When I went to college in Denver, my friends and I would frequent a hole in the wall burger/taco place a few blocks from our campus. The place had pretty good prices for its food. It had booths with ripped seats. Best of all, they served olives with the tacos. It was not perfect, but it was our place.
A few years later, I went back to the restaurant. They had remodeled it considerably. The prices had gone up. Worst of all, they no longer served tacos with olives. It was no longer my place to go. Instead of demanding it go back to the way it was, I just decided to move on from the restaurant. I did not leave a terrible yelp review or petition for a restaurant more like the one I used to know.
In many ways, I feel this way about a lot of film and television culture too. It is okay to feel disappointed that things have changed and moved on from what they once were. However, it is just as important to allow new art and entertainment to exist. While corruption and bad actors exist, I do not necessarily think that the world has necessarily gone to hell in a handbasket based on the new movies and TV shows coming out.
“How Could This Happen?”
In a lot of video essays and articles, the central question posed about a disappointing and/or bad movie is “how could this happen?” The very existence of such a product or situation seems completely inexplicable.
On this site, I have written 60 articles about filmmaking (this is number 61). When researching most of them, I tend to find that they happened for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time, the bad ones never quite seemed to have happened purely because of greed, laziness, or arrogance. The people involved tended to believe in them in some way. I have written less about classic films because the reasons they seem to be great and remembered are a strange mixture of work and luck that can never quite be repeated due to the time period.
With this article, I would like to talk more about disappointment and our responses to movies we do not like. With all of this, you can choose to take all of it, some of it, or none of it. My point is to examine what I think has become flawed about such narratives.
Our Frustrations Aren’t Facts
Recently, I noticed that a YouTuber I watched had not posted in a while and began to assume the worst. I wondered if another YouTuber had gone after her. However, I did not have enough information. After a while, she posted a new video. It all seemed to be something that my mind had created based on a mild anxiety over not receiving something.
To a certain extent, we all invent stories when we do not have enough information to accurately assess what has happened. My mind created this narrative because of disappointment. It turned out not to be correct. I like her videos, but she does not owe any of us a new video.
With that said, it is important not to look in the world entirely based on conjecture. There is a lot we do not know and cannot know. If I cannot find primary sources to explain what is going on, I tend to not write an article on it because it is hard to know what is really going on with anybody.
In every era, uninspiring, ugly, and just plain work exists. It does not mean that anybody acted with malicious intent. There could be a lot of reasons why something is happening that we do not know.
Life Versus Storytelling
I tend to compare directors Lawrence Kasdan and David Koepp in my head a bit because they have had somewhat similar careers. Starting out as screenwriters, they both graduated to directorial status with genre films. Koepp has worked primarily as a screenwriter more than Kasdan has.
When looking at their careers, I noticed that the films they directed but did not write had movie stars doing larger than life foreign accents. Kasdan made I Love You to Death (1990) and French Kiss (1995) with Kevin Kline playing an Italian and Frenchman, while Koepp directed Mortdecai (2015) with Johnny Depp playing a brit. I thought it might mean something, so I decided to look it up.
It turns out that it meant very little. I Love You To Death began life as an original screenplay. In Robert J. Emery’s book The Directors – Take One (2002), Kasdan said that he wanted to do the film partially because he wanted to make something lighter after The Accidental Tourist (1988). French Kiss star Meg Ryan developed the film before Kasdan became attached. Since he had just finished the difficult production on Wyatt Earp (1994), he jumped at the chance to work with Ryan in a fun light movie.
Koepp had a much different story. Johnny Depp developed Mortdecai before bringing Koepp onboard. Koepp saw why Depp wanted to make the film and felt like it could be fun. Koepp would later describe the completed film as a lot of people making choices that just did not work. He said that he liked to try his hand at genres he might not be good at and realized that that was one of them. This experience inspired Koepp to make a smaller, more personal film with You Should Have Left (2020).
Ultimately, it turned out to just mean that Koepp and Kasdan had simply developed somewhat similar characterizations separately. At most, it means that they might have similar taste. In most cases, one cannot read too much into many decisions because show business careers tend to happen because of serendipity as well as craft and talent. Many projects get turned down by so many companies that any narrative appears to mainly be pure happenstance. The difficulty with show business is that any story you have heard about a person most likely only happened to that person.
Craft Changes Over Time
As a child, I loved the Marx brothers and their antics in movies and wanted comedy to be like those movies. As I got older, I rewatched many of those old Marx brothers movies and realized how good they were, but also how they represented a certain era of entertainment. None of the characters really have arcs. The film essentially functions as a vaudeville show. The storylines get somewhat predictable.
As a teenager, I wanted to go back to the era of Billy Wilder movies such as Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). These were the great examples of comedy and drama that could not be bested. I wondered why they didn’t make movies like that anymore.
Then I got a little older. I watched those movies again and realized how much storytelling had changed over time. They are still classic movies for a reason, but they exist very much as movies of that time period. The Apartment is still one of the most economical and satisfying movies in terms of storytelling, but I did not realize how much the social issues connected to that time period until somebody pointed it out to me. Some Like It Hot revolves around a world that makes fun of entertainment of the 1930s. The movies tended to also have a score that we would no longer use.
These movies deserve to be preserved, well-regarded, and played in theaters whenever possible, but the craft of them is a very different animal than the craft of today.
The Current Industry
Right now, a lot of entertainment is predicated on other entertainment existing first. We now have more intertwining cinematic universes than ever. Television shows often exist in a serialized format rather than as standalone episodes. Unlike The Simpsons and Seinfeld, a large number of television shows now seem to need a connected storyline. Even the newest theatrical Nicolas Cage movie, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022), has a premise that is predicated on Cage’s entire career.
The issue with much of this is not necessarily quality. A lot of these movies and TV shows are pretty good. However, what builds the future is not what exists now. If everything needs multiple narrative goals, eventually the industry will suffer a shortage in new and interesting voices.
The other aspect that bothers me about much of this entertainment is that the criticism of it is that it is not like the definitive original movie. Every slight change in storytelling is proof of apathy rather than something else.
What Made 70s Movies Special
Right now, we have a lot of movies around that are sequels or reboots from movies from the 70s and 80s. Many of the original cast members have returned. However, since it has been 40 years, they are now in their 70s and 80s.
When we remove these movies from their original context, the future installments become less about innovative and fun storytelling and more about the legacy of the original film. The new Star Wars, Halloween, Indiana Jones, and Scream films follow how those original characters interact with a new generation. It was not just that they were good movies. They represented something different from the time period they came out in than they do now.
Some of the Films
Many of the movies from this era were special not just because they were good movies. They were special because they were made by younger filmmakers that did not represent the status quo of the time.
George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars (1977) resonated with many young people because there was not as much of a youth market.
John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) has many of the virtues of an elaborate student film with few of the drawbacks. In the behind the scenes documentary, the filmmakers talk about how the film was special partially because it was a bunch of young people working together on a project.
During that time period, there were many pieces of popcorn entertainment that we rarely talk about anymore. Movies like Airport (1970) and The Towering Inferno (1974) do not have the same staying power as the original Jaws (1975). They had pretty workmanlike approaches and soap opera plots that Jaws eschews and replaces.
There was Resistance
Many of the 1970s movies were classics, but people forget how much resistance studios and companies had towards them at the time. Over time, stories like these become tools to sell the movie. Since we already know the movie is great, every choice becomes mythical rather than uncertain.
In an interview for the 50th anniversary of The French Connection (1971), William Friedkin said that he lived in fear of being fired all of the time. Friedkin also said that Francis Ford Coppola lived with the same fear on the set of The Godfather (1972). In many interviews, Coppola confirms this. In a recent interview, Coppola says that it was a terrible experience where he had to fight for everything. This included having Pacino in the movie and making the film as a more expensive period piece. Not knowing if The Godfather would be successful, Coppola took a job writing The Great Gatsby (1974). After the film became a hit, Coppola never wrote for hire again.
Initially, Universal considered releasing American Graffiti as a TV movie until Francis Ford Coppola offered to buy it. Since he had won the Oscar, Universal relented and agreed to only a few minor cuts.
In an interview, late producer Gary Kurtz also said that a big reason that American Graffiti existed was because of a low budget program that existed as Universal at the time. Throughout the documentary, they talk about how low the budget was. In the same interview, he talked about how film students who met him tended to think of the 1970s as the wondrous Golden age of Hollywood. However, he thought of the Golden age as the 1930s and would have loved to have worked then.
What Made ‘Scream’ Special
In 1996, Scream came out to good box office and reviews. The film became known for bringing a humorous twist to the slasher genre. By this time, the genre had become known for its endless sequels and tropes that Scream chose to call out.
In the past few years, I have seen multiple interviews and industry stories that mention Scream as a shorthand for “a funny scary movie.” It worked as a successful deconstruction of the genre that many people loved, so it must be the example to follow.
However, the original Scream existed because there was a sincere version of the slasher genre around. There had been an entire decade of slasher movies after the success of Halloween. If somebody is trying to reinvent something that does not exist in the first place, it is like trying to have an experiment without a control variable.
In many ways, I see Scream as something similar to Airplane! (1980) in the sense that both movies exist because an entire genre of movies came before it that could be taken apart and rearranged in a humorous way. Characters like the singing nun and the grizzled pilot existed as popular archetypes at the time. The targets existed, making them perfect for parody.
The Definitive Version
In many YouTube videos and Essays, the commentator or essayist compares the original version of something to a new version as what they should have done. I have seen this with The Simpsons (1989-present), Star Wars, the newest version of National Lampoon’s Vacation, and so on and so forth. Truthfully, I stopped watching lots of these videos because they all start to blend together after a while. The subtext of all of it seems to be “if we go back to these decisions, then everything will be fine.”
The one I will defend a little bit is The Simpsons. There are umpteen videos on YouTube about how the show is not as good as it used to be. To a certain extent, I think many people imbued the characters and stories of the show with a meaning that I am not sure they ever truly had. The era of The Simpsons I grew up with and most connect to is the one where they supposedly started going downhill.
In a 2021 Salon article, Keith A. Spencer pointed to The Simpsons feeling more absurd not because of the bad jokes or less emotional stories, but because the economic and sociopolitical situation that it exists in does not exist for many people anymore. I can believe that more readily than many of the other theories.
‘And Then There Were None’
Whenever I think of definitive versions of a story, I think back to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1939), the best selling mystery novel of all time. The story focuses on 10 people accused of various wrongdoings being picked off one by one. The original story takes place on an island and features a completely guilty cast.
Over time, it has been adapted into multiple mediums. When Christie adapted the story for the stage, she made the two leads innocent of the accusations. The ending of the story also became a happy one where the two lead characters realize what is going on and survive. According to Christie’s website, she did this because World War II was happening and she thought that the audience would find the original ending far too bleak.
As a film, it has existed as everything from a dark comedy to a Canon Film starring Frank Stallone. In 2015, the BBC produced a dour TV miniseries that kept the original ending and characterizations. A producer named Harry Alan Towers used to produce a new version every 10 to 15 years with a different cast and a different location based on what financing he could get. If I had to be nostalgic, the version that still speaks to me is his 1965 version, which takes place on a snowy mountain top. I saw that one as a kid and loved it.
One of the reasons that story can continue on and on is that it can change with the times. It does not exist as a bunch of precious aesthetic choices. Characters, setting, and even plot points change over time. The reason something like this can resonate over and over again is because even though the story stays the same, many of the specifics change to fit a different time period in storytelling.
How The World Has Changed
In 2019, there were many movies in theaters. The South Korean film Parasite came out and won the Best Picture Oscar. For Thanksgiving, my family and I went to see A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood (2019) in a Boston theater. A little under six months later, the pandemic kicked into full swing. With the new changes, many projects went to streaming rather than theaters.
Right now, we live in a less certain time period with theatrical releases. The last best picture winner largely played on Apple TV +. We have come to an era where more entertainment gets put on streaming than ever before. To me, what’s worrisome is that the more personal films seem to go to streaming much more readily than the corporate franchise movies. Most of the new Tom Holland films that are not Spider-man installments or Uncharted (2022) have been for a streaming service.
However, I have also found that I probably do not have all the data about what is going on. A while ago, I talked about how a lot of Romantic comedies went to streaming. Then Marry Me (2022) came out. A few months back, I thought about how I had not seen as many movies about young people going to theaters. Then Where The Crawdads Sing (2022) came out and did pretty well at the box office. With lots of stuff in the movie business, you never know what will succeed and what will fail. What is truly difficult about writing about today is that we do not know the immediate outcome.
2020 to Now
Sometimes I look back at 2018 and 2019 and realize how much the world has changed in the past two years. There were still a lot of reboots and franchise films and so on, but there were also more movies going to theaters that now seem to be heading to be streaming.
For example, Rebel Wilson appeared in 4 separate movies in 2019. She starred in the romantic comedy Isn’t It Romantic, which premiered in theaters in January 2019. However, the film premiered in theaters only in the United States and Canada, while going to Netflix in other parts of the world. Three years later, Wilson’s next starring role (Senior Year) went to Netflix. With lots of stuff, it feels like much has changed in a short time.
In December 2021, The Ringer published Alan Siegel’s article “Comedy’s Post-Cinematic Universe.” The article detailed how many comedies had become fixtures of streaming. This was a trend, but the pandemic had sped up the trend. Theatrical comedies still exist, but many more have gone on a streaming service than ever before.
In the article, comedy director/producer Judd Apatow talks about how he sees the theatrical experience a lot like he sees shooting on film. Not everything needs to exist on film, but the option should exist.
Right before the pandemic, my family inherited a late family member’s little elderly dachshund, Toby. He came with many health problems. In later years, he developed mobility issues and worsening eyesight. We predicted that he might live a year. My uncle used to say that every day we could give him “was a gift.” Over time, he became one of the most beloved members of our family. For better or worse, he was our dog.
On July the 4th, Toby passed away. It seemed like his time, but I keep thinking about all the things I wanted to do with him. I wanted to put him in a backpack and walk him around one of our favorite parks one more time. On the day he died, I planned to give him a bath. Most of all, I feel sad that I’ll never get to hold him again. With that said, I feel like I would feel the same way if he lived to be the oldest dog in the world. Despite all the pain, I am glad that he had a good 2 and a half years here. I know another dog will never replace Toby.
Similarly, I understand if you feel down about a film or television show you once loved ending. If something does not exist as your entertainment anymore, that is okay. Art and entertainment do not need to exist forever in the same state that principally pleases us. That being said, we can always find new art and entertainment to please us rather than demanding that the past serve as the focal point for the present.