Because most modern movies suck

When was the last time a movie made you hold your breath, shed a tear, or jump out of your chair? Everyone has experienced these visceral reactions before, but they tend to be the exception rather than the norm. Most movies flash before our eyes without provoking the slightest thought or feeling, and within months, weeks, and sometimes even days, we forget everything about them except perhaps their main actors. How come?

To understand what makes a bad movie bad and a good movie good, Hollywood has historically turned to its screenwriting gurus. These people, also called script doctors or story consultants, claim to have turned the ancient and elusive art of storytelling into a difficult science. For a price, they teach young directors how to write critically and commercially successful blockbusters.

Robert McKeeauthor of Story: substance, structure, style and principles of the scriptlives and dies thinking that something “important and compelling” must happen before page 27. He also insists that a protagonist should be active rather than passive: if they don’t actively move towards their goal, whatever it is, the film will fail. engage its audience.

Many basic rules of narrative come from Greek tragedies, such as Oedipus the King. (Credit: VladoubidoOo / Wikipedia)

Blake Snyder’s best advice Save the cat! The last script book you will ever need is in the title. Snyder believes that when writers present their main character, they should highlight a quality that audiences will appreciate. They might do something heroic, like saving a cat, or something recognizable, like stammering when talking to their childhood crush.

While far from foolproof, these principles can be applied Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Chinatownand thousands of other cinematic masterpieces. This is not surprising, as both McKee and Snyder are indebted none other than Aristotlewhose, whose Poetics – an analysis of the composition of Greek tragedies – introduced the concept of structure in three acts more than two millennia ago.

The plague of passable films

Many successful directors, including Charlie Kaufman, strongly detest gurus. In Adaptation, a semi-fictional film about his own experience with writer’s block, Kaufman attends a Robert McKee storytelling seminar. He hopes the seminar will help him make progress on his script. Instead, teacher and student have a heated debate on what makes a good movie.

Kaufman rejects the idea that writers have to stick to a model. In the real world, he has been successful in making films that question McKee’s advice. More important than structure, plot, character or conflict are originality and authenticity. If you use a project that has existed since ancient Greek, your film will not only become predictable, but dishonest.

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Worse than bad films – that is, films that fail in terms of basic storytelling – are what essayist Evan Puschak calls “passable” films. Acceptable movies tick all the boxes History And Save the cat! but they lack creativity and personality. They feel like they have been written by artificial intelligence and assembled in a factory, without any involvement from human thought, from human feeling.

Passable films are obviously made by humans. The problem is that those humans are more interested in the art of storytelling itself than in real life. Good movies, Puschak explains“You make such keen observations about humanity that they can show us things about ourselves that we didn’t know or teach us how to articulate those things against a vast and incomprehensible anxiety.”

Puschak continues: “When passable films look at human experience, they don’t look at it through the lens of human experience, they look at it not through the lens of real life, but through the lens of other films.” As a result, “many films released today are put together by a strange alternate reality that is only a faint echo of ours.”

Kaufman rephrases the problem and offers a solution. “Say who you are,” he said during a BAFTA speech. “Really say it, in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there: someone who is lost, someone who hasn’t been born yet, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be. But if you are honest, you will help that person feel less alone in the world than they are. “

Has streaming made cinema better or worse?

If the 2000s and early 2010s were defined by the Hollywood tentpole, the late 2010s and early 2020s saw a rebirth in independent cinema. This is partly due to the rise of streaming services, whose subscription-based business model makes it easier to cater to a smaller audience and provide a platform for filmmakers who wouldn’t have received one in the past.

In an effort to attract movie buffs and compete with digital libraries like the Criterion Channel, Netflix has made a habit of writing blank checks to talented directors. Kaufman, the Coen brothers, Martin Scorsese, the Safdie brothers and Spike Lee, just to name a few, were able to make films that Hollywood studio bosses had previously refused to pay for.

In response to a recent loss of subscribers, however, Netflix says it will stop giving the green light to “vanity projects” like Scorsese’s critically acclaimed film The Irish in favor of stereotypical blockbusters with bigger budgets and wider appeal. Blockbusters like The gray manstarring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, it was directed by the Russos, the same people in charge of Marvel endless war And End of the game.

Disney + and HBO Max are following suit. This means that streaming – until recently an artistic and intellectual playground – will become more like the studio system it helped overthrow. With this system, only two types of films were made: billion-dollar blockbuster films certified by gurus and low-budget films that only last as cult classics, if they hold up.

This is bad news because many good movies – from Citizen Kane to Adaptation – fall somewhere in the middle. They aren’t huge in size and scope, but they’re not microscopic either. They don’t appeal to everyone, but they don’t appeal to a small minority either. They remind us of an era when the great actors of the film industry took risks with skillful storytelling. That time, it seems, is over.

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