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Monsters is a revolutionary movie in many ways. The article below looks at why but it’s important to point out that, even if I’m holding the movie up as a work of art, it’s still a funpacked ride with aliens and what not, things happen and adventures take place. It’s still great popcorn entertainment regardless of any bigger ideas I want to atribute to it…
The history of cinema is one of sea change moments. The whole industry has been flipped on its head a number of times since the first mainly Eastern European immigrants chose Hollywood to be their base of operations in the early 20th Century. As history tells us, it was but a few decades before Talkies came along and swept away many of the early stars and producers. Silent movies allowed those with less than imposing voices or the thickest of foreign accents to become superstars but once that microphone was introduced, twee English campness or a deep Polish brogue became very much a disability in the brave new dawn of The Jazz Singer.
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Post World War Two, when the West finally woke up and realised young people existed, seeds for a new revolution were sown in films such as The Wild One and Concrete Jungle. Once the sixties arrived, now clueless producers of the old guard continued to produce twee family entertainment of the white picket fence, homemade apple pie variety. Doris Day movies and big budget musicals that clung to the raggedy hem of Hollywood’s golden age became massive flops. Films that we regard as essential entries in the family film canon, like Dr. Dolittle, found their audience not among the cinema going crowds on theatrical release, but through later TV screenings. At the time, a movie like that meant precisely nothing to kids who were being turned on by Roger Corman’s biker flicks and LSD explorations. So far, So far out.
Where is all this leading? Well, in the great, easy to follow cinematic narrative of TV documentaries, best selling exposes and talking heads waffling away on endless DVD extras, it led to Easy Rider, that simple cultural milestone that symbolically marked the end of the old studio system and the beginnings of the free wheeling 60s and 70s, where auteur directors were given the key to the executive bathroom and allowed to run riot with the clueless studios money in an attempt to woo a younger generation the old guard couldn’t or wouldn’t understand.
This then, in the convienient narrative we are following, leading to Star Wars. Jaws and Close Encounters. To the dawn of the blockbuster, high concept, 3D remake, redux, reimagined world we live in today. So why, when I’m meant to be talking about Monsters am I rambling about ancient history? Because I think Monsters and the other films that will hopefully come in it’s wake represent a new sea change for cinema.
The situation is similar to the 1960s in Hollywood right now. After years of balancing creativity and profit, the studios are now rapidly divesting themselves of the creative side of that equation and pushing ever more worthless product on the audience. We live in the time of the infinite franchise, where a character can be run into the ground, killed even, and then resurrected, typically by some new hotshot director who will ‘take the character into dark new territory’. We live in the time of endless TV adaptations, a time when no special childhood memory is safe from being giftwrapped as a new 3D spectacular.
Let’s face it, when a film like Inception, a passable and entertaining thriller that in the 70s may have been overlooked among the other shining pearls of the era, is held up as an example that Hollywood can produce quality, popular film, something is afoot. It’s a good film but hardly headscratching.
And so, finally, onto Monsters. When the main powerhouse of our film culture has reduced itself to selling the familiar over and over, when it’s usual star players fail to ignite the box office (with only Will Smith now being able to command a film with his name above the titles and Tom Cruise flailing around on a chat show sofa somewhere), that is the time for a new wave. Monsters represents how fast, cheaper and cheaper technology is revolutionising filmmaking. Monsters is an excellent example of this fusing of creativity and easily available tech.
The story was written on the hoof as the cast and crew travelled across country. Durable, high quality and extremely portable digital technology allowed for this while the flowering of CGI now means that subtle effects could be added realistically on a home computer. What a high end Macbook Pro can do now, you’ll be doing on your phone next year. Soon hopefully, the only limit to what will be able to be created will be down to the imagination of the filmmaker, not the budgetry constrants of a business accountant.
This then is what I mean about a sea change. It’s akin to when sound altered the landscape of cinema or when youth culture hit back and made movies for itself. Monsters is a major hit, made with equipment you can go out and buy in the shops, that doesn’t look ugly like Blair Witch did. Monsters is a breathtakingly beautiful movie that competes with the best of the major studio output. That’s why it’s important – not worthy – just important.
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