screen wriTer

Cin­ema’s golden age? No, it’s not, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Why, you may won­der, has it taken Screen­writer so long to get around to ex­am­in­ing the new golden era for Amer­i­can cin­ema?

As last year was draw­ing to a close, var­i­ous cul­tural com­mis­sars be­gan gath­er­ing in the Palace of Cin­ema, and, af­ter care­ful de­lib­er­a­tions, they de­clared that we had of­fi­cially en­tered The Age of Glory. Sure enough, when the Os­car nom­i­na­tions were an­nounced, there were at least three clas­sics in the race for best pic­ture. There Will Be Blood, No Coun­try for Old Men and Juno will, surely, re­tain their place in the pan­theon for decades to come.

Mean­while, films as good – and as var­ied – as I’m Not There and The As­sas­si­na­tion of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford squab­bled over the lesser awards. Fash­ion cel­e­bra­tory ban­ners. Take to the streets. Com­rades An­der­son, Coen and Coen have saved cin­ema for the masses. The Age of Glory will bring a car to ev­ery garage and a fridge to ev­ery kitchen.

Some ar­ti­cles laud­ing this cur­rent pur­ple patch have even dared to men­tion that holy decade be­tween 1967 and 1977, when vin­tage claret ran along Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, the clouds were made of spun sugar, and the Scors­ese/Cop­pola/Polan­ski/ Ashby axis made some de­cent films. Per­haps we can ex­pect an­other 10 years of this un­ex­pected bounty.

As you may have dis­cerned from this col­umn’s face­tious tone, Screen­writer can­not quite muster such op­ti­mism. Con­sider this quote from vet­eran critic Roger Ebert in the Guardian: “If you look at the movies them­selves and not sim­ply at the box of­fice, Amer­i­can films are in an emerg­ing golden age. It is pos­si­ble to see in­ven­tive and even im­por­tant new work ev­ery week of the year.”

What’s wrong with that? In re­cent months, The Ticket has fea­tured an un­prece­dented run of five-star re­views. Roger is talk­ing sense. Isn’t he? Well, maybe, but that Guardian ar­ti­cle was not pub­lished in 2008. It didn’t ap­pear in the 1970s, ei­ther. Ebert made his com­ments dur­ing the trag­i­cally brief cin­e­matic re­nais­sance that ran from the au­tumn of 1999 to the spring of 2001.

You re­mem­ber it now. The up­surge in in­de­pen­dent cin­ema dur­ing the early 1990s had, we were told, born fruit in the form of such fine films as Be­ing John Malkovich, Traf­fic, Mag­no­lia, The Ma­trix, Re­quiem for a Dream and Me­mento.

It is best not to dwell too long on what came af­ter but, suf­fice to say, 2001 and 2002 are se­ri­ous con­tenders for the crum­mi­est years in Amer­i­can cin­ema his­tory. It took years for an­other golden epoch to come along.

The sad fact is that most of those turn-of-the-decade clas­sics did only mod­est busi­ness, with few God­fa­ther- or Ex­or­cist- level block­busters among them. Only The Ma­trix was a smash and it spawned two ar­tis­ti­cally dis­ap­point­ing se­quels. Sad to re­late, most of this year’s gems (Juno is the ob­vi­ous ex­cep­tion) have also failed to achieve suc­cess be­yond spe­cial­ist au­di­ences.

To change the sys­tem you still have to draw in se­ri­ous coin. So it’s not quite time to hoist the flags.

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