Maybe you saw the interview last week in the Independent with Dustin Hoffman, who said, among other things, that film is, “the worst that film has ever been – in the 50 years that I’ve been doing it, it’s the worst.” I take objection to that line in particular, and I hope you’ll click through to read why.
Before I get into my points, I feel it necessary to provide a couple disclaimers here.
1. Given where this article is hosted, it might be clear that I work for MoviePass, a movie theater subscription company that has a vested interest in people going to see movies more. As a movie-lover myself, I think it’s great, and if you’ve never heard of it and feel the same way about movies, I’d encourage you to check out what we do.
However, given that inherent bias, this opinion is wholly my own, presented for the sake of giving an opposite side to Mr. Hoffman’s. It is a belief I’ve had for quite some time after hearing many laments of both peers and elders that film is just “not what it used to be,” and this seems like a good opportunity to air it.
2. I don’t mean for this to be taken as an assault on Mr. Hoffman’s perspective. He’s entitled to it and more than earned it, and I hugely respect him for his body of work over the past decades. It is also very possible that the quote could have been taken out of context, so the following should be taken with that grain of salt.
To my point, the main issue I have with statements like the “things aren’t what they used to be” trope is that they are, well, obvious. Our culture evolves, and most things, whether it be entertainment or news consumption or communication with one another, are not what they used to be. It is hard to deny the influence of social media or cell phones on our daily lives, just as new formats introduced to the movie world like 3D, IMAX, and digital projection have changed the face of moviegoing, for better or for worse.
With this perspective, I feel it’s unfair to those of us that did not grow up during this golden age of film to say, hyperbolically, that film as it is now has been the worst is has been in the past 50 years for a few reasons.
Diversity and Variety in Film Has Increased
From the incredibly emotional yet financially successful animated films of Pixar (Inside Out comes to mind as a recent example) to the smaller, more diverse, honest films like Dope or Me Earl and the Dying Girl, it’s not difficult to argue that movies now reach more audiences and more diverse backgrounds than they ever have. In this day and age, it’s very likely that there are many things in the cinema that you’re going to enjoy no matter who you are or where you came from.
As far as diversity goes, the movies have changed a lot. Let’s not forget that the year Mike Nichols won his well-deserved Oscar for directing The Graduate in 1967, Katharine Hepburn won Best Actress for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a film whose entire conflict revolved around interracial relationships, a concept now so dated, 20th Century Fox remade the groundbreaking, Academy Award-winning drama into a comedy with Ashton Kutcher. Even Mr. Hoffman himself admitted that he originally thought he would be “too Jewish” for his now-iconic role as Benjamin Braddock in the Graduate. But today, the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm from Fantastic 4 provides a pretty strong point that the changes in film since the 60s can be for the better.
New Technology Can Enhance Film
The technological advances that have come with a new era of digital filmmaking have enriched the moviegoing experience in many ways. Take a movie like Birdman, a film chock full of superb performances in addition to effects that move you from the real world to the subconscious faster than you can process, was made for a relatively low cost of $18 million (to put that in perspective, Rain Man had a production budget of $25 million, not adjusted for inflation). The new technology compliments the timeless aspect of an actor and his/her performance instead of trivializing it.
Think about a movie like Gravity that was screened in IMAX and 3D: technologies impossible decades ago are now giving a scope to Alfonso Cuarón’s work that made it all the more impressive. What I wouldn’t give to see 2001: A Space Odyssey shot on IMAX film…
Filmmakers Today are Trying Their Best
Maybe this sounds cliché and overly-optimistic, but I don’t believe for a second that the directors, actors, writers, editors, and everyone else involved in making a movie are trying to make a bad movie. Mr. Hoffman’s quote as it is, in my opinion, does a disservice to the people that put their best efforts into making something they can be proud of. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and that will happen, regardless of the decade, but many times, it does. Is Whiplash’s original music any worse than The Graduate’s Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack? Does a movie like the Imitation Game tell a story that is any less meaningful or enlightening of a human struggle than Lenny? I would say no.
(Again, perhaps this quote is a result of editing, and some clarifications were left out in order to bring us this quote. I don’t believe that Mr. Hoffman was intentionally throwing his colleagues under the bus, but without the proper context, it is hard not to read this statement that way.)
Movies Still Create Unforgettable Experiences
As I come to the end of this article, I realize that my real motivation in writing this is in defense of my own experience with film in my lifetime, which has, luckily enough, been mostly rich and far from starved of quality as Mr. Hoffman’s statement would imply. True, I have not seen as much, accomplished as much, or lived as much as he, but that does not make the experiences I have or anyone else has with film any less meaningful.
The memory of watching a movie like Inception as a teenager resonates strongly with me here. I remember leaving the theater, mind-boggled, with my friends blabbing about theories of who’s dreaming what, is Cobb actually dead, etc. I’m sure there are numerous kids, young adults, and even older folks that have had a similar experience coming out of a theater today (just ask my dad, who thought he was going to hate Mad Max: Fury Road and wound up loving it).
I’m sure there are plenty of filmmakers out there whose entire careers are based on creating that powerful moment in their audiences. I don’t think that will ever go away, and although Dustin Hoffman may feel differently, I’m very optimistic that that drive will create plenty of greatness in the world of movies today and into the future.
Ethan is the Director of Marketing at MoviePass, and in case it wasn’t clear, his favorite movie of the summer is Inside Out (so far).