Ed Driscoll

The Cinema of Self-Congratulation

From the 1950s through the 1970s, when the Hollywood left released agitprop, it was sold to moviegoing audiences under the theory of telling America The Truth–the Dark Underbelly of Life As It Truly Is Today.

Ironically, the messages of these films were often buried deep within their subtext: if you listen to the commentary track of The Hustler, its filmmakers saw it as a parable on the Blacklist, one of the first of what would become a staple industry of Hollywood. But the vast majority of audience members simply took the movie for its surface plot, and saw it as a nifty flick about cutthroat pool sharks. Dr. Strangelove’s nihilism and moral equivalence was buried under layers of blackout humor, brilliant dialogue, and incredible performances. And most anti-war movies like Apocalypse Now also deliver loads of hard-hitting action along the way.

Somehow though, Hollywood decided that it didn’t care about burying a film’s message of a movie in its subtext. Eventually, the industry decided to concentrate on films that are little more than fodder for a like-minded echo chamber. Roger L. Simon has the right name for these movies: “the growing trend of Cinema of Self-Congratulation“:

These movies are not so much about art or even entertainment as they are about the audience and filmmakers feeling good about themselves, in the sense that both are right-thinking or of the “correct” sort. Great art abhors this of course. It is all about wildness and complexity – from Medea to The Godfather, nothing is simple … or perhaps I should say “Nothing is written” (until, as Lawrence of Arabia tells us, it is).

The Oscar Awards this year seem to mark a tipping point of sorts for the industry, as it seems increasingly capable of producing little more than these sorts of films, a cycle which is only likely to increase, as moviegoing audiences continue to shrink. (And of course, thanks to political correctness, so do acceptable plot lines.)

George Lucas essentially believes that “The Era Of Big Cinema Is Over“, to coin a blog post title. But does the industry understand how much its product has increasingly turned off those of us who still love movies, but don’t dwell within the echo chamber?