Tag Archives: Albert Brooks

The Set Up (You Need This)

26 May

Hello and welcome to the Great Film Experiment. In the interest of time, allow me to skip the formalities and jump straight to the “question and answer” portion of this post:

Q: What exactly is the “Great Film Experiment?”
A: In the Great Film Experiment, I will watch the films of four of Hollywood’s preeminent creative minds — Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Albert Brooks, and Hal Ashby. All of the films will be watched in the order that they were released.

Q: But why them? Why not go with Orson Welles or Francis Ford Coppola or Robert Altman?
A: The point here is not just to watch classic films. The idea is to watch films that resonate with a certain audience.

Q: That makes no sense.
A: …And that wasn’t a question.

Q: Fine, I’ll rephrase then. Could you please explain further?
A: Of course. Every generation (or two) has a form of entertainment that speaks directly to them. This form of entertainment uses their language, their sensibilities, and their overall outlook on life to tell a story that is relevant to their lives. It also tends to deal with these issues in a way that might make the previous generation shake their heads in confusion. Who cares if the “old folks” don’t “get it.” It’s not made for them.

The first major filmmaker to do this for my generation (X/Y) was John Hughes. I was five when Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out, but it doesn’t matter. That film speaks to the “Y” portion of the generational mish-mash just as much as it speaks to the “X.” I, like many people my age, can still repeat whole lines from that film. My mother, on the other hand, just doesn’t understand the appeal. “That movie isn’t funny in the least,” I remember her telling me once. “It’s almost as bad as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and True Shi — I mean True Grit.” As the years went on, the “Gen X/Y” sub-genre began to grow. What was once a home for just John Hughes now contained the likes of Danny Boyle, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, and Seth Rogen. Like Hughes, these four creative minds (and others) tend to make films that speak to the current generation. They also make films that I would not show to my parents under any circumstances. (Come on … They don’t “get” Ferris Bueller. Things like Trainspotting or Chasing Amy would make their heads explode.)

Still, there is an inherent phenomenon attached to “generational entertainment:” Some of the initial appeal is lost over time. Take classical composer Franz Liszt for example. For those unaware, he was to 1830’s musical elite what Marylin Manson was when I was in high school. He took major liberties with the tempo of the music in question, would improvise whenever the mood struck him (even when playing Beethoven), and actually showed emotion while playing. The press hated it, but the audiences, especially women, couldn’t get enough. This phenomenon was even given a name — Lisztomania. We, on the other hand, know not of the screaming women, tempo fluctuations, and pointed concert reviews. To many of us, Franz Liszt is simply just another composer whose music fills the void between NPR newscasts and the latest edition of Ask Dr. Science on public radio. When most people hear the term “Lisztomania,” they either think of that dreadful Roger Daltrey/Ken Russell film from the 1970’s or of the delightful pop song by French rock band Phoenix. In short, Liszt is just another great composer to us. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that we are horrible people or are somehow brain dead morons just because we don’t appreciate the finer points of Lisztomania. It’s not that we won’t; it’s that we can’t. Liszt’s performances and overall sense of style was tailored to that particular generation of people. As that generation aged and new ideas began to rear their heads, the impact made by Liszt became less and less. The same thing goes with films. As much as I don’t want to admit it, my grandchildren will not understand Mallrats on the same level that my generation does. Yes, the themes presented within the movie are universal, but the wrapping surrounding those themes will be completely foreign. Another example is the Paddy Chayefsky classic Marty. Even to this day, most of us can identify with the plight of “nice guy everyman” Marty Piletti. But the specific set of problems that Marty is faced with throughout the film — his mother’s insecurities, the constant fear of losing his butcher shop to one of those new-fangled “A&P supermarkets,” the fact he has basically “given up” on love even though he’s only 34– are completely outdated. It’s still a damn fine movie, but unless you’re an Italian-American butcher from the Bronx that lives with his mother, I seriously doubt that anyone can completely identify with protagonist.

All of that said, the immediate impact of “generational entertainment” doesn’t disappear overnight. The next generation can still enjoy that entertainment almost to the level of the previous generation. Sure, not everything is going to make perfect sense, but there is still enough there in order to make a profound impact. My mother can watch Marty without the anachronisms detracting from the main story. The same thing goes with me and the directors listed above. Some of the most influential films of my parent’s generation — The Graduate, Annie Hall, Broadcast News, Harold and Maude — are on my proverbial “play list.” So how will these “world changing” films affect me? We are about to find out.

Q: Oh … You’re a “film guy,” aren’t you?
A: Nope. Not even close. I’m a writer to be sure, but I barely know anything about “film theory.” I just want to be entertained.

Q: Are you going to watch all of the DVD features and the like?
A: Heaven’s no. While I will do a little research to fill people in on the film’s back story, I won’t go crazy. I’m watching these movies for the movies, not for the behind-the-scenes details. Besides, I don’t have that kind of time.

…And there you have it. Come back in the next day or two for film number one, What’s New Pussycat,” aka “the life of Warren Beatty as written by Woody Allen.” Until then, I bid thee a fond adieu.

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