A place called satisfaction
cold sense of isolation that dominates my life is derived solely
from insipid Hollywood action movies.
Someday, when they send me off to prison for my dark
and heartless dispassion, I will cite my insatiable hunger for the
meaningless violence extracted from contemporary American action
movies as the motivation for all of my heinous and egregious deeds.
I love action. Week after week the warm glow of the ubiquitous
national video-chain franchise gently coaxes me into its bosom.
Its brightly lit interior offers respite from the frigid and dark
outside air. Its neatly ordered rows of blockbuster action movies
invite structure and equity to a chaotic world, where choice and
conflict walk hand in hand and where strife and rage are reigned
in at every corner of injustice.
Once inside, bereft of any tangible, "real" video choices,
I am confronted by a sea of duplicate copies of poorly planned,
badly executed and overproduced Hollywood movies. They invite me
to watch them. Almost wistfully, they whisper to me with their supple
promises of everlasting fulfillment and prolonged gratification.
I cannot help but yield to their calls. I take them home. I watch
Afterward, I invariably feel tremendously unsatisfied. It's an
odd and somewhat indescribable sensation. It's almost like there
is a spot in my body where I should feel the satisfaction welling,
growing and spouting forth. But I can't feel anything there. I can't
feel that part of my body at all. The only thing that I feel in
that hollow, growling place is the dull numbness of vacancy.
I feel like satisfaction is a place that sank into the ocean, or
was buried by a volcano. The inhabitants of satisfaction were blown
up when an alien craft spat fire on them as they ran for cover.
All the buildings in satisfaction melted when an asteroid came screaming
down from heaven and exploded above the city in an apocalyptic blue-green
Watching just one bad action film puts me two hours closer to the
grave, and all I have to show for it are vague recollections of
unintelligible fight scenes and an empty gap where emotional fulfillment
used to be. Later, I often feel a deep sense of loss for those two
precious hours of my life that will never return. I can't get that
time back; it's as if it was stolen from me.
Again and again, I have heard movie producers claim that they aren't
in the business to educate, fulfill and enlighten the American public.
They make movies only to entertain. That statement is both sad and
true. I accept this is a fact. If most "mainstream" American
movies were actually entertaining, I would also accept this as a
But too often, modern movies particularly modern action
movies lack the ability to provide their audience with any
form of true entertainment.
beautiful Hollywood stars, incredible on-location scenery and extremely
high production values, many such releases look entertaining. Their
trendy, upbeat soundtracks and multilayered digital audio tracks
sound entertaining. Unfortunately, their weak storylines, shallow
characters and general lack of coherence diminish these glimmering
attributes to a weak facade, erected to hide their enormous inadequacies.
To some degree, the evolution of special effects has perverted
the genre and devolved the industry to its current state. While
effects have become more realistic and digital post-production work
has taken the media to new visual heights, it has done so at the
sacrifice of material depth and story content.
As movies get more realistic, they lose all of their artistic subtlety
and, consequently, their ability to entertain. The more the visual
experience of cinema mimics our own personal experience, the less
power it has to take us away from ourselves.
Of course, great cinema is rarely without some form of special
The technical innovation of bringing together moving pictures and
sound is a marvel to the eye. The act of running film over a lens
at 24 frames per second to create the illusion of motion is in and
of itself a "special effect."
But until recently, cinema has never remained focused on the simple
fact that it was able to present realistic, moving images. Theater
has always been able to do that. The beauty of cinema has always
lied in its ability to convey ideas in ways that are impossible
in any other medium.
Traditionally, moviegoers have understood that they were required
to suspend their disbelief in the illusions as they unfolded on
the screen. Now, digital technology can create images so realistic
that cinema no longer requires its viewers do anything to accept
images in film as real.
The most troubling thing about this is the fact that this country
was once, and is still, capable of great cinema. Not all modern
films lack quality. But for some reason, the ones without entertainment
value are the ones that the video stores always try to cram down
Every year, a relatively large number of excellent films are produced
in America. These films rarely appear on the shelves of the national
chain video stores.
A stroll down the forgotten center aisles of any fine video-renting
establishment is all it takes for one to discover the art of American
cinema. These shelves carry on them the shadows of the once-great
American Film Industry. Here, videos are usually turned on their
side so that they occupy less shelf space than their mass-marketed
counterparts. Usually there is only one copy of each film.
Old movies still allow us to use our imagination. Because hyper-realistic
visual detail is neither possible nor pertinent, the success of
these vintage films relies heavily on the quality of the story,
the skill of the actors and the vision of the director.
Independent movies usually are produced not merely to entertain,
but because someone has something to say, show or convey. These
films are generally created on comparably miniscule budgets without
the benefit of elaborate special-effects teams and huge celebrity
Whether its root lies in contemporary social mores, financial deficiency
or limitations in technology, the subtleness that pervades Hollywood
films of the '40s and '50s is also found in many modern independent
productions. This type of modesty forces the viewer to trust his
instincts and believe in the story. When a film requires this kind
of investment from viewers, it is to our benefit. We become active,
cognizant participants in a story instead of passive blobs, eating
popcorn and waiting for something on screen to blow up.
a filmmaker is able to free himself from the burden of creating
movies that look completely realistic, he then has leeway to create
something more than a display for the eye. Shifting the film's focus
from hyper-realism during production opens avenues of provocative
acting, streets of creative photography, and superhighways of delicious
Great stories are not things to merely be watched; they are things
in which we may immerse ourselves. If a film does not show us each
and every lurid detail, to compensate, the director must intimate
at large events with small ones.
In mammoth Hollywood productions, lost are the ways in which the
twist of a shadow changes the audience's sense of movement. How
the sinking of the gaslight sets the mood from tranquility to terror;
the way the tone of a sentence seems to fall off the edge of the
world, and when it does, we somehow know that love is dead and will
Sometimes images are crude things that destroy mystery and ruin