And throughout all this upheaval, what has the medium of cinema had to say about all this?
Vietnam had fractured the country, but starting with MASH in 1970, filmmakers were already attempting to deal with the horrors of war and its effects on our country.
In 1976, Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet seemed to speak for a whole nation with their brilliant satire, Network:
|"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"|
In the 80's and 90's a new wave if independent cinema burst in the scene.
In 1999 two films, American Beauty and Fight Club presented very different, but uniquely bold, amazing and heartfelt visions of modern-day existential malaise.
And then, it all seemed to stop.
Since Sept 11, 2001 this country has gone through multiple ongoing traumas, yet through it all, the filmmakers of today have been incredibly absent from engaging in an intelligent discourse with society that should be helping us all process an unprecedented amount of conflict, upheaval and crisis:
- coping in a post 9/11 world: terrorism; 2 wars waging for a decade; the loss of basic rights under the Patriot Act.
- economic collapse: massive unemployment; foreclosures.
- environmental calamity: global climate change; industrial pollution and devastating oil spills.
- major shifts in the workplace: outsourcing; longer hours; lower wages; increased productivity at the cost of leisure time; 24/7 intrusion of work into our private lives.
- runaway development of advancing technology that outpaces our ability to understand its effects.
- non-stop consumption of images, data and trivial information, with little to no time to actually process any of it.
- a completely dysfunctional government.
- inequal wealth distribution and a vanishing middle class.
- corruption by wall street and corporate interests.
- a major national shift away from being the world's superpower to just another player.
- a nation of repeated violence and tragedy - mass killings - rampage killings, murder/suicides.
- a mass media that fans the flames of ignorance and hatred.
- an oppressive, permeating undercurrent of paranoia that a nightmare apocalypse is just around the corner - 2012, Doomsday, The End of Times.
What have our current filmmakers had to say about these unprecedented turbulent times? Art can be a crucially important vehicle by which society processes confusing, disruptive and complex new ideas and situations.
While there have been many very good documentaries that have addressed some of these complex issues, I believe that narrative films can do even more to help a society work through its traumas, as cinema works at the subconscious level of myth and archetype.
I can honestly think of only a couple narrative movies that have attempted to deal with any of these issues: the academy award winning The Hurt Locker and the excellent Up in the Air.
I'm still waiting...
I don't necessarily expect Hollywood to be making these kinds of films. It's just not in their nature (or economic interests) to do so. But where the hell are the indie voices of indignation, frustration and revolution?
Television seems to have done somewhat better in this regard. There have been a number of excellent series that have dealt with many of today's pressing issues.
|yes, I know Boardwalk Empire is set in the 20's - it is clearly an allegory for today's corrupt political system and economic disparity|
But Cinema, that great medium of dream and drama, where are you when we need you the most? Please prove me wrong - please present me with challenging, revolutionary ideas and visions that reflect our troubled times. Please shock me with outrageous dramatic representations of war, political corruption, economic upheaval and personal tragedy.
And then please give me stories of hope, compassion and humanities' capacity to do good.
Please tell me it's going to be okay.
So I can sleep at night.