Private View: Can adults find a way back into cinema?
In the 1970s the older generation of film critics famously bemoaned the so-called juvenilisation of movies. Films like Jaws, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark meant that serious movies were being ignored by studios.
Being a young lad at the time, I laughed that off – I still do to a certain extent – and dismissed those critics as being a lot of preening, self-important snobs. Films like The Conversation, Annie Hall, All The President’s Men and The Godfather Parts One and Two were still being made., while movies like Star Wars and Jaws just added to the mix.
Cinema needs a varied diet in order to survive – which is why last week I was horrified when I found myself resurrecting the phrase “juvenilisation of movies” in a conversation with friends. The trigger for my dismay was Catherine Hardwick’s dismal retelling of the Red Riding Hood tale.
Before you ask, no I wasn’t expecting an innocent children’s movie. I was expecting something dark and dangerous, something sexual and erotic, something unsettling and grown-up.
I was hoping for something like Neil Jordan’s brilliant The Company of Wolves, a movie which removed the world of the Brothers Grimm from the nursery and returned it to the morally murky outside world where it originated.
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I was hoping for something thought-provoking and provocative and what I got was something insipid and juvenile.
In 1984, film-makers still treated audiences like adults. The Company of Wolves was designed for mature audiences – not necessarily in years but certainly in minds. It was a film for audiences who wanted to be challenged, who wanted to think about the story being unveiled before their eyes.
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The Company of Wolves starred Angela Lansbury as Granny and was about a young girl’s exploration of her sexuality. It also played with her fear and desire for those lascivious werewolves who might be lurking behind trees in the forest. It was a film about earthy, primeval feelings which can frighten when they come simmering to the surface.
It was a fantastic blend of the traditional fairy story and the Gothic horror story. It respected its audience and made them work for their entertainment.
I was hoping for a similar experience from Red Riding Hood which had the required Gothic look – at least in the trailer and on the publicity material.
After 25 years of reviewing movies you would think that I would have learnt not to trust trailers and publicity material, but once again I allowed my heart to over-rule my brain.
What I was confronted with was another de-fanged horror movie aimed at pre-pubescent girls. This was a story of young girls mooning over werewolf boys who had were terribly sorry they turned hairy once a month but the girls needn’t worry because these lycanthropes had no desire to rip anyone throats out let alone those of a pretty maiden. It was enough to make you sick.
It was Twilight with werewolves and it was clear that they weren’t interested in reaching a general audience – it was very much aimed at a female 8-14 audience.
It was then that dreaded phrase “juvenilisation of movies” popped back in my brain. I looked around at what else was on offer in the cinema, I looked up what was heading our way in future months and I realised that perhaps those preening, self-important snobs from 1977 may have been right all along.
Later this year we have got a whole tranche of superhero movies Captain America, Thor, The Green Lantern and then just to prove the point we have X-Men First Class, which is about superheroes at school.
In fact the studios think that is such a good idea that they are taking Spiderman back to school as well.
Do cinema audiences really only want to see movies about kids in school? I would suggest not but this is the audience that studios want to pursue.
We are losing that all-important diversity in our cinema diet. Cinema went through a boom period in the 90s and early noughties because it was telling a wide selection of different stories. Admissions soared because people of all ages and walks of life were being offered a reason to see a film on the big screen.
Choice is diminishing. I love a well-made blockbuster but I also love a film that treats me as an intelligent member of a thinking society. Sadly, spectacle has become more important than the story that is being told.
Transformers is now regarded as the height of cinematic sophistication. There has to be more to film-going than alien robots turning themselves into cars.
The success of The King’s Speech, Tamara Drewe and Made In Dagenham has proved that there is a demand for films that are about real people rather than superheroes or robots.
As with most things at the moment part of the problem is the lack of money or the need for a swift, guaranteed return. Cinema seems to believe that only those aged between 15 and 25 have the large amounts of dispoable income that will guarantee success. As a result only two kinds of films tend to get made – hugely expensive blockbusters or a small micro-budget movies populated with young up-coming stars.
It’s the mid-scale movies, the cross-over films, the movies based on books which are finding it hard to get commissioned. There is also the issue of screen space. The lack of screens is such a problem that the Curzon cinema chain in London has dared do the unthinkable and created a day and date download service, so subscribers can view a newly released movie for a limited period of time on their computer. Their view is that it is better see a film on a computer screen than not see it at all.
But, film is designed to be seen on the big screen in the company of like-minded souls. Watching it as a download on a computer not only ghettoises the experience of movie-watching but it also diminishes the experience.
Somehow it suggests that films aimed at older audiences are not worthy of being given a cinema screening. That is wrong.
We do need a varied menu at the cinema. I shall be cheering Harry Potter when he makes his final stand against Voldemort in July but I also wish for a little True Grit in my diet.
And as for Red Riding Hood, Angela Carter, the author of The Company of Wolves, will be turning in her grave. She was all for unleashing female sexuality, as her books prove, but it is dangerous stuff you’re playing with and therein lies the excitement!