in virtually all film circles, there seems to be groups that either adamantly insist there was, indeed, some sort of optimal era of cinema, which has long passed, and others who insist that film is doing great now contrary to this belief. well, there are also those who believe that film quality through the ages is static – but that’s a bit less fun to write about since it’s a more solidified philosophy of sorts. i would imagine – based on my personal experiences as well as social hypotheses – that most people fall into the new age camp or the classicist one, with little taking this purist view.
i would say that film is in a quite good place right now – not at the peak level of perhaps the 60s and early 70s – but it’s largely something i can’t really complain about thesedays. the amount of quality material being produced is huge; and the places where it’s being produced are nearly boundless it seems. for the first time, many countries and people are getting the ability to make films. and this is an objective fact of sorts, but it seems like an aside comment whenever a classicist discusses film, only to be brushed away with a yearning for the new hollywood days. but this fact is critical.
in 2016 alone, Toni Erdmann, The Love Witch, Things to Come, American Honey, and Certain Women were major highlights for me – all films by women that surely would have had a more difficult time being produced in any sort of studio system in any “golden era.” letterboxd filmmakers – hayes, tsao, medina, etc. – would be nonexistent as well, but the advent of smartphones and the internet has largely made both production and distribution possible for people that have little experience in the industry. even entire countries have experienced massive growth in the film industry. the romanian new wave of the naughts impacted the way films were made in the country, and there are more opportunities for filmmaking in iran than there were decades prior, and even areas like uganda (Who Killed Captain Alex? is surely one of the greatest films in this new era).
it’s no secret that american auteurism has, at the very least, faltered in this era. you can’t peruse through more than a couple of threads on the most recent academy awards without someone renouncing the academy and the studios for overlooking scorsese’s long-awaited and ambitious Silence. similar bemoaning over “serious, adult projects” (paraphrased from cumulative discussions, not attributed to any one person) seems to be all the rage nowadays to more mainstream tastes. a good chunk of this, in the past few months, was brought on by scorsese himself, who (although he was clickbaited into desperation-relevance-oblivion) seemed to insist that film was going downhill because these projects were dying off.
i do think that scorsese – a man who is and has always been extremely passionate about cinema – may have been misinterpreted here. but regardless of how he meant to say what he truly believed, this seems to strike a chord with many viewers. these adult projects – which span from artistic autueurist horrors (The Shining) to big-budget true epics (Lawrence of Arabia) to more low-key experimental projects with big actors (Taxi Driver) – have surely been in a shorter supply in recent years, and there are numerous economic reasons for this that aren’t really worth getting into here. but do we take this tradeoff?
my gut, along with the culmination of enjoyment i’ve gotten from film recently, says yes. At Last, Utah Feels Like Home is a greater work than anything we’ve received from spielberg in the past 10 years, 88:88 is perhaps a greater debut than any of the notable new hollywood directors, and Sleep Has Her House has impressed me more than every epic since Barry Lyndon. microbudget productions and outsider cinema have expanded to the point of where the former descriptor is irrelevant and the latter is a paradox; the scope of independent film and its ambitions are surely reminiscent of classical eras, and the availability of it is substantially more vast.
entire movements have progressed of recent times as well. while we haven’t had the 21st-century equivalent of Breathless, we’ve received the explosion of slow cinema in the past two decades, the vulgar auteurism movement, greater distribution of hard-to-find gems (Out 1 and A Brighter Summer Day come to mind), far better outlets of criticism and discussion (blogging, letterboxd, rateyourmusic, etc.), better resources for film and easier access to the more well-defined canons, etc. and sure, many of these perks are not strictly a product of films being made today; but they are very much ingrained in film culture and contribute to how we see film in a modern age.
i do think there is some stagnation at play in some areas. true innovation is more difficult to come by, particularly for film since it occurred at such an accelerated pace as it was the new medium on the block. i would argue that we haven’t received anything on the level of Breathless in terms of game-changing in the past 57 years. but it’s certainly possible, especially in such a radical and diverse cinematic climate as the one we get to experience today.
regardless the future is inviting for me.