Sunday, February 20, 2011

American movies, 1970-1979

from Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975)
A distinctly American, character-driven, personal film whose massive success helped end the era of widely distributed distinctly American, character-driven, personal films, eventually leading to the current era of generically American, computer-driven, impersonal films. Is it unfair to blame Spielberg and George Lucas? Maybe. We can blame Nirvana for Silverchair and Candlebox, but it's worth pointing out that Kurt Cobain used his success to turn small-town kids like me on to The Raincoats, Melvins, early Meat Puppets, Daniel Johnston, Mudhoney, Flipper, Wipers, and Beat Happening, while Spielberg produced both Transformers movies for Michael Bay and convinced the media into anointing him a super-saint just for making Schindler's List, a good but flawed movie that mainstream culture gatekeepers perversely mutated into something far more important than the Holocaust itself. The popular media turned Spielberg into Schindler, and the Holocaust into entertainment that made us feel good about ourselves. Spielberg also made facile, childish overpraised pieces of shit like The Color Purple, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich that show a major director thinking serious subject matter is the same thing as serious thought and proving that it sure as fuck isn't. George Lucas? Two words: Jar-Jar Binks. On the other hand, Kurt Cobain was a rich, paranoid, unpleasant junkie who blew his head off even though he had a young daughter, while Spielberg's supposed kiddie entertainments (Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.) reveal a rich, unique talent and are far more serious than his empty-headed big-issue Oscar-bait movies. He also made the wild, underrated mess 1941 and the underrated, misunderstood Kubrick collaboration, A.I., which I consider a truly great movie and Spielberg's one true masterpiece. I think the ending has been misinterpreted as Spielberg cheese when it's really one of the bleakest, darkest, most fucked-up endings I've ever seen. He didn't inherit the film from Kubrick, as has been misreported too often. Both men methodically planned the film together for more than a decade, with Kubrick deciding Spielberg should direct early in the process. I'm getting away from my point, though. I keep meaning to write about A.I. since it's one of the only Spielberg films I love without much reservation, but that's not my point here. What's my point? That life is complicated, and that Jaws is a prime example of 1970s American film while also setting a template for the 1980s blockbuster, which set the template for our current mainstream cinema, which looks like what happens when an Old Navy catalog has an epileptic seizure during a commercial for the U.S. Army, and it lasts two and a half hours.

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