Filmism.net Dispatch June 28, 2017

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First up, I'm very happy. Why? I'm happy because I've been sad about movies, and now I know why. It's got to do with an inconvenient dose of cynicism, the state of creative storytelling and a science fiction author from the 1950s.

Allow me to explain.

If anyone ever asks, I tell them I love movies, but that's not quite right. I love the movies, the institution of cinema, the stuff cineastes always tell us we should love about the shared experience of storytelling in a giant dark room full of strangers.

But I certainly don't love all movies, and lately I've become more concerned because I seem to love (or even like) fewer new movies that come out than ever before.

There are two things in particular I'm always hoping for in any movie. The first is the visceral reaction the medium was built for, the sheer thrill of what a movie can do as it delivers images and sounds. It can be summed up by the appearance of The Devastator roaring over the top of your head as it chases the Tantive IV far above Tatooine at the beginning of Star Wars. Although that's not the only example or even the best one, it's just the most famous one.

Others include Kong descending into the volcanic landscape with Dwan (Jessica Lange) in his hands ( King Kong , 1976), the reveal when you find out who Keyser Soze is (The Usual Suspects, 1996), Nehru's (Roshan Seth) act of political defiance when he keeps putting the identification cards in the burning rubbish bin despite being beaten by the cops (Gandhi, 1982) or the moment when the T-Rex breaks through the wires onto the storm-drenched road in Jurassic Park.

Cinema has a singular power to grab you by the throat, wrap its tentacles around your heart and squeeze, make you feel something down to the soles of your feet.

The second thing I'm always looking for is a story I've never heard before, about someone in a situation I'm not familiar with but whom I find something in common because we share heritage as a species and all ultimately want the same thing in life (love, acceptance, respect, money, protection, family, sex, etc).

And while it might be tempting to think that every movie tells a new story simply because it's a new movie, that notion falls down under the slightest scrutiny. I don't mean to pick on Marvel so much, but while those movies are made with clockwork precision and polished until they shine, they're essentially the same story following the same formula every time.

And Marvel certainly isn't alone in Hollywood or in film movements that are influenced by or orbit Hollywood's creative style and intent. A large percentage of screen stories are the same Joseph Campbell hero's journey of getting the girl, saving the world, etc. Despite all the positive and well-deserved plaudits around Wonder Woman because of its gender representation it contains exactly the same archetypes, it just has a female protagonist.

Today, even a casual moviegoer can see that both the above qualities (primordial emotional and intellectual reaction, unique stories) are in short supply on the silver screen. As a professional entertainment reporter as well as a movie buff I see a lot more movies than the average person, and it's made me even more familiar with the common tropes we see again and again.

Now, admittedly most of my exposure to movies has been the narrow prism of American culture, but that's because a) I'm Australian, and growing up in the 1970s and 1980s meant constant exposure to the output of the American entertainment industry and b) I now live in and report on movies in America, so the local industry and its standard collection of narratives commands the bulk of my attention.

Pursuing a love of cinema, however, has exposed me to worlds beyond Hollywood's narrow view, and (though you don't need me to tell you) some of the most rewarding movie experiences you can have come from the independent movement or foreign films, from directors, writers and producers who aren't concerned with toy tie-ins.

There are even gems from within the sausage factory, and while I'm not wearing rose coloured glasses and claiming there was a time Hollywood wasn't about making money, there seemed to be an era (His Girl Friday, All About Eve, It's a Wonderful Life) when people who loved storytelling called most of the shots. Even today, often despite itself, the modern American industry issues the odd diamond in the rough like Gravity, The Lego Movie, Skyfall or Inception.

But what an overexposure to movies in general has done is make me less forgiving of them and more cynical, and I feel like it's getting in the way. Sitting in a cinema finding myself rolling my eyes, saying the line a second before the character does, feeing uncomfortably superior and wondering (and worrying) whether I just don't like movies anymore is becoming worryingly more common.

In fact lately it's prompted me to ask myself how, if I come out of most movies underwhelmed, I can call myself a movie lover at all?

Then I read about American sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon. In responding to the common mid 20th century criticism that science fiction was a low quality art, he said that 90 percent of every literary genre or art form was rubbish just as much as science fiction supposedly was.

The same idea was originally attributed to Rudyard Kipling way back in 1890, when he said in his story The Light that Failed that; 'Four–fifths of everybody's work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake', but today we name check Sturgeon to highlight the phenomenon.

Sturgeon's Law made me feel much better about my relationship to movies (as opposed to the movies). Someone long ago articulated what I was starting to feel and couldn't reconcile with my own interests and tastes, and I can now call myself a movie buff without any remorse.

Most movies are crap; anyone can tell you that. But we keep returning, like a mistreated dog slinking back to a cruel owner, hoping that this time we'll get a treat or a scratch behind the ear instead of another beating.

Like that cruel dog owner, most movies just beat us over the heads with the same lazy stereotypes dressed up as 'characters', distract us with swirling storms of CGI colour that try and trick us into thinking we're seeing something visual and shovel up the same tired yarns we've been swallowing since The Epic of Gilgamesh was the hottest new trend.

Now, while wading through all the dross, Sturgeon's Law lets us hold our heads up high and declare our love for cinema with a completely clear conscience, knowing full well that even though the movies are great, most movies are terrible.

Some of those hidden or underappreciated gems that have caught my interest recently have ironically come from that deepest of wells in the storytelling canon, real life. The incredibly powerful documentary The Hunting Ground shines a light not just on the horrific rates of sexual assault on American college campuses, but on the rape culture you've heard mentioned if you read enough about equality.

Just as heartbreaking and with just as much impact is John Ridley's Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, the story of the discrimination and poverty that led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots that digs deep behind the headlines and sound bites we all remember.

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