Monday, November 21, 2011

The problem with Movies

I happen to have a friend whose side career is acting, so we’ve had a number of conversations about the movies.  My line of argument has been that Hollywood is simply out of ideas and that part of the problem might be that people making movies are immersed in movies and otherwise don’t have much of a cultural repository to draw from.

Rushfield Babylon points to another problem; lead actors who can’t convincingly pass for adults.  The specific subject of the post is a new Gatsby film that will star Leo DiCaprio prompting this conclusion:

“Our young actors today, even the finest of them, are just too much of lightweights to carry off historical roles.   We are not capable anymore of portraying a time when people didn’t act like pouty teens well into their 50’s.
That is not a slam on their acting abilities.  Today’s actors are far more versatile and technically capable than actors of the golden age.  But it’s just who this generation is, who we are.  We can’t just put on maturity anymore than we could put tusks and be convincing wooly mammoths.   
Maybe it’s just that we favor actors with baby faces, but I don’t think so”
The poster goes on to draw a contrast between DiCaprio who is 37 and Cary Grant and James Stewart when they were 37. 
Well, I think he’s right and if anything understating the case.  With the possible/probable exceptions of George Clooney and Christian Bales, the standard male star of today (Depp, Damon, Maguire, Downey, Cruise) can still play young but can’t play old or come across as characters with any sort of gravitas.  A little digging around on IMDB reveals for instance that Matt Damon was the same age—32-- at the start of the Bourne movies as Sean Connery in the Bond films.  Connery comes across like, well James Bond, while Damon looks and acts like someone a few years removed from grad school or as essentially the same person as he played in Good Will Hunting  And this isn’t a minor problem as anyone who’s seen Tom Cruise play the German aristocrat Claus Von Staufenberg in Valkyrie can attest—there are after all limits to how far you can suspend your disbelief.
If you think about the next level of star the contrast is even greater.  Who is there today to play characters of experienced, suave sophistication that makes movie watching so enjoyable?  Again perhaps Clooney but he hardly compares to past actors that come to mind: David Niven, Ray Milland, Anthony Quayle, George Sanders, James Mason.
It is revealing that the movies have a hard time doing maturity.  A few months ago I picked up the Pat Moynihan book of letters and leafed through it to the center section of pictures.  What jumped out was how often the people pictured were smoking pipes and or wearing three piece suits.  It was almost as if there was a time not that long ago when adults were in positions of responsibility….and on the silver screen.

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