of the film, as sad as that is… it’s also brings the film to a satisfactory closure and even if you cry as the credits roll, it’s a good cry.