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David Poland

By David Poland

BYOB: Are Movies Still As Relevant As They Were In 2004, 1994, 1984, 1974???


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34 Responses to “BYOB: Are Movies Still As Relevant As They Were In 2004, 1994, 1984, 1974???”

  1. Stella's Boy says:

    10 years ago I was basically living at Blockbuster and a few movie theaters. On average I saw 2-3 movies a week in theaters, and I rented anything that didn’t play near me or went straight-to-DVD. I didn’t watch that much TV outside of HBO shows. What a difference two kids makes. I hardly ever see a movie in theaters anymore, and I watch way more TV than movies now (something I would have laughed at 10 years ago). I wish I saw more movies, but it’s hard when you have two small children. TV is just easier, and there is so much good TV now. I can fast-forward commercials and slip in a show after the kids are in bed. Films aren’t as relevant to me as they used to be, but that’s not because I want it that way. Hopefully when the kids are a little older I see more movies in theaters again.

  2. film fanatic says:

    Instead of making the usual arguments about relative quality, the blockbuster/comic book mentality, more entertainment options competing for eyeballs, etc., I’d like to propose that the perceived lack of “relevance” has a lot to do with where click-happy print/digital media outlets marshal their resources for writing about/discussing popular culture.

    There is much talk of the “golden age of television” and also a lot of “tv is better than movies” stances these days. And while, yes, there are some shows now that are “better” than the norm of years past, the general ratio of good shows to shit is about where it’s always been. Same for the general ratio of good movies to shit.

    So why, then, has this prevailing narrative taken hold? Again, it comes back to the changes in the last 10 years or so on how cultural criticism is disseminated. Click bait and Twitter play a key role. It’s much easier to get clicks or start an engaged discussion about TV than movies these days, mainly because with TV everyone is automatically on the same page. If I write an article about last night’s episode of a TV show, at least 2M+ people saw that episode the same time I did and can be part of the conversation. If you write an article about a movie that’s not a wide-release make-most-of-its-boxoffice-on-the-first-weekend type, many people won’t have seen it yet and, thus, won’t have the same interest in reading about it. This explains the rise of the TV recap, the beat where every media outlet seems to be assigning writers who might otherwise write more about film. And the writers are obviously going to gravitate where the paying gigs are, so it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle and the old “if a tree falls in the forest” conundrum comes into play.

    There is no reason in the world why every single episode of every better-than-mediocre TV show needs to have 1000+ words written about it weekly by 100 different outlets while films are now basically ignored, save for media outlets chasing ad money. In the “old days,” TV critics might have written a long piece at the beginning of a show’s season and maybe a wrap up at the end. Now, outlets like Vulture will milk 10-20 articles out of a single TV episode PER WEEK. And it’s an auto-template that regenerates itself every week. We’ve gone from film writing being about advocacy for worthy things that might otherwise not get attention to everyone talking about what they watched last night; from actual criticism in its purest form to mere synopsizing. Add in the ADHD nature of audiences/journalists these days and there’s almost no way for a smaller film to gain any kind of traction and continue to be part of the cultural conversation over the course of several weeks or months, save for Oscar season (which represents its own set of problems I won’t even get into here).

    Again, to paraphrase the Philosophy 101 question, “If a wonderful movie comes out but no one writes about it because they’re too busy devoting their column inches to yet another MAD MEN recap, did it really exist?”

  3. Pcchongor says:

    Movies are now little more than just another slice of the overall entertainment pie, and the sub-slice of truly “cinematic” films are probably at their lowest levels since sound first took over in the late 20s.

    Unfortunarely, at this point, without the studios’ putrid and near exclusive focus set on franchise generation and longterm toy sales, the entire industry would start crumbling under its own bloated weight.

  4. Stella's Boy says:

    The glut of comic book movies has definitely caused my interest in movies to wane a little, and has made it a little easier to not go to the movies as often. Most of them don’t interest me at all, and with few exceptions, I haven’t been impressed by the ones I’ve seen.

  5. YancySkancy says:

    These things are so relative, and most of us just bring our own limited perspective to it. Nostalgia is, as always, a factor. If you think of 1974 as the year of Chinatown, The Conversation, The Godfather Pt. 2 and A Woman Under the Influence maybe it will shock you to learn that Godfather 2 was the only one of those to make the year’s top ten highest grossers list, along with such masterpieces as The Towering Inferno, The Trial of Billy Jack, Earthquake, Airport ’75, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and Benji.

  6. Hallick says:

    The ratio on television may be the same as it ever was, but a ratio only boils the numbers down to the lowest possible denominator. If the ratio for good/great shows to bad shows is something like 1:15, then 20 or 30 years ago there weren’t that many groups of 16 to choose from. In 2014, one out of fifteen yields a plethora of good-to-great shows thanks to having so many more channels, the wider availability of imported series, online outlets, etc.

    But then television has the advantage that films don’t nowadays. You’ve got a handful of movie studios who are all chasing billion dollar finish lines versus a swath of television/internet companies just looking for anything that’ll grab attention.

  7. Hallick says:

    Just to throw out a completely anecdotal point, apparently we’ve only had one foreign language film that passed the $20 million dollar mark since 2006 (if Box Office Mojo’s numbers are reliable). Having lived through a foreign film resurgeance in the 90’s and early 00’s, I never would have guessed that “Instructions Not Included” would be standing there alone. That’s a little depressing.

  8. MAGGA says:

    As film fanatic touched on, I think it would benefit cinema greatly if more film writers viewed their job as that of an advocate. I don’t care if someone thinks average viewers will like a movie or not based on the expected behavior of general ticket-buyers, I want someone to go to bat for movies they believe people should see, at the cost of the movies everyone actually sees. I like TV reviews because everyone has seen the show and are not there to get a recommendation, but to discuss the themes, story and cinematic qualities of what they’ve all experienced. I think things like DP/30 helps keep movies in the conversation longer and allows you to revisit what you experienced in the cinema. I get that commercial outlets need viewers, and if viewers want to read about the sequel to a reboot of a three-movie reboot of a show based on a series of comics they loved when they were eight you have to cater to them somewhat, but I think that when a journalist falls in love they should also act as if their on the campaign trail for the movie, and get other people engaged as well. Also, critics strike me as being softer on giant movies because they expect so little, whereas I think redundancy should be a big minus and originality should be commended even in more flawed movies.
    I think people are way too concerned with box office. The people who made the movies want them to do well, sure, but we’re sometimes treating cinema as a sport, and we’re all supposed to respect a film or a company for doing well, even while we know that in an environment where movies make such a large percentage of their earnings early, word of mouth rarely has an effect.
    Most importantly, studios should take chances. This is why the loss of smaller companies is such a true loss, because they’d get behind movies and push them as if they were big films. The big corporations may have accidentally funded something small that turned out well, but it’s way more important for them to not fail with a movie they’ve already spent so much money on. There is such an opportunity today for things to go viral, for ideas to catch on before release, for parts of the move to be put out beforehand and so on, but if I can’t go see the movie, what does it help?
    That’s the main advantage of TV and streaming, the availability. If a day-and-date streaming service for a fee will help justify a bigger push when the movie opens, I think it’s worth it even if the movie lands on pirate bay instantly. Give us a chance to pay and more of us will.

  9. MAGGA says:

    A thing that we could all do, by the way, is spread the word on directors. We have all the tools, and any era in any country that stands out as a time of quality is based on directorial power, with the possible exception of the studio system in the thirties. I may not love Christopher Nolan, but it makes me happy that people rush out to see his latest movie because they like what he’s done before. Same with Shyamalan back in the day, though that turned out pretty badly. The biggest problem right now is that the brand is not the director, studio or star, but a purchased IP. With that comes a built in expectation that the role of the movie is to simply illustrate our memories from the book/comics/toys we remember, rather than impressing us with something uniquely cinematic. I’d rather have someone like DiCaprio pulling in the audiences, because he has pride and love for the medium and wants to get good projects financed with capable directors. And if the people who make movies are important, a good movie will have a positive effect on the long-term prospects of business even if they fail at the big screen and are spread through torrents and streaming services, because it will help build lucrative careers.

  10. Joe Leydon says:

    Something to think about: Since the advent of sell-through videocassettes, and increasingly so with the introduction of DVDs and Blu-Rays, movie have devolved from must-see events to disposable commodities. There was a time when a movie like Bonnie and Clyde or The Graduate or Back to the Future or Titanic would stay in first-run theatrical release long enough to maintain a sustained pop-cultural impact. Now? The time between much-hyped opening day and Wal-Mart bargain bin grows shorter all the time.

  11. Hcat says:

    I agree with a lot of what was said above and it points to the fact that television and film have split to two different paths. Movies have gone the populous route where the adored television shows now occupy the niche that vantage focus and miramax used to fill on the theatrical side.

    As for television being in a golden age, well, that has always been the case. Since Audiences first clutched their pearls at the audacity of Dallas or the grittiness of hill street people have been writing about the huge leaps forward television is taking and I am sure there were numerous inches written about how Miami vice would make action movies obsolete. Then those were trumped by la law, blue and Er. West wing and a thousand hours l&w then switched things to cable. And all through this steady progression we were told how fortunate we were about the new quality television, how it will replace film etc etc etc.

  12. leahnz says:

    well, the other thing nobody seems to talk about (or i’ve missed it, entirely possible) is that the tech used for film/cinema productions and TV productions, which used to be very different beasts in basic terms such as the use of film vs video cameras and post-production, are converging in the digital age — the big and small screen mediums have more in common now with high-end TV productions becoming more cinematic – for example arri alexas commonly used for both tv and film (how long can that name still apply) production, and the more sophisticated production design possibilities for television this affords – and arguably the reverse may be true as the considerable unique physical rigours of film production continue to downsize in the digital age and sensibilities change accordingly. the implications are many and possibly profound

  13. Hcat says:

    Or it could be as a person ages television gets better at the same rate that pop music gets worse.

    And book font seems to get smaller

  14. berg says:

    “There was a time when a movie like Bonnie and Clyde or The Graduate or Back to the Future or Titanic would stay in first-run theatrical release long enough to maintain a sustained pop-cultural impact.”

    Chef has been running in my town non-stop since it opened in may … what kind of cultural impact, are people eating grilled ham and cheese? … that’s 3.5 months … Chef comes out on disc in a month, and its cultural impact will be extended until the end of the year … also, a lot of rocket raccoon toys at christmas

  15. Hallick says:

    No, no, no, television really has become dramatically better, and there’s a hell of a lot more of the good stuff available. Pretty much to the point where a person with a job and a life have no chance in the world of catching up with it all. Of course there’s still more crap and filler than ever before too, but it’s insane how much material there is to choose from nowadays.

  16. Triple Option says:

    1994 is prolly my favorite year for movies. Great foreign films, great big budget actioners, amazing indies and dependents. Today it seems like the only movies I hear about are $150M budgets (that no one will confirm or deny) and people trying to launch kickstarter projects. Yeah, sure, money has always been of primary concern but it seems to have soiled so much of the landscape. I can make this argument for a lot of things. Vegas may be bigger and prettier now, but I liked the soul of the town when the mob ran things before all the corporations took over.

    I definitely like superhero films more now than when I was a kid but the quest to just throw something ginormous at the screen has hurt the experience for me. I don’t have the unction to keep up on what to look forward to coming out. There aren’t actors I’m fired up to see. Sure, age prolly attributes some of this malaise but I seem to be more disappointed by trailers and actual films because of wasted opportunity more than anything else.

    It’s a different world. Millennials don’t seem to care if people text during a film. Hell, no one can get mad because they’re too busy texting themselves to notice. Movies are relevant, will remain relevant for some time. Could an argument be made that they were less relevant back in ’74 or ’84 when it would take half the country 4-5 weeks to get to the theater to see a blockbuster?

    Managed expectations have to be in order. Not every film is going to be spectacular. I don’t like how improvements or concerns about the industry’s current state of health are ignored w/the prevalent corporate “buy in” model, use up, and throw money at the next big trend.

    Lot of money going into TV now. Some pretty big budget projects have been fallen victim to the spend more/make bigger fallacy. OTOH, for the shows that can’t throw money on a high gloss finish, there seems to be an effort to stand out, which I think is a win-win proposition all around.

  17. cadavra says:

    I can’t remember where I read this, but:

    1933 movies are nothing like 1913 movies.

    1953 movies are nothing like 1933 movies.

    1973 movies are nothing like 1953 movies.

    1993 movies are nothing like 1973 movies.


    2013 movies are EXACTLY like 1993 movies.

    When the studios are still making the same tired CGI crap and imbecilic comedies they were 20 years before, then the stagnation has spelled finis.

  18. MAGGA says:

    My biggest hope for the form is that HBO or someone else makes movies a weekly thing, like some sort of anthology show where every week a new director makes a personal 90-120 minute film. I’m not willing to give up stories told at this length just because the weekly series are so amazing, and I don’t think cinema will be a place for good storytelling for at least a decade. It would be quite an irony, of course, that being a “movie of the week” is the ultimate sign of quality, but everything else in the business is upside down now, so why not?

  19. Bulldog68 says:

    Ditto what MAGGA said. Would love an HBO movie of the week. Especially if they go crazy and do a theme of the month, so one month is Crime Movie, next month is Comedy, Mafia, Fantasy and so forth. I`d definitely tune in.

  20. PcChongor says:

    What HBO needs is an American version of “Black Mirror,” which is easily the best anthology series since the original “Twilight Zone” hit.

  21. palmtree says:

    I DO think we’re in a TV golden age now, but having said that, the TV vs. film debate seems never to take into account the new mediums that are really big now…namely video games and Youtube. I’m not speaking from personal experience either. Variety did a study that showed that Youtube stars were equal in popularity to movie stars among teens. And video games outgross movies, and people spend a lot more time playing them. It seems to me that if you were growing up now screens (TV, computer, phone, tablet, etc.) are playing a lot more than just TV shows and films.

  22. MAGGA says:

    Black Mirror is amazing, six great near-movies

  23. PcChongor says:

    I’d trade Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert any day of the week.

  24. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    “I’d trade Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert any day of the week.”

    The above sentence can be read very differently depending on where you live.

  25. tbunny says:


    YES. I would extend it much more broadly. In my view, American culture has hardly changed in the last 20 years. I can’t speak to the “relevance” question. I’m not sure what that means. But the content of culture seems to be largely unchanged. Hetero-male life appears to revolve around the NFL and to a lesser extent other professional sports in exactly the same way they did in 1993. After the flourishing of hip-hop, and arguably “grunge,” in the late 80’s early 90’s, has there been a single notable development in popular music in the last 20 years? I’m not talking about individual acts, but definite culture-wide shifts. The format for mass cultural movies has hardly changed since the perfecting of digital technology in T2 and Jurassic Park, combined with the massive success of comic adaptation in Burton’s Batman. Cable news was perfected in the age of the first gulf war and OJ. Political culture in America is more or less permanently stuck in 1994, with a few exceptions. Arguably TV has changed the most, I don’t watch much TV, so it’s hard for me to judge.

    Obviously there has been dramatic change with the spread of the internet and all the social media platforms. But what’s striking to me is how little the generic form of much of our culture seems to have changed in the last two decades. The internet has changed how people communicate with one another, but it appears to have had strikingly little affect on mass culture beyond itself. If I had to speculate, I would argue that American culture has become absolutely obsessed with presenting a sanitized, comforting, conformist perspective on everything, and the constant recycling of the same tropes as we make our way around our corporately branded calendar year is a major consequence of this. Obviously, the highly managed deployment of fear and terror, whether in the nightly news or on various demagoguery outlets, is not inconsistent with this overall urge to narcoleptic comfort. Something about the hegemony of Reaganomics in the 80’s has created a robust stasis in our culture, a feeling of “There is no alternative” (TINA) which could be likened to the triumph of capitalist realism. Surely the stagnation and decline of the American middle class in the last 20 years is not unrelated? Or maybe it’s just a function of my age.

  26. Crow T Robot says:

    The death of mainstream cinema goes something like this:
    -Talent flees to mega agencies when multinationals seized studios.
    -To seize control back, studios make franchise characters they own or rent into the draw. (James T Kirk > Chris Pine)
    -Agencies now at the mercy of studio casting. (“Who do you have for Uhura?” “Who do you want?”)
    -Movie star system withered. (Julia Roberts & Will Smith in last decade)*
    -Without celebrity champions, the auteur model withered. (Soderbergh in last decade)*
    -Movie culture stagnated, recycling the already recycled. (“Hey, look at this script… wanna make a great movie?” “Nope. I wanna make two Spider-Man 2s in ten years.”)
    – Creatives flee to home entertainment (tv & video games). (“Hallelujah!”)
    – Technology shortens attention spans (“Please silence your phone…”)
    – Video streaming makes wven die hard movie fans lazy. (“Wait just 90 days to watch new Spider-Man 2? Heck yeah. I didn’t even like the last two!”)
    Theatrical today:
    – No longer the least expensive form of middle class family entertainment.
    – Unpleasant to get to in first weekend (and if WOM isn’t awesome, forget other weekends).
    – Quality: “It may be ok. But it probably won’t be good. And it definitely won’t be awesome. As for great? What’s a great movie?”

    Movies are irrelevant because people have been burned too much… will only flock to theaters now when chances of quality are high. We know all the marketing tricks by now. That’s why we passed on Amazing Spiderman 2. And why Guardians of the Galaxy, opening in August directed by nobody starring nobody featuring nobody characters but made by the studio who did the sensationally entertaining The Avengers is a hit.

    *Yes, there are exceptions. And there will be less and less of them every year.

  27. JS Partisan says:

    If you think culture hasn’t changed in 20 years. You really haven’t been paying attention to culture at all.

  28. doug r says:

    Hallick, I guess you had to make the cut-off at 2006 to avoid Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.
    An argument could be made for including cartoons redubbed in English with name actors like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.
    And Kung Fu Panda may totally be in English, but when it came out on video, I saw it playing at EVERY Chinese house with kids.

  29. Hallick says:

    According to IMDb and Box Office Mojo, Kung Fu Hustle only did $17 million in the US, so it didn’t factor into the $20 million club. I don’t think Shaolin Soccer broke past half a million overall.

    Kung Fu Panda playing at a lot of Chinese houses just seems to score a point for US films in English.

  30. tbunny says:

    Well JS you’re certainly welcome to retort. Or you could use some of that vacuous internet smugness to say nothing at all. I know internet commenting hasn’t changed in ten years.

  31. LYT says:

    “1933 movies are nothing like 1913 movies.

    1953 movies are nothing like 1933 movies.

    1973 movies are nothing like 1953 movies.

    1993 movies are nothing like 1973 movies.”

    Many of these leaps are of course due to technology. The addition of things like sync sound, color, widescreen, etc.

    So I’ll point out that in fact 2013 movies are quite different than 1993 movies in that a whole bunch more are in 3D, and/or shot in digital rather than on film, or even on virtual sets in a way that wasn’t possible 20 years ago. I could also note that 20 years ago, the idea of making anything like Battle Royale seemed absolutely toxic to Hollywood, and now one of our biggest properties is a PG-13 take on the concept.

    And I think that if Merian C. Cooper had had color and 3D to make King Kong, he would have used them.

  32. cadavra says:

    Luke, you are correct, but I was referring to content.

    1913 was of course mostly innocent fun, but there were undercurrents of social justice that increased throughout the decade (see the films of Lois Weber, for example).

    1933 was the height of the pre-Code era, awash in salaciousness, violence and railing against the injustices of the Great Depression.

    1953 saw the McCarthy era in full swing; movies were safe, conservative and white bread; FROM HERE TO ETERNITY was about as “adult” as it got.

    1973 was the heyday of cynicism and violence, largely as a distraction from Vietnam and Watergate: THE EXORCIST, MAGNUM FORCE, SERPICO and ENTER THE DRAGON.

    And 1993 was when the action fantasies (JURASSIC PARK, NINJA TURTLES) and dopey SNL-type comedies (CONEHEADS, WAYNE’S WORLD 2) started their takeover of the major studios.

    And in 2013, that takeover was complete.

  33. MAGGA says:

    Virtual sets aren’t possible today either. Directors think they are, but they almost always look absolutely ludicrous. For all my irritation at the notion of ten more Star Wars films it makes me glad to see they are actually, like, going somewhere to shoot the exotic scenes. I think locations are about to make a return

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon