The Death of Creativity

By David Glenn Cox

They say art is a synopsis of a society. It represents their values and their dreams and aspirations. During the Great Depression Shirley Temple was Hollywood’s biggest star. When the country was in dark times a cute little dancing and singing small child raised spirits. But it also represented that time in America when critics didn’t like Shirley Temple holding hands with Bill Bojangles Robinson because he was Black.

In the 1950s we had 12 Angry Men. A film about justice and fairness seen through the eyes of 12 strangers. Famous for long cuts, meaningful dialog and rising tension as the prosecutor’s case is slowly deconstructed as nonsense. The underlying message was the responsibility of a citizen. The system only works if we do. Special effects include rain and a fan that doesn’t work.

The 1960s gave us “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and  a story about racism and the failure of justice. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” a story about an interracial marriage. Controversial in its day, but almost unfathomable today. Movies reflect our times and social values. Well, they used too. “The Bedford Incident” was a story about how easily a nuclear war could be started by an accident.

Many years ago, when the Superman movie came out one of my mechanics asked if he could get off a little early. Because he wanted to get cleaned up and get to the theater early so, they could be sure to get tickets before they sold out.  To each his own, but I was a little stunned that grown ups would want to see a Superman movie. The film was a rehash of the Superman story from the comic books; I knew as a child.

Its message was, isn’t this fun? Social commentary, none. It’s moral, good conquers evil with enough special effects. I remember when, “Star Wars” came out and everyone told me I should go see it because of the special effects. It’s the only “Star Wars” film I saw in the theater, and I was underwhelmed by it. But the box office says, I’m wrong.

Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman but I didn’t get it and still don’t. I mean if you’re twelve. A series of action-adventure films each with more action and less adventure than the last. I tried to watch “Rocket Man”, but it was just a series fight scenes that ended with explosions. What a plot twist! One dimensional characters with little plot except the good guy wins in the end.

The credible big budget “Lord of the Rings” trilogy drew a huge box office from legions of Tolkien fans. And cinched up once and for all that special effects sell movies. But after doing a good job of bringing fantasy to the big screen what’s left? There aren’t any more “Lord of the Rings.” Plenty of credible Science Fiction projects out there. But it’s the death of creativity. The only projects considered doable are remakes of films made previously. Films cost too much money to take a guess at.

Prequels sequels and done to fills. It’s hard think of a classic film or TV series that hasn’t been redone and updated for the modern audience. The film that really sticks in my craw was “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The story of a boy thrown into war and what it does to him emotionally. Netflix thought they could improve on it by making it a story about violent battles and special effects. Main characters were reduced to side characters with no real meaning as to why they are even there.

The producers thought, the audience were a bunch of idiots who don’t know anything about history. So, they added a back story of what the WW1 Generals were doing. While the main character struggles to stay alive. Do you know why there are three versions of this film? Because it was a great book that was meaningful and heart wrenching. The Netflix version was a story about WW1 with characters and a few events taken the book and a title taken from a great novel.

I admit it; I’m a movie snob. I prefer movies with a cohesive plot. I tired to watch the latest Top Gun movie but was so turned off by the non-reality I couldn’t watch it. Tom Cruise roars through the gate of the military base and that’s fine because he’s cool and everyone on base knows he’s a rule breaker and a heart taker. In the real world, he would have arrested and placed in the brig.

Given the mission of taking the billion-dollar aircraft to Mach 10 Cruise ignores orders and exceeds that speed. But it’s okay because he’s cool. Do you know what happens in the military if you disobey orders? You get bounced out of the service. Neil Armstrong flew the X15 and followed orders. That’s why he was chosen as an astronaut and became the first man on the moon. If Neil had been a hot dog, he would have been the last man to ever land on the moon.

I recently watched “Devotion” a noble project so full of plot holes you could fly that state-of-the-art WW2 vintage F4U Corsair through them. The F4U Corsair was state of the art in 1943, But in the Korean War the Mig 15 and the US Super Sabre jets were state of the art. But that didn’t fit. The main characters car breaks down on the side of the road and he’s being stationed overseas tomorrow. But that’s okay, I’m sure his wife could go get the car. Oh, wait. She doesn’t have a car. He’ll get it when gets back from Korea, I guess.

He crashes his plane and is trapped inside but they never explain why or how he’s trapped. He dies but his white buddy is decorated for trying to save him after crashing his plane intentionally. But I learned something about films when they begin with “Inspired by actual events.” That means there isn’t much actual true story to it. It means some writer created most of it out of smoke.

There are true stories of African American war heroes. First to come to my mind is Dory Miller. The African American Navy cook who wasn’t even allowed to vote when he was at home. But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Miller manned a machine gun fighting for his country despite its flaws. Miller received the Navy Cross but deserved a Congressional Medal of Honor. More of a racial outrage than a racist neighbor calling the cops over loud music.

Dory Miller was offered easy duty making public appearances at war bond rallies but declined. He chose instead to go to war and fight for his country no matter how flawed it was. He died when his ship went down in combat. Not inspired by real events, but real events.

Modern American cinema says nothing. A culture of nothing. Plot? Who needs a plot when he’s cool! Follow the book, why? Look at his shiny armor plate, watch him fly around the world in ten seconds flat. Watch the hero throw lightning bolts or use his x-ray vision to defeat the bad guy.

Lots of people like these films but like Westerns the box office says the bloom is off the rose. If you like these films pay no attention to me. You have a right to your own opinion. I just prefer films about reality. I watched most of the James Bond movies back when they were clever, and Bond outsmarted his villains. Instead of just blowing them up.

But modern film explains so much about our culture. It explains our politics; people will believe anything even if it doesn’t make any sense. Scientists and doctors are evil and trying to deceive you. While oil companies and billionaires are noble and telling you the truth. If anything can happen on screen what is reality, but bone dry and lacking entertainment value. Boring, just boring! It is so much more entertaining to believe a QAnon story or a Faux News scandal.

“When I am king they shall not have bread and shelter only, but also teachings out of books, for a full belly is of little worth where the mind is starved.”
― Mark Twain

3 Thoughts

  1. Your last comment is the theory that’s been gelling in my brain for awhile. Wild conspiracy theories are apparently more exciting to a certain segment of the population than reality and science. I don’t pretend to know what the solution is.

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  2. Mass entertainment is not be dismissed. When it gets it right, it’s magical. Just think of “The Wizard of Oz.” Oh, but you want something more recent. Well, it’s out there, just different. Heck, it’s not the same audience or the same entertainment machine. It’s a brave new world and it’s never going back.

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    1. Like I said, You are entitled to your opinion. Modern movies have replace writing with special effects. The story is pointless just scenes hung a story board. You’re example proves my point. One of my favorite films is “The Maltese Falcon” Great story, great mystery, with humor. Written by a great writer. If story telling isn’t about telling a story but titillating the audience with special effects , what is the point?

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