The end of the film reel

This article was first published in Cherwell on 11 November 2017.

The effacement of the history of film is played out on multiplex screens. At my local cinema, each film is prefaced with a ten second countdown showing film prints scrolling across the screen in an old-fashion manner before the filmic effect and grain literally melts away for a cold digital blue—a celebration of the erasure of our old ways for modern efficiency.

Knock off of IMAX’s vaunted introduction to films though it is, there is actually something far more insidious churning under the surface. Aside from this shift being nothing at all to cheer—the death of film is a subject debated to exhaustion—to even have the temerity to use film to hype audiences up for a primarily digital spectacle is dishonest and rather frustrating.

This speaks to a wider issue with 21st Century film, however: nostalgia, while useful to make audiences warm and fuzzy, is employed with breath-taking cynicism in order to sell cinema. We look back to a golden-age of spaghetti westerns and simple film-reel films not because they were better, but because they represent an ideal which we are striving to reproduce, only better, and with bigger special effects.

It is not a ground-breaking argument to propose that the continuing proliferation of remakes have a harmful impact on cinema which will last far beyond the immediate swell of box office profits. Rather, creativity is being hampered in favour of catering to long-gone tastes and calculated attempts to draw people who remember the originals into a darkened room to watch a VFX-laden rehash. Take for example The Magnificent Seven. It was a great movie and a product of its time, so did it really need a remake with the current age’s most famous stars? It seems to be a formula right now.

These remakes—about which far too much has already been written, so it suffices here to be brief on the subject—fail to elicit positive audience or critical reaction precisely because of their very nature. They might be new, but they feel old. Indeed, it is only a matter of time before the public revolt—with their feet—against the fodder they are forced to see.

Cinema is like no other medium in that it publicly devours its young with alarming alacrity. New releases can be easily judged on critical aggregation sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, while budget is quickly comparable with box office haul with just a click on a Wikipedia link. As such, the yearning for the new must constantly be sated with new content, but it must also be sated with risks. To hark back to the glory days of rickety film projectors may appear harmless, but it is certainly an analogy for the current state of Hollywood. Pining for the greatness it has now lost, it looks back to the glory days when cinema was relevant, yet it never seeks to understand exactly why.
If cinema can survive, then its future lies not in yearning for the success of its past, but in embracing its lessons. Hollywood was the greatest storyteller in the western world not because it was wealthy, or flashy, but because it was a fearless innovator. What happened? In its new status as An Established Art Form, cinema has become fat, proud and lazy. It’s time for more thought to go into cinema. It must channel the bravery of its youth to further its survival. Here’s to a revolution of innovation.

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