The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hollywood (III)

[Continued from below.]

3) Why are movies so bad?

For example, Kevin Drum [from the non-trackbacking side of the blogosphere] writes:
But you know what? You can have a movie with lots of car chases, raunchy language, and special effects and still have a smart story. It's not as if a tightly written production would actively drive kids away, after all. So what keeps Hollywood from producing decent scripts? Hell, they can produce cartoons with smart enough writing to attract adults while still appealing to children, so surely they could do the same thing with live action movies? What's up?
The main answer here is overextended ambition. Scriptwriters and directors can no longer be content with producing a competent straight-line plot. Part of this is dictated by reality -- consider the derision aimed at films with such plots -- and part by pride, largely misplaced, of the writers and directors in their own cleverness.

For example, consider two supernatural suspense movies: the competent but somewhat pedestrian The Gift [2000], or the moody The Others [2001]. The latter has a plot twist which is indeed unexpected; unfortunately, it is a self-eviscerating plot twist which retrospectively renders the entire film incoherent even on its own terms. The acclaim granted to this movie is symptomatic of the elevation of unpredictability to the greatest virtue of scripting.

A different common flaw, also based in pride and ambition, is the overenthusiastic pursuit of subtlety. A textbook case is Where Angels Fear to Tread [1991]; the director and actors are so keen to show the multitudinous and conflicting motivations of their characters that, in the end, they are left with characters who act with no motivation at all. Subtlety is, as its name suggests, a subtle thing, and the acclaim for those who can use it skillfully is justifiably high; thus everyone pursues that acclaim.