September 4, 2006

“I was struck by how stunningly banal and formulaic it all was.”

Michael Caine thinks these movies today are no damned good, not like in the old days. Is that the distorted perspective of an old man thinking about the past? Or is he right?


Wickedpinto said...

Actors aren't artists, they are tools, well defined tools, but they are not artists, they are the TOOLS of the artistic writers, directors, and editors.

Actors are nothing more than a palate of colors used by true artists. Actors think they are more, but they are just a blend of colors for the photog, a mix of aspect for the director, or a disjointed automoton for the editor.

Actors don't MAKWE great moves, the only thing an actor can do is DESTROY a movie. There are a lot of great actors who have been in bad movies, and those actors are happy to blame the photog, or the director, or the writers for the movie, but when there is a great movie, they take all the acclaim.

Actors are not artists, they are secondary contractors who serve the will of the artist. Much like michaelangelo's HUGE HUGE HUGE incomplete library of unfinished sculptures, the vast majority of which mike never touched, but is accredited with.

Same with the chapel.

It's the visionary superviser who says "NO! NO! NO! NO! here is how!" while making a small contribution in finite art, while demanding obedience while wielding a riders crop that get the acknowledgement.

Kane makes a point, but he's wrong. If you can watch "the third man" several times, in reference to todays world? You are in an isolation chamber.

Note: I think that all of those movies are good movies, great movies, fantastic movies, however, you MUST, the viewer MUST put themselves not into the language, and dialogue, but they must also force themselves into a period of time that they have NO understanding of.

Most anyways.

How many 20 year old talented artists can understand "The Manchurian Candidate?" Odds are, they will all be lost, or see the underlying theme as fiction as well as the basic arc.

Jennifer said...

I think there are lots of great movies being made today. They're just not showcased at your mall theatre. Maybe its tougher to track the good movies down, and maybe its not given tools like the Internet.

There was lots of banal and formulaic crap made around the same time as Casablanca. Its not really fair to hold up one of the best movies of all time as representative of all movies of the period.

yetanotherjohn said...

I can remember seeing Caine in a few very banal movies. There are good movies, bad movies and excellent movies being made. The vast majority are good if you take them at their level. A suprising number are bad and a precious few are excellent.

I think a good comparison would be to take paintings from any age. There would be some bad ones. A great bulk of good ones (good enough to hang on your wall, but nothing a museum would want). And some excellent masterpieces. If you look back, it is the masterpieces that stand out to define an age. They will be pointed to as the examples of the quality of that age and thus looking at the bad, good and excellent of today vs that past age, the present will suffer.

russmunki said...

Obviously, its the distorted perspective of an old man. As if all movies from the 1940s were of the same quality as Casablanca. I'm sure that era produced its fair share of banal movies.

On an unrelated note, did anyone else notice this:

"Singling out Beerfest, a comedy about excessive drinking, and The Worm-Eaters, a horror drama about boys who eat worms, he added: “Some of the pictures are so gross."

The Worm-Eaters? Is that currently a movie? Did they mean to write How to Eat Fried Worms? If so, that is hardly a gross horror drama. I thought it was a funny mistake.

Ann Althouse said...

Russmunki: I noticed that and looked up the title "The Worm-Eaters" to see if there might be another movie or if that was the title for "Fried Worms" in Britain and they got the horror movie part wrong. There actually was a bad movie in the 70s called "The Worm-Eaters." And it was a horror film.

My theory is that Caine meant "Fried Worms" but called it "The Worm-Eaters" and the interviewer looked up what "The Worm-Eaters" was and saw it was a horror movie (but not that it was from the 70s).

Troy said...

If such a thing could be quantified, I'd wager the ratio of crap to quality has always been about the same. In the '30s and '40s (and maybe through the 1950s?) they often cranked out pictures in a week -- and it shows. The main difference perhaps is that the crap is celebrated and hyped, and lives forever in DVD, etc. I'm all for film preservation, but surely a lot of awful films have turned to dust in a vault somewhere.

Michael Caine... Jaws 4, The Hand....'nuff said. He's even said he makes some pics for the rent. He missed his Oscar while making Jaws 4 of all things.

michael farris said...

"Is that the distorted perspective of an old man thinking about the past?"

Sounds like it to me. I've watched more pre-1950 movies than most here I bet and there was a _lot_ of crap. The diamond to dross ratio has never been very high. The great majority of movies are two stars, competent and of minimal interest to most people (though specialized audiences may enjoy a given movie a lot).

"Or is he right?"

On the other hand it's hard to argue with him about so many, many movies now that suck ass. Movies are a weird hybrid artform with a unique technological/economical/artistic balance that emphasizes the first two at the expense of the third. As Pauline Kael once put it (paraphrasing) it's as if grand pianos were invinted before anyone knew how to play them.

Anonymous said...

From IMDB. Most of the pre-1964 titles are from British TV.....

The Dark Knight (2008) (announced)
Flawless (2007) (post-production)
The Prestige (2006) (completed)
Children of Men (2006) (completed)
The Weather Man (2005)
Bewitched (2005) Batman Begins (2005) (VG)
Batman Begins (2005)
Around the Bend (2004)
The Statement (2003)
Secondhand Lions (2003) .
The Actors (2003)
The Quiet American (2002)
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Last Orders (2001)
Quicksand (2001)
Miss Congeniality (2000)
Get Carter (2000)
Shiner (2000)
Quills (2000)
The Debtors (1999)
The Cider House Rules (1999)
Curtain Call (1999)
Little Voice (1998)
Shadow Run (1998)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997/II)
Mandela and de Klerk (1997) (TV)
Midnight in Saint Petersburg (1996)
Blood and Wine (1996)
Bullet to Beijing (1995)
On Deadly Ground (1994)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Blue Ice (1992)
Noises Off... (1992) .
Bullseye! (1990)
Mr. Destiny (1990) .
A Shock to the System (1990)
Jekyll & Hyde (1990) (TV) .
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Without a Clue (1988)
Jack the Ripper (1988) (TV)
Surrender (1987)
Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
The Fourth Protocol (1987)
The Whistle Blower (1986)
Half Moon Street (1986)
Mona Lisa (1986)
Sweet Liberty (1986) .
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
The Holcroft Covenant (1985)
Water (1985/I) .
Blame It on Rio (1984)
The Honorary Consul (1983)
Educating Rita (1983)
The Jigsaw Man (1983)
Deathtrap (1982) .
Victory (1981)
The Hand (1981)
The Island (1980)
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
Ashanti (1979) .
California Suite (1978)
The Swarm (1978)
Silver Bears (1978)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
The Eagle Has Landed (1976)
Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Romantic Englishwoman (1975)
The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
Peeper (1975)
The Marseille Contract (1974)
The Black Windmill (1974)
Sleuth (1972)
Pulp (1972)
Zee and Co. (1972)
Kidnapped (1971)
Get Carter (1971)
The Last Valley (1971) ..
Too Late the Hero (1970)
Battle of Britain (1969)
The Italian Job (1969)
Saturday-Night Theatre: Cornelius (1969)
Male of the Species (1969)
The Magus (1968) .
Deadfall (1968) .
Play Dirty (1968)
Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Woman Times Seven (1967)
Hurry Sundown (1967)
Funeral in Berlin (1966)
Gambit (1966)
The Wrong Box (1966)
Alfie (1966)
The Ipcress File (1965)
The Other Man (1964) (TV)
Hamlet (1964/I) (TV)
Zulu (1964)
The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963)
Funny Noises with Their Mouths (1963) (TV)
Solo for Sparrow (1962)
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
"The Younger Generation" (1961)
"Armchair Theatre" (1961) TV Episode
"Walk a Crooked Mile" (1961) (mini) TV Series
Ring of Truth (1961) (TV)
The Compartment (1961) (TV)
Foxhole in Cairo (1960)
"No Wreath for the General" (1960) TV Series
The Bulldog Breed (1960) (uncredited)
The General's Daughter (1959)
The Prisoner (1958) TV
Helmet on the Sideboard (1959)
Danger Within (1959)
Passport to Shame (1958)
Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)
The Frog (1958) (TV)
The Key (1958) (uncredited)
"The Vise"
The Sucker Game (1958) TV Episode
"Navy Log" TV Episode
Blind Spot (1958)
The Two-Headed Spy (1958)
A Woman of Mystery (1958)
How to Murder a Rich Uncle (1957)
The Steel Bayonet (1957)
Yield to the Night (1956)
"The Adventures of Sir Lancelot" TV Episode
Sailor Beware (1956)
A Hill in Korea (1956)

SippicanCottage said...

"The Man Who Would be King" is the greatest adventure movie ever made.

"The Eagle Has Landed" is the second greatest adventure movie ever made.

"Get Carter" has the best ending of any "admirable gangster" movie ever.

"Blame it on Rio" has the greatest assortment of unclad womens' breasts in the history of cinema.

"Casablanca" sucks.

Ann Althouse said...

Hey, I saw "Hurry Sundown" in the theater when it came out. Oooh! Is it bad! The scene with Jane Fonda acting sexual toward a saxophone should be in YouTube. Can't remember if Caine was in that scene, but it's burned in my memory. I saw it when I was 16. You have whatever beef you have with Jane Fonda. That's mine. That and the "hoedown" section of her first aerobics video.

KCFleming said...

Caine may be simply theorizing why the box office numbers are so poor in the past few years. Ann's discussed it before, and explanations abound, from competing entertainment outlets to poor film-making.

His comment does have a grampaw's 'everything's going to hell' quality, but I rarely go to movies anymore, nor do I rent them much, because the stories are just not there.

But last night I saw "Little Miss Sunshine". It reminded me a bit of Elizabethtown or Napolean Dynamite, but what a fun little picture. And Superman Returns was pretty good overall. But faced with dreck like MI3, Crossover, Saw 3, and the like, why bother going to the movies? When I was in high school, Star Wars came out, and I still like it for the grade B movie it is. Star Wars Episodes 1- 3 came out in much later and were forgettable, if not regrettable.

Beth said...

He's both spot on and an old crank, in my opinion. Sure, there are decades of dreck in the can. I think what he's bemoaning, though, is that more and more of that dreck makes it into the top selling lists, and fewer good movies, with good dialogue and plots, make it to the theaters. There's no development, no faith in smaller stories. That hasn't always been true. But whether it's our godawful sense of taste that makes it so, or that there are now more markets for films--stadium theaters, alternative theaters, and DVD--is undetermined.

JorgXMcKie said...

Just one more example of Sturgeon's Law: "90% of *everything* is crap."

He's just focused on the 90% instead of the 10%.

Dave's Corollary to Sturgeon's Law: The bigger the pile of crap, the bigger the remaining 10%.

Michael said...

It helps that most of the banal, formulaic junk from the old days has long since rotted away in their canisters unused and unloved, with only the best films surviving.

Ross said...

I don't know why Hollywood studios release the "quality" movies in December and the dreck in the summer (kids off school have more time to go to movies), but they do. Caine might feel a little better scanning the top 10 the week of Christmas. A little better.

The Drill SGT said...

Even full of cliches, you have to like Caine in one of the best war movies ever made: Zulu

dearieme said...

Zulu was marvellous, and Stanley Baker's closing line was wonderful.

The Drill SGT said...

dearieme said...
Zulu was marvellous, and Stanley Baker's closing line was wonderful.

The one about:
First action? Do you think I'd be involved in this butchers business more than once?

Baker put up his own money to get the film made. It thought it was a great story and part for him.

My favorite lines were:

Lieutenant John Chard: The army doesn't like more than one disaster in a day.
Bromhead: Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfast.

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Damn the levies man... Cowardly blacks!
Adendorff: What the hell do you mean "cowardly blacks?" They died on your side, didn't they? And who the hell do you think is coming to wipe out your little command? The Grenadier Guards?

Colour Sergeant Bourne: It's a miracle.
Lieutenant John Chard: If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind.

When I was in my Army officer basic course we studied the battle. It is a classic in leadership and small unit defense.

I still get a tear in my eye when I hear "Men of Harlech"

The Drill SGT said...


Here are sound clips

Jason said...

One factor often lost in these discussions is the massive amount of material being produced by Hollywood and the British equivalent. While the vast majority of movies from any given year are crap, I do think its gotten worse. However, once you factor in the myriad of top TV shows, the scales quickly tilt to today.

I also believe that the very best movies of today are quite good as compared to the past.

(The old three networks have the worse lineups while Fox and cable, especially USA and SciFi, are producing jewels.)

PS. One thing often forgotten is that when you churn out several movies a week, the chances of striking gold go up. When in production, Casablanca was seen as yet another movie. Today, the economics of movie making favor shooting for the moon with fewer movies.

Anonymous said...

Paul's Corollary to Sturgeon's Law: There is a 90% probability that Sturgeon's Law is crap.

37383938393839383938383 said...

After the demise of the studio system, the way movies are financed encourages "commerciality" -- meaning if it's not like something that has been profitable before, it shouldn't be financed. In addition, films are produced in slates rather than one at a time and they're so focus-grouped and market-tested that they have eighteen endings.

Caine certainly is right that movies are more cookie-cutter today than they used to be. The studios themselves will tell you that.

Revenant said...

He's right about modern films being generally banal and formulaic. He's wrong in thinking that was ever NOT the case.

miked0268 said...

Go to the movies, and the answer becomes obvious. The average moviegoer nowadays is like 17 years old. That's the target audience. 17 year olds LIKE stupid movies. I don't mean to insult them; almost all of us were idiots at that age.

Meanwhile, as someone above pointed out, TV has gotten alot better in recent years. I went through maybe a 15 year period where I didn't watch TV at all, but recently there have been a few shows that I actually went out of my way to watch. I never expected that to happen, but there it is.

Rick Lee said...

I hardly ever go out to the movies these days. But last month my wife and I found ourselves at the theater just looking to see what was playing right now. We ended up seeing Miami Vice. You couldn't come up with a more apt description than "banal and formulaic".

Anonymous said...

We rented "The Battle of Britain" this weekend. Great airplanes, generally bad acting, terrible continuity, wildly inappropriate 60's hairdoos, clichéd music, mediocre history. Talk about formulaic. Michael Caine stuck his mug in this one, but the Spitfires were the real stars.

For every "Alfie," there were many really unmemorable performances from this actor. One nice thing about Spitfires as stars is that they don't say silly things in their old age.

Revenant said...

Go to the movies, and the answer becomes obvious. The average moviegoer nowadays is like 17 years old. That's the target audience. 17 year olds LIKE stupid movies.

Personally, I think it is a mistake for movies to try to be thought-provoking, because it almost never works. Movies are limited to the equivalent of a written short story's worth of plot and characterization, with the added limitations of being visually appealing and making very limited use of introspection.

That's why, if you look at any list of "best films", almost nothing on the list requires much intelligence to understand or provokes many thoughts deeper than "that was a really entertaining film!".

Robert R. said...

I tend to agree that not much has changed. There's always been more than a fair share of banal and formulaic movies. There's plenty of formulaic movies in arthouse cinemas, it's just a different kind of formula.

What has changed is the target audience. The multiplex was pretty much created for the teenager. That typically means lots of action and little thought. And an aversion to risk taking. It's not surprising that Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Spider-Man get lots of praise for their fidelity to the source material.

It's also not a surprise that when a movie costs $200 million, that the studio will interfere and take out anything that challenges the audience or is seen as polarizing. The mid-priced picture has pretty much disappeared leaving big blockbusters and very cheap movies with nothing in between.

37383938393839383938383 said...

We ended up seeing Miami Vice. You couldn't come up with a more apt description than "banal and formulaic".

What? But ...but Gong Li! I'd love to bang that gong! [rimshot] I'm sorry but that 20-minute romance in moved me.

Independent George said...

Michael Caine has one of the greatest quotes ever with regard to Jaws 4. I'm going by memory, but it went something along the lines of, "Dreadful, dreadful movie... but the house it bought was quite lovely."

Anyway, I think that Chris Anderson's 'Long Tail' theory is behind the perception that movies are getting worse. As audiences decline due to competition from other media, film studios become even more dependant on the handful of profitable hits in their catalogue. This, then, forces the studios to 'dumb down' films in order to create the least objectionable product possible, to cater the the largest audience possible. And because of this increasing dependance on hits, they spend more money marketing the bland, mainstream fluff which they need to survive. As a result, even if movies as a whole are not getting worse, the most heavily promoted movies are. I'd rank 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' favorably with any movie made in the last 50 years; but in my mind, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' can't even begin to compare to, say, 'Indiana Jones'.

This, in turn, is also why television seems to be getting so much better. Because TV scales down much more readily (particularly cable TV), it is easier to target niches and still remain profitable. Hence, I'll take 'The Wire' over 'Dragnet', or 'Iron Chef' over Julia Child. Heck, even if we stick only to broadcast television, compare 'House' with 'St. Elsewhere', the , or 'Lost' with... well, heck, I don't even know what the analogue to 'Lost' might have been (The Prisoner, maybe?).

Revenant said...

in my mind, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' can't even begin to compare to, say, 'Indiana Jones'.

While I've loved "Raiders of the Lost Ark" since I was a kid, there's really no getting around the fact that it IS a dumbed-down movie, aimed at mass audiences, and riddled with plot holes, contrivances, and just plain silliness -- hitching a ride on the German sub, the guy's melted hand, the snake-filled tomb, sliding under the truck, etc.