I did not realize when I began these weekly contributions that they would focus so much on the decline of American and world politics. That, unfortunately, is what I see before me, and I am more and more convinced that things will probably get much worse before they get better. But today, after vainly scanning the movie pages of my state’s daily newspaper in search of worthwhile entertainment, I am moved to address another equally depressing topic, the decline of American movies and movie going. And to do so, once again, I am going to use a historical approach.
With the magic of Proquest, I have begun by securing the list of movies I might have watched in Washington, D. C. (not my home), on
Things certainly had changed ten years later. The 1970s were almost surely the greatest decade in the history of American film, and a great many memorable offerings were available on
Let’s jump ahead another ten years. Alas, considerable deterioration was already apparent, and the idea that no one would go to the theater for a good movie after Memorial Day was beginning to take hold. In 1986 my choices would have included Hannah and Her Sisters, Oliver Stones
Live by technology, die by technology. Proquest runs out before 1996, except for the New York Times, and I cannot make the day’s movie schedules come up for
I have seen The DaVinci Code, which was not very memorable and which is already dying at the box office. I’m looking forward to A Prairie Home Companion, and indeed, if we hadn’t been so late with dinner we might be on our way. Beyond those, however, my local multiplexes are offering a choice of Cars, The Omen, The Break-Up, X-Men, the Last Stand, Poseidon, and Over the Hedge. (I know a lot of smart people like the X-Men series, but I’ve never been much of a sci-fi fan.) The one genuinely great movie of the year to date, United 93, has already disappeared from view.
This was also the week of our local film festival, and we saw one extraordinarily good documentary, Buddy, about Buddy Cianci, the long-time Mayor of Providence now incarcerated for racketeering in Fort Dix, New Jersey. It is quite extraordinary and would make a great companion piece to the new All The King’s Men, for which I have great hopes. But we also saw five absolutely wretched shorts dealing in one way or another with the subject of romance. Young people who have spent their summers watching action movies and romantic comedies can’t, alas, be expected to do better. Perhaps it is the sameness and the consumerism of our everyday life that is to blame. Perhaps it will take some real tragedy that touches us all—as United 93 has shown to those who were brave enough to see it—to interest the public at large in serious art. “All things fall and are built again,” Yeats wrote almost 70 years ago, “and those who build them again are gay.” Our artistic heritage, like our political one, must regularly be rebuilt and rediscovered—a sad realization to the older generation, but a most rewarding challenge for our youth. And that was, after all, what my contemporaries managed to do at the movies in the late 1960s and early 1970s.