The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

The Death of Adult Movies

I
rarely frequent movie theaters these days. Box office ticket prices are not the
chief deterrent, nor the concession stand price of a barrel of popcorn or a box
of Raisinets. Talkative members of audiences, and eardrum-splitting volumes of
trailers are also deterrents, but they’re not why I avoid ticket windows.  Rather it’s what’s showing in the theaters
that stops me from sitting in the dark. I will make an exception, and pay for a
ticket, if I think I ought to see a film. If I make the effort, it’s because I
suspect there’s something odd about a film that I wouldn’t be able to identify
unless I saw it instead of being misled or repelled by its trailers.  
I
happen to love movies. Good movies. Ones that uplift me, or instruct me in the
art of storytelling, or enlighten me in some respect. But bad movies, or
mediocre ones, have the same effect on me as does Andy Warhol’s poster of
Campbell Soup cans. And there are far more of those films than there are of
that anti-artist’s thirty-two soup cans.
I
recently saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
I suspected that, like its predecessor,  it was more than just a story about a girl
good with a bow and arrow, coming from a circa 1930’s West Virginia-like coal
town, and populated with characters whose names seem to have been the result of
a Scrabble game with no rules. The setting wasn’t supposed to be a post-war or
post-anarchy America governed by PanAm – excuse me, “Panem” – an
oppressive government located in some high-tech run Imperial Rome-like city
that’s full of evil men and a populace of perversely effete, gaudily dressed
clowns entertained by a form of gladiatorial combat. The weird names — Katniss
Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, Finnick Odair, etc., all vaguely Celtic – didn’t fool
me one bit, either. It was all an allegory on America.
So
I learned that both Hunger Games
movies – I saw the first one, also, and there will be a third, to judge by the
ending of Number Two – were political statements about the evils of technology and
capitalism and civilization and how virtuous living the simple life at a subsistence
level trumps technology and cities and badly dressed people every time. The
“message” was as thoroughly embedded in it as it was in another
fantasy, Avatar.
As
the American consciousness has been progressively foreshortened, minimalized,
and cramped over several generations – chiefly by a public education philosophy
committed not so much to the acquisition of knowledge and the honing of one’s
cognitive powers and rationality, as to what the Progressives and the
government wish to have Americans focus on (anti-intellectualism, pragmatism,
conformity) – so has the “I.Q.” of films diminished in terms of
scope, scale and attention span. This has occurred, not overnight, but
incrementally, in generational jerks and spasms, in syncopated tandem with the
dumbing down and the engineered cognitive and cultural myopia.
Instead
of adapting novels that require a modicum of literacy and an extended attention
span to read and grasp – an attention span beyond what a text message or a
tweet demands – we are getting movies more and more adapted from graphic
novels. From comic books. And if not from comic books, then from juvenile or
“young adult” novels, or computer games.  And often a computer-game-inspired movie will
loop back into an advanced version of the game.
Left
behind in this scramble for boffo box office receipts and securing the
twenty-something and “tween” crowds are adults and adult themes and
subjects (and I don’t mean pornography). “Adult” themes and stories
are about individual heroism, or integrity, or mature but rational
relationships and conflicts, and even political issues and crime stories based
on a rational ethics.
Instead
of something like Seven Days in May, we get Olympus has Fallen. There
are no razzmatazz special effects in the former, nor any Korean terrorists (nor
any Islamic terrorists, for that matter, that wouldn’t be Sharia-Compliant; see
my column on that subject here),
just nonpareil direction, acting, and suspense, even though Burt Lancaster, as the
coup-plotting general was intended to be the incarnation of the “right
wing.” It’s the well-made films with the subtle, unemphasized
“messages” that are the effective and memorable films, as well as the
ones with no ostensive political or “social justice” messages at all,
such as the original The Browning Version, Leave Her to Heaven, or Laura.
Want
a gripping story of tragedy or personal conflict from an adult perspective? Try
Tunes of Glory, Tea and
Sympathy
, or The Runner Stumbles.
Want a good comedy? Try Hobson’s Choice,
His Girl Friday, The Ladykillers,
or Nothing Sacred. Want a
“romantic” movie that features “adult” conflicts without
showing an inch of flesh? Try Separate Tables, For Whom the Bell Tolls, or
Brief Encounter.
Either
you will not find their counterparts in modern movies, or if they’ve been
remade, they just don’t evoke short-term memory, never mind nostalgia. The
remakes especially are guilty of pointlessly changing names and situations to
appeal to the current generation or the current political mantra. Too often
those changes just don’t make the grade. You wonder why producers and directors
bother with a remake, until you see what they’ve done to the characters, the
story, and the theme. 
Needless
to say, I won’t be seeing Captain
America: The Winter Soldier
, just as I have refrained from seeing any
of the Dark Knight Trilogy, or any of
the other comic book-based action movies. I’m a full-grown adult. I don’t need
to be “entertained” by having my mind seared, scoured, and dulled by
endless car chases, exploding CGI space ships, incredible fight scenes that
induce mental whiplash, decibel-destroying automatic weapons, and flat
acting.  There should come a point in
anyone’s life when he should know that he’s being patronized and insulted at
the same time, but the capacity to make that connection is missing in more and
more adults. “We’re going to treat you like an adolescent, insult your
intelligence, and take your money, too.” No, thanks.
Someone
might ask: But aren’t these comic book movies upholding heroes and justice,
things you are for? I don’t know that this is true. When you project heroes and
justice outside the realms of reality, that might be fine for children and
adolescents exploring the value of heroism or moral issues for the first time,
but it hardly applies to adults. Children, adolescents and adults might get a
glimmering of how to solve a serious moral problem by watching Executive Suite, not Wall Street. Or Shane,
not The Wild Bunch.
About
a million words have already been written by reviewers and critics about Captain America, but few, to my
knowledge (and I’ve read a hefty number of them), observe the
adolescence-orientation of that film and its ilk, or they reveal that their
authors are oblivious or indifferent to the phenomenon. Mike Wilmington of Movie
City News
, however, wrote an ambivalent column about the pros and cons of Captain America: The Winter Soldier,
while still pining for something a little more substantial than the facile
razzle-dazzle of modern action thrillers or adventure films. He opens with:
In the mood for something
super-duper, movie-wise? Something loud, fast, full of crash-bang and
zip-zowie, and liable to make megazillions of dollars all around the world? Captain
America: The Winter Soldier
— which is the latest Marvel Comics super-hero
spectacular — may be  just your super-ticket.
I’m being facetious, but maybe
not super-facetious. The movie, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, has a lot
going for it, though I think it’s being somewhat overrated. A super-hero
picture with a great two-faced super-villain, a super-jittery action camera,
super-CGI tricks, super-credit teasers, a shrewdly super-paranoid script, and a
sort of a heart, Captain America: The Winter Soldier definitely belongs in the
upper echelon of Marveldom, somewhere under Iron Man  and Spider-Man
2
, and somewhere above The Hulk and X-Men.
Discussing
the plot of Captain America,
Wilmington notes:
These nightmare fantasies of the
teen-targeted super-hero action movies (or SHAMS) and young adult movies (or
YAMs) — so wildly popular with younger audiences — are fashioned out of the
Marvel comic books of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which is when Marvel Comics main-man
writer-editor Stan Lee wrote a lot of his best stuff and when I read a
lot of it), and this Captain America (created for the comics by Joe Simon
and Jack Kirby) is a left-wing
movie
that makes its villains part of the military-industrial complex:
self-righteous militarists who want to take over the world, and programmed
mercenaries like the Winter Soldier himself. [Italics mine]
That
observation can also be applied to the differences between the original The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
and the remake (2004). The
first was about a Communist conspiracy to install a president friendly to
Communism. The second was about a capitalist plot to install a president
friendly to capitalism. Some pundits have called President Barack Obama a
“Manchurian Candidate.” However, I’d call him the Ayers/Soros/Alinsky
candidate. I might also add that when it comes to portraying a conspiring,
manipulative mother-bear bitch, Meryl Streep can’t hold a candle to Angela
Lansbury.
Wilmington
asks:
Is it a bad joke that this truly
super art form is now often most expensively used to make ultra-costly versions
of old comic books (even good old comic books) and new young adult novels (even
good ones), intended for a world-wide audience of teenagers, and
people who seem to want to be teenagers? Are we so steeped in teen fantasies…
that the real world and all the magnificent stories you can cull from it are
relegated mostly to the smaller budgets and cheaper seats?
No,
it isn’t a bad joke. Something unfunny is at work. What is responsible for the
“reimagining” of older material is moral and esthetic bankruptcy,
with directors, producers, and most Hollywood studios suffering from selective
autism, with a strong strain of Alinskyite target-and-destroyism.  
Wilmington’s
plaintive remarks echo the subject of Diana West’s seminal critique of American
culture, The
Death of the Grownup: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down
Western Civilization
(reviewed here).
In
my column, “Maturity
Deferred: The Death of the Grown-up
,” I wrote:
West’s central thesis is that our
culture has ossified into a “perpetual adolescence,” even though the Baby
Boomer generation is nearing or at the age of retirement. That generation was
sired and raised by the “greatest generation,” one of adults and even
adolescents who fought World War Two in combat overseas and in the factories at
home.
The “greatest generation,”
however, in turn raised a not-so-great generation many of whose members became
the creators and proponents of or adherents to the rebellious “counterculture”
of the 1960’s and 1970’s, with its pronounced leftist, collectivist and
nihilist means and ends. If members of that generation did not actively take
part in the assault on the status quo, then they passively accepted a besieged
status quo as mere powerless spectators.
West
diagnoses part of the problem, as I note in my column:
Throughout her book West cites
numerous instances of adults abdicating or never discovering their
responsibilities as thinking, reasoning adults. She defines two species of this
state of purported adult “adolescence,” a condition she also claims is
exacerbated by multiculturalism and diversity:
A reluctance to assert or
champion “adult” values one knows are superior, or a fear to assert them, lest
one be accused of something terrible (fascism, elitism, or racism) by the
enemies of those values;
An indoctrinated ignorance of or
hostility to any values that are demonstrably superior.
Lest
anyone accuse me of retreating to the past, let him. Today’s culture and arts are
not mine. I am not so much alienated from the culture, as it is alien to everything
I hold dear. And I think that anyone who has read this column up to this point would
agree that they’re grown-ups, too.

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6 Comments

  1. Joe

    Ed,
    I agree. I have taken my kids to see some of these comic book movies and though I enjoyed comics as a kid, i almost invariably fall asleep in these mind numbing movies.

    Having access to better movies… Even b movies from the past on Netflix is more entertaining… And much cheaper.

  2. Edward Cline

    Joe: I read comics as a kid, too, focusing more on the "Classic Comics" renditions of noted literature. I liked "Superman" on TV. But as one matures to adulthood, these are things one leaves behind. One doesn't denigrate them, but they can't fill or answer an adult's needs for moral guidance or inspiration. Some of the movies I recommend in the column are only the tip of the iceberg of what I'd want others to see. They're not all perfect, but they are adult in the best sense of that term.

  3. Edward Cline

    Someone thought he had scored me on the meaning of "Panem" (which I parodied as "PanAm" in the column). But explaining that "panem" was, loosely, Latin for "bread and circuses" would have meant adding or complementing the reference to Imperial Rome. While composing the piece, I consulted my Latin-English dictionaries because I recognized the term, and decided it wasn't worth explicating when I already describe one of the purposes of the Hunger Games, which was to entertain the effete populace. See, however, http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2012/03/bread-circuses-the-hunger-games-ancient-rome/. As a patron of many Italian restaurants, I was familiar with "panini," the diminutive of "pane" or "bread." When I lived in New York City, I often patronized a bohemian place in Greenwich Village called the Chocolate Panini, and in Palo Alto, California, Il Fornaio, in which I wrote most of my Chess Hanrahan novels.

  4. Victoria

    Wow. I never thought of it like this. I really enjoyed the Dark Knight movies, and most of the recent Marvel efforts, because they took the old fashioned concept of a superhero and made it work with modern-day villains, problems, and technology.
    I think that's why Batman is so beloved in general…because he's not really a superhero. He doesn't have any special powers, he just has a lot of money and believes in fighting evil. I like that.
    I like these films because they are engaging beyond the typical dumb action film. It's not just endless explosions and chase scenes….
    …but at the end of the day, you're right. They are definitely teen stories. There's no real depth to them; the morals, the problems, and the solutions are all pretty superficial.
    I don't think that makes them bad, but it definitely speaks to our society's shallowness. Damn.

  5. Edward Cline

    Victoria: I never said (and I know you're not accusing me of it) that these movies were "bad." My point was that this is what the culture has brought people down to, although I must add that people who are looking for heroism and good defeating evil in movies (or even in literature) don't have much of a choice anymore. Another point I wanted to make is that there's a treasure trove of great movies that remain to be discovered. They're all "oldies" but they're there and they're evidence of what was and could be again.

  6. Unknown

    For some time now I've had an uneasy feeling about the quality of movies.The virtual societal push back, the politically correct goo, the dumbing down, everything would have me believe that I should get with the program.That I should enjoy these offerings. You're just and old curmudgeon they say.
    I don't think I am.
    Biological units die. Before they die they go through various stages. Helplessness, growth, pinnacle achievement,plateaux, decline etc. In the same way society is just a collection of individual biological units going through the same stages.
    We've peaked, we're dying and the symptoms are all around.
    Bad movies, bad literature, political correctness. Just an old man farting in the wind. Who cares.

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