Hollywood Elsewhere, by Jeffrey Wells

Hollywood Elsewhere, April 28, 2017, by Jeffrey Wells

McBride’s Way

From Joseph McBride‘s just-released “Two Cheers For Hollywood,” and more particularly an introductory essay titled “I Loved Movies, But . . . ”: “In recent decades we’ve had to deal with the generally awful state American mainstream movies have fallen into, and with the overall collapse of film culture and what used to be called cinephilia. This has led to widespread discussion by film critics and others about whether or not cinema is dead, merely moribund, or in the process of evolution into something innovative but as yet uncertain. We have to face the fact that we longer live in an age of cinephilia. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that makes me terribly sad, [but] I haven’t yet reached the final stage of the grieving process — acceptance.

“Yet we who write about film history and have done so for decades persist in our quixotic quest. We go on because the love of film has become so ingrained in us that it can never be eradicated by time or circumstance. You make your choices early in life, and you do so because of what you need most early in life. Some of these needs linger forever.

“Writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag wrote in a much-discussed 1995-96 essay, ‘The Decay of Cinema,’ that the cinema had become ‘a decadent art’ mired in “an ignominious, irreversible decline. It’s not that you can’t look forward anymore to new films that you can admire. But such films not only have to be exceptions — that’s true of great achievements in any art. They have to be violations of the norms and practices that now govern movie-making everywhere in the capitalist and would-be capitalist word — which is to say everywhere.’

“In a 2016 interview, writer-director Paul Schrader put the blame mostly on the audience, and thus by extension the decline of our culture:
“‘People talk about the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It wasn’t that the films were better or the filmmakers were better — it was the audiences that were better. It was a time of social stress, and audiences turned to artists for answers. The moment [this happens], great art will emerge. It’s just that simple. It just happens. Back then, movies were at the center of the cultural conversation. Bonnie and Clyde was smack in the center, as was The Godfather.

“‘Today a great number of people, my children included, do not think that movies are important. When audiences don’t think movies are important, it’s very hard to make important movies. That’s the difference.’”

The 64 essays and interviews contained in McBride’s book “chronicle [his] intellectual journeys and personal encounters from the late ’60s to the present” — over a half-century of worship, meditation and lighting candles.

Some of the writers, directors and actors interviewed and/or riffed upon in the book: Joel and Ethan Coen, Katharine Hepburn, John Huston, Abraham Polonsky, Frank Nugent, George Stevens, Billy Wilder, Jimmy Stewart, Peter O’Toole, Richard Sylbert, John Wayne, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut.