In American Graffiti, probably the truest film about being young and American in the last moments of innocence, one of lead character John Milner laments the demise of rock and roll after the death of Buddy Holly.
Carol: [John turns off the radio] Why did you do that?
John Milner: I don’t like that surfin’ shit. Rock and roll’s been going down hill ever since Buddy Holly died.
Carol: Don’t you think the Beach Boys are boss?
John Milner: You would, you grungy little twirp.
Carol: Grungy? You big weenie! If I had a boyfriend, he’d pound you.
John Milner: Yeah, sure.
Like Milner, I too have been lamenting lately over a loss. In many ways very similar to the one Milner was evoking. The movement from Rock and Roll from the back alleys and garages to the studio saw the loss of something pure, greasy and dangerous to something mainstream, accepted and commoditised. We have seen time occur time and time again. I witnessed the rise of Punk Rock only later to see it fall prey to the A and R vultures of the record labels.
The same thing has sadly occurred with genre or B cinema.
At one time those pulpy, fun unassuming flicks we consumed hungrily not only contained a massive dose of “hey that’s kind of cool” but often the Tootsie Roll center of the picture contained a profound message or profound allegory that we unravel overtime. Romero with his “Dead” tomes telling the dangers of consumerism, societal elitism and our movement to sheep like human behavior is a perfect example of what B movies could deliver.
B Movies at their heyday were dangerous, provocative and just plain fun very much like the best of Rock and Roll. Now they have become formulaic, dull bowls of pablum. Hollywood has descended into a rigid machine focus solely on P and L statements while repeatedly chanting the now tantric message “tent pole”. They have lost their way and there is little chance of them every recovering what was cinema.
Cinema, they body of art that I grew to love now lies in pieces throughout the world. People like Henrique Couto, Brett Kelly, David Shaw in their own way have picked up the torch and are attempting to define their own regional industry base. It is these regional efforts which I find hope. The digital technology which people have claimed with bring forth an enlightened era of cinema, did the opposite. A vast landscape of mediocrity and digital pollution has arise. You see, while cumbersome and yes antiquated and difficult…. what film did was to impose a discipline on its users which created a sometimes useful barrier to entry. Now the ease and accessibility of the digital world has allowed those downtrodden, angst riddled , baseball cap wearing artists who previously would sit in coffee shops throughout the world and bemoan that “the man” prevented them from showing their brilliance to the world now are able regretfully to release there vision upon the world.
Film school of today is the journalism school for people who cannot write. It’s a place where students with obscure hopes of “making movies” go to park themselves for two or four years and learn that you should never call a “film” a “movie.” Film school is a bad idea and a bad investment. The applications to these schools increases at the same time the economy crashes. Tying it all together: the totally unrealistic expectations of success that is inflicted up the students and potential students by the often immoral academic leadership..
When Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola were making their bones in film school there were four or five schools in the USA that taught film. Every year between 120-150 students graduate. Now there are about 4200 film programs. Each one of these schools pumps out 40 to 50 graduates every year. This means every year 22,000 wild eyed filmmakers are released into the world with a mountain of student loan debt and really with no realistic chance for either income or a career. They go out into the world, make their films and soon realizes the world really has little or no interest in their vision. Last year 6800 feature films could not gain any form of distribution.
A lot of these filmmakers will be deflated and will have their dreams shattered. The irony is is that it is not their fault, it’s the system and the educational money grubbers who really should know better.This glut of product drives down the price distributors are willing to pay for an independent feature film, further eroding the market.
The engorged academic world of film is the biggest problem the film industry faces today. It should all be torn down.
There are models and ideas that I think could save movies, especially genre or B movies. These models are drawn from the early days of Rock and Roll. This world I think provides us some great lessons which could guide the re-igniting of an American cinema
Located alongside slow winding and muddy Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama has injected integrity, creativity and in the words of Aretha Franklin, greasiness into Rock and Roll, Overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies, Rick Hall brought black and white together to create some of the most important and resonant music for the generations. He took strength from local people and local stories and brought forth a sound and an outlook which attracted people from Paul Simon to The Rolling Stones.
A town of 8,000 people in the backwoods of Alabama though the strength and vision of one man, changed direction of an industry. Unlike Berry Gordy, another music innovator his prime interest was not the creation of a business empire but was the promotion of an ideal and a sound.
I see a few cinematic Rick Hall’s popping up in places like Ottawa Canada, Dayton Ohio. Des Moines Iowa and Lubbock Texas. It see the ideal of an allegorical story emerging tied to market realities of financial viability. A New generation of storytellers who are aware of the falseness of present Hollywood and are determined to do thing their way and to it honestly.
In them I see the hope for a new regional cinema.
My love a-bigger than a cadillac
I try to show it and you drive a-me back
Your love for me a-got to be real
For you to know just how I feel
A love for real not fade away
Buddy Holly, recorded May 27th, 1957 in Clovis New Mexico