What is Cinema and where is it going?
First, defining Cinema is tricky... Some people find it pretentious to discriminate and label one movie as Cinema and another movie as... not? Although Cinema as a general term can refer to any film, I personally think that Cinema as a representation of an artistic endeavor refers to a movie made by an individual. What I mean is, movies that you can watch and feel the human behind it, the human being that crafted a story from script to screen, whose heart you can feel through every beat of the film, and whose intention is pure artistic expression.
This, being in opposition to a film made by a large studio with the primary motivation being money through meticulously crafted storylines decided by large groups of writers, attempting to emotionally manipulate the audience.
Over the last decade or so, a common phrase in the film industry, and surrounding community, is that Cinema is dead. With the increase in committee made movies about outer space, superheroes, and fast cars, and in the age of YouTube and social media celebrities and influencers, it is a topic of contention:
Where Cinema is going and what will become of films as a classic artistic medium that we’ve known for over a century?
I will preface this by saying, this is only speculation based on observations of where we’re at and hopes for what’s to come.
Although I would agree that big studio movies and the rise of social media content appears to pose a threat to Cinema, I believe that the threat is unsubstantiated and Cinema will endure the test of time. If you look at Cinema over the years there has been a definite shift. Big studios and production companies are no longer taking risks on the kinds of movies that we have defined as Cinema. However, there has been a shift in the other direction as well, with the emergence of smaller independent production companies. Companies like Annapurna, A24, LuckyChap, and even smaller labels under big corporations like Focus, Fox Searchlight, and Sony Pictures Classics, are all responsible for some amazing films. And don't forget studio like Netflix and Amazon Studios that don't even have to worry about what a film makes. All they care about is subscribers, which is actually great for us storytellers because it's not about the opening day anymore.
These companies produced films like Booksmart, Hereditary, The Farewell, Midsommar, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Bombshell, If Beale Street Could Talk, and even Academy Award nominated films like Lady Bird, I, Tonya, Marriage Story, The Irishmen, Moonlight, Zero Dark Thirty, 20th Century Women, and The Florida Project. I think the films speak for themselves. These companies are helping breathe life into so many heartfelt stories, giving voices to so many independent filmmakers, and the outcome is overwhelmingly positive.
Another threat to good movies, one which has become increasingly apparent in recent years, is the intensity of censorship that accompanies “cancel culture." There have been a number of actors and filmmakers who have come out and said that movies nowadays are bland because people are so afraid to take risks with their content in fear of being “cancelled." While this is a hurdle that we both need to treat with care as well as jump over, I don’t think that it is as unique of an issue as people think it is.
I recently listened to Quentin Tarantino talking on the Joe Rogan podcast and he made an interesting point.
Rogan brought up the topic of censorship today, to which Tarantino reminded him that it had happened before. He explained how movies were wild in the earlier 20th century, but approaching the late 70’s and into the 80’s there was a transition into censorship of ultra violent, sexual, or offensive subject matter. That was until the early 90’s when he broke the mold with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, bringing a new wave of no-holds-barred Cinema.
I think the nature of the film industry is that it is all about now. With few exceptions, you can’t get very far on what you have done in the past. And this “now” mentality feeds into the perception that what is happening now is how things will be forever. If you look at the past, it is a pretty good indicator of where we might go. Additionally, the factor that is being forgotten when people jump to the conclusion that Cinema is dying, is people. Yeah, maybe there were fewer people making good Cinema in the last few years, but speaking for myself, I can see so many people, Swila members and beyond, with so many unique voices and exceptional stories to tell.
There are so many talented individuals in the world who will never fail to make beautiful Cinema, even if it does come and go in waves.
In this day and age, one such wave may be a shift of these individuals with the emergence of social media, as some storytellers may find YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. as a better means of expression. These new platforms are giving people a chance to tell their stories in different ways. Take TikTok for example, rather than the classic two-hour film experience, people are able to absorb and draw emotional connections in only a minute. That is kind of incredible if you really think about it. While having prospective filmmakers, storytellers, switch to a different format is definitely a change in the landscape, there’s no reason it needs to be a bad change. Change is growth, and as we as humans grow, and the film industry grows, I think rather than ceasing to exist, the art of Cinema will grow in tandem, and flourish.
Another source for hope... News has recently broke that esteemed writer/director Quentin Tarantino, who bought the New Beverly back in 2007, just purchased the Vista theater in Los Angeles. Although he has said he will play new releases, he intends to only play movies on film. I have no doubt that there will be others to follow in his footsteps in the future.
There are a number of renowned filmmakers, such as Tarantino, who love Cinema and want to keep it alive, along with so many other wildly talented storytellers in the business or with the ambitions to be. As far as I can see, Cinema is far from dead. But, I’m curious, what are your thoughts? Do you think there’s a distinction between studio box-office hits and “cinema?" What threats do you think new platforms pose to the art of filmmaking?
And, lastly, do you think Cinema is dead?
Follow Hannah on Instagram: @hannahwagner3932
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