I was reading up on Vertigo at dcairns blog the other day and it really drove home something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and even talked about here. For some reason, cinema has regressed. It’s definitely regressed more in America, but even in countries that I consider to be ahead of everyone else cinematically, like Japan, it’s just not what it used to be.
Vertigo is so full of ideas, so rich in its cinematic language, so complex in its themes that it is impossible to find its equivalent in the last thirty years of movies. It’s a rare film these days that even tries out a visual theme, but when they do, it’s usually pretty simplistic. Vertigo is a puzzle that’s always puzzling, full of obsessions and fetishes and emotion and size, it’s a huge film.
If you’re interested in talking about Vertigo, here’s the link.
So what happened? It’s always easy to go back to the classics and say that things just aren’t as good. Mozart still holds his own. Sure, Mozart and Hitchcock were geniuses, but does that really explain anything? Where are the geniuses now? I love David Fincher, but even Fight Club didn’t come close to Vertigo in terms of rich, complex cinema.
Many people have pointed out that the great directors of the 50’s and 60’s came from silent films, and the studio system. They created the language and as they grew older they experimented and expanded it. The studio system also enabled them to be constantly working. Hitchcock and, say, Hawks, directed countless films. Directors these days spend three years or more trying to get a film off the ground. A modern director is lucky to have ten films in his career.
The audiences were more visually sophisticated in the past. I think it’s impossible to imagine this richness of cinema happening now with TV’s visual simplicity and blandness having taken over people’s idea of what cinematic language is. Audiences used to go to the movies constantly, and they would go for hours. They weren’t just kids looking for a good time out, everybody went. So they all knew how to watch a movie.
It’s sad to think that films will never reach the dizzying heights of Vertigo again, but it’s also silly to mourn for a world that’s never coming back. We’re lucky that we have Vertigo at all, and with DVD and widescreen TVs we can pick it up and watch it whenever we want. As they always say in movieland, “we’ll always have Paris.”