Smile, You're Gaming

Smile, You're Gaming
That's Entertainment?

Rob Zacny | 27 Jan 2009 08:50
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Neither film nor gaming always operated along such stark lines. In earlier periods for both mediums, creators enjoyed greater freedom to explore the characters, situations and feelings that comprise a life.


Let's start with the movies. Gaming is probably more informed and influenced by film than any other art form. Where they have gone, we may follow. We should think about whether we want what lies at the end of that rainbow.

Consider this dilemma: My girlfriend and I want to go out for dinner and a movie. We go online and assess our options, only to find that every single one of the 32 screens in town is showing something that is either a waste of celluloid or an example of shoot-by-numbers filmmaking. Owen Wilson has a baaaad dog in Marley & Me, but he'll grudgingly come to love it. So in case anyone missed Turner and Hooch or Beethoven, Fox 2000 Pictures has you covered. Both Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have a movie out, and each is exactly what you would expect. There are two computer-generated talking animal movies. Alternatively, we could go see a romantic melodrama, or a World War II movie about good Germans trying to kill bad Nazis.

So we decide to stay in, as we usually do.

This is not a particularly unusual week for movies. It is increasingly difficult to find something worth two hours and $20 to go see, and a lot of films that do sound interesting are never screened in my town. The films with all the marketing money and the nationwide distribution are just variations on tired themes.

Compare this situation to films from the period between 1930 and 1960. Consider the list of producers, actors, directors and films that are connected with that era. Ernst Lubitsch and Darryl Zanuck. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Hitchcock and Hawks. Citizen Kane and The Lady Eve. I could go on for pages listing the treasures.

The most striking thing about those movies is that they seemed able to do it all at once. They could blend slapstick comedy with sharp wordplay, dark menace with gentle humor. They were fun, and bravely so. The results were magical. Pauline Kael, in her discussion of Hud for Film Quarterly, wrote:

What gave the Hollywood movie its vitality and its distinctive flavor was that despite the melodramatic situations, the absurd triumphs of virtue and the inordinate punishments for trivial vice ... the "feel" of the time and place came through, and often the attitudes, the problems, and the tensions. Sometimes more of American life came through in routine thrillers and prison-break films and even in the yachting-set comedies than in important, "serious" films. ... Our movies are the best proof that Americans are liveliest and freest when we don't take ourselves too seriously.

Sadly, Kael was writing in an age when American film was on a long retreat from greatness, and the situation has only gotten worse. Women have been marginalized. Entire genres have disappeared. The "screwball" romantic comedy was chopped like a stolen car, its pieces repurposed for different genres. Musicals have abandoned the screen for the stage once again. Suspense and film noir are also history now, supplanted by the infinitely less interesting slasher and horror genres.

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