Things ain’t what they used to be

Or at least, so says Peter Bogdanovich, who is someone most folk will only know about if they are, like me, movie buffs. He has been proclaiming the lost art and craft of movie making and telling us all how modern movies are all CGI spectacle and hollow and worthless. In the case of some of the blockbuster-type releases I think he has a point, but not all use of CGI is to the detriment of a film – look at Lord of the Rings which managed to combine CGI, traditional model-making, special make-up and costume to deliver a film both sweeping and epic but with intimate, personal sections. Or the CGI used to re-create Rome for Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Or the clever and quirky use of modern effects by the likes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet in his films from the wonderful Delicatessen right up to the glorious Amelie (and I suspect in his new film due here in January). Besides the Hollywood of old that Bogdanovich mourns was more than happy to indulge in widescreen effects extravaganzas when it suited them, often subsituting spectacle for substance – Cleopatra for instance?

And leaving the effects aside, although many dire time-wasting movies are indeed pumped out the fact is that there always were plenty of mediocre films in the past too – he is being selective with both his past and present memory. What about Chris Nolan’s stunningly intricate Memento? What about Bryan Singer’s excellent The Usual Suspects? L.A. Confidential? Donnie Darko? American Beauty? These are all among my top twenty films and all are within the last decade or so. And these are just English-language films. What about world cinema? He doesn’t mention it – either because he has no interest in it or else he knows it would contradict his diatribe of decay. What about Crouching Tiger or Hero? Cyrano de Bergerac?

There is always someone bemoaning the lack of quality in modern artistic endeavour. I’m sure someone probably went around in the 30s moaning about these modern talkies not having the heart of silent films. We get similar complaints in the world of literature. The truth is that there are always reams of mediocre output in all arts and mediums, but it is the fine, few jewels that shine out, regardless of the time. Imagination and love of craft are far from dead.

It’s also worth noting that Peter needs column inches because he has a new book to plug. Or gee, am I being cynical?