While it has been duly noted that the only things in life that are certain are death and paying taxes, add to that list the bemoaning of the current state of art-its changing definition, the way it reflects our society, how “good” or “bad” or worth experiencing that so-called art is.
In just the past few weeks, The New York Times has published two articles questioning the current state of cinema in two decidely different genres, but their reasons for even bringing up these topics are fundamentally the same. In her op-ed, Maureen Dowd highlights her e-mail exchanges with film author Sam Wasson, which hardly shine any approbation on today’s romantic comedies. Jennifer Aniston and Katherie Heigl are dragged, drenched, and left to soak up in the mud as Dowd and Wasson attempt to hold them up for scrutiny against the standards of the looming legends that are Katherie Hepburn and Cary Grant.
They are clearly not the only ones who feel this way, as box office numbers for both Heigl’s and Aniston’s recent rom-com efforts have been less than stellar, and critics have been no kinder to their flimsy, predictable storylines. The blame is pitched back and forth between the performers and the creative minds responsible for churning out these lame ducks in the first place–“Unfortunately, Jennifer Aniston is a franchise”; “If the bar were any lower, they’d be calling James Cameron the next Sturges,” Wasson quips–and perhaps they have a point. A film like The Bounty Hunter or 27 Dresses is probably not going to hold up very well a year from now, much less ten years down the road. But then again, who knows? It’s a Wonderful Life was considered a flop when it was first released more than 60 years ago, and now it’s Capra’s best known work to the average, less-discriminating(non-cinephile) film goer. Hindsight is 20/20.
An even more timely discussion, that of the resurgence of 3-D as a phenomenon in Hollywood, is discussed by Michael Cieply. Including the opinions from such modern day A-listers J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau, it can be deduced that while audiences may not mind paying a precious penny to see objects fly at them, the upper echelons of Tinsel Town who tend to be known for their innovative storytelling just don’t want to give in to the trend. Whereas 3-D was reserved some 50+ years ago primarily for B-level sci-fi movies and Vincent Price flicks, it has now become the omni-present format of choice for practically everything but the drama genre.
What is telling about these observances on the state of the cinema is how they are at once uniquely of this moment as well as echoes of voices from the past. While the general consensus may be that romance has been sucked from the rom-com genre as of late, let us not forget that the now deemed classic Bringing Up Baby was derided by the Times and a flop at the box office (it was one of the many seeds planted leading to the aforementioned Hepburn’s temporary label as “box office poison”).
At the same time, the 3-D genre came and went, much like Cinemascope, proving to be merely a fad. Precisely what Abrams hinted at during Comic-Con–“When you put the glasses on, everything gets dim”–is what Manny Farber agonized over back in 1953: “Unfortunately, working in a 3-D film does not seem to improve the acting of stars.” The tastes of audiences as well as the personal tastes of the filmmakers themselves will be forever morphing into new and, sometimes, repeat territory–that’s the way life works. The clamor for 3-D will eventually dissipate and technology will move on.
Wasson questions whether there will be a renaissance after this spate of wince-inducing love stories, and the answer is, yes, eventually there will be. Hollywood’s Golden age was in the 30s and 40s, overall quality and consistency died for about 20 years as the studio system crumbled, and then came roaring back with the New Hollywood of the 1970s. And so will romantic comedies sooner or later begin to get smart again, and 3-D films will go the way of the 1980s buddy-cop flicks.