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Is my obsession with cinema just golden age thinking?

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The past four weeks we’ve been in isolation is the longest period I’ve gone without going to the cinema in four years. As a holder of a Cineworld card, the cinema comes as natural to me as breathing. However, seemingly, with the arrival of streaming platforms, including Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as access to films through torrenting, fewer people are going to the cinema when we can watch films at home with the added bonus of pausing it when you want to go to the toilet. And going to the cinema with your family is a pastime that millions of people across the world take part in. For many families, going to see the latest blockbuster is fun, but for me it’s more a home from home.

Flicking between streaming platforms, my books and other forms of entertainment, it’s given me time to contemplate about things I’m interested in, including the film industry

Since childhood, I’ve always had a respect for storytelling through the moving image, being force-fed Disney at five years old. And is it possible to enjoy 20th-century Disney films whilst seeing all the racist, sexist, misogynistic messages and imagery they hold? Nonetheless, from memory, one trip to the cinema with my parents was in the summer of 2005 at the release of Star Wars: Revenge the Sith. Then, I loved it. Now, I loathe it. Yet, in 2005, I recall going to the cinema was a family affair. An event.

Photo by Agnieszka Kowalczyk on Unsplash

Nowadays, your Joe and Jane Bloggs seem to go to the cinema because of an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

What put it into perspective was when Martin Scorsese’s Silence (2016) tanked in the box office. Alas, subjectively one of the best films of 2016 and Scorsese knows his craft – from Mean Streets (1973), to Goodfellas (1990), to today with The Irishman (2019). You’re only as good as your last, and I don’t think he has ever done a bad film. Film now is less about filmmaking or going to the cinema as an event, and more about spectacle. Whilst board execs of big production companies still wanted to make money in the old days, it’s evident that Old Hollywood still had an equilibrium between maintaining standards of quality and making money in the box office.

I grew up around Double Indemnity, The Third Man, Cleopatra, Gone with the Wind and Giant, let alone Detective Virgil Tibbs, Norman Bates and Miss Blanch DuBois.

Heck, even films like Richard Roundtree in Shaft (1971), as politically incorrect as it is. And many of my family are of a delicate disposition! There are no “movie stars” anymore. Whilst once, people would have gone to watch that Harrison Ford film, as he was was the golden child of the 1980s (Blade Runner, Indiana Jones), now it’s about franchise. Robert Downey Jr. isn’t a movie star, Tony Stark is. Whilst my parents grew up going to see the latest Harrison Ford film, now it’s about the latest in the Fast and Furious franchise, or the next sequel, or Disney remake (as much I enjoy them).

Psycho, 1960 (Paramount Pictures)

The emergence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe changed the way Hollywood did business forever, especially since 2012 with Avengers Assemble which was unprecedented, let alone Infinity War and Endgame. The coming of these vigilantes has meant the death of filmmaking as we knew it. The [metaphorical] death of movie stars such as Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Will Smith. Whilst films were once made for, at least in-part, due to love of the art, now it’s about making bank in what feels like tinting the lense of nostalgia in the public consciousness. Goonies would never get made today, so let’s put it on Netflix and call it Stranger Things.

I hear the elderly, and even my parents’ generation use terms like “kids today” and the “youth of today.” And I really do feel bad for my brothers’ generation, who grew up with social media and will never know a film industry before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Born in 2008, he is now twelve years old and was born in the same year Robert Downey Jr. debuted as Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008). When folks say kids today, I’m not sure whether they mean me (I’m 24) or him (12). When I say it, I mean children.

Born in 1995, I came into this world with Jumanji (1995), Home Alone (1990) and Matilda (1996). Moreover, the whole Disney catalogue was rammed down my throat dating back to Snow White (1939). Home Alone would not get made today. Jumanji would not get made today (not like that). My parents had Goonies (1985) and E.T the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), which would not get made today. I grew up with the same references my parents did, including Back to the Future (1985), meanwhile my brother / his peers watch YouTubers like it’s television (which I continue to find perplexing).

The way my parents talk about growing up in the 1980s, makes me envy them even more. I’m incredibly jealous of that generation. Whilst capitalism was still a thing, there was more love for storytelling. Going to the cinema now is about companies making bank, whilst then and even up to pre-2008 it was about making good films that made bank. And I think that’s why a lot of people are reluctant to go to the cinema and spend over £100 for a family of five. Most films that come out of the Hollywood system are bad. I take more pleasure out of independent films, art house, foreign films (big up Parasite) where they often still make films that are good for art’s sake.

Coming to America, 1988 (Paramount Pictures)

I loved Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Beauty and the Beast (2017) as well as, Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book (2016), but do we need to keep remaking films and giving them sequels? Some of my favourites, including Scarface (1983) and Ben-Hur (1959) are remakes, but they add to their predecessors, rather than bringing nothing new to what was already a perfectly reasonable film. The Godfather (1972), 12 Angry Men (1957), Psycho (1960) –lock them in an unbreakable vault and throw away the key! Coming to America (1988), 48 Hours (1982), Annie Hall (1977), you can’t copy that!!

I spend a lot of time at my favourite place, the cinema. It’s bliss. I watch the blockbusters but spend an awful lot of time watching the low-key films. Supporting the types of artists that will probably be struggling due to the social impact of Coronavirus. The fact that I had to travel to Birmingham to watch Moonlight on its release speaks volumes. Many of the films I want to watch get a limited release. The cinema is sacred. I’m not certain we can say it’s dying yet, but the psychology of going to the cinema has changed.

Being holed up because of the pandemic has further shown me why I so enjoy films made before the 1970s, when there were more films that were good made for art sake; however, when they were bad, you could not hide its badness behind stylish camera angles and ostentatious uses of special effects


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