On The Crisis of Cinema

Kabir Vega Castellanos

Poster: wikipedia.org
Poster: wikipedia.org

HAVANA TIMES — It’s becoming more and more difficult to find a movie I like these days.

Comedies – at least the kind of US comedies we get here – seem only to compete in terms of vulgar, obscene and scatological jokes.

Television series involve such complex and clever plots that they end up being unrealistic. We see increasingly hackneyed, stupid characters and scenes brimming with a kind of violence bordering on sadism, as well as more and more spectacular special effects aimed at increasing profits.

These are the new standards applied to animated and live-action films, the kind that are passed along from USB drive to USB drive, or copied from the “package,” in Cuba.

Year after year, films with absolutely predictable plots (with higher doses of sex, morbid situations and violence) continue to be dished out. Nobility and innocence are rarely valued and, when not omitted, these are often derided.

What’s sad is that this corrupted art is what the general public demands and, owing to these demands, fewer and fewer production companies are willing to risk doing something different.

Twenty years ago, people valued simple stories, and many were as simple as the tale of a small-town kid that ended up adopting a stray dog. Some were even so popular they made sequels and trilogies, and manufactured products based on these films. Dogs were trained to become movie stars, because that is what the public wanted to see.

With the development of new technologies, everything is done with computers these days: CG animals talk and look more and more spectacular, becoming less believable and making the stories emptier and emptier.

Luckily, there are still those who pursue other concepts. The British film Still Life, for instance, is one the best works of art I’ve seen. It is an apparently simple but actually quite profound story: a man hired to deliver eulogies at funerals gathers information about people who have died alone, without a relative or friend to bid them farewell from this world.

The 44-year-old protagonist searches for information about parents or friends of the deceased, to inform these of the death. If he can’t find anyone, he himself arranges the funeral rites and even draws up a eulogy for those who have passed,

His boss looks down on him because of his devotion to his work. He represents the common, pragmatic and irreverent attitude of the world, which finds value only in active life. The film, which has a rather unexpected ending, demonstrates that noble actions are their own reward.

The Song of the Sea is an animated film by Tomm Moore, the director of Brendan and the Secret of Kells, another unusual film dealing with Celtic mysticism.

Though both are traditional, 2D animations, the exuberance and elegance of the drawings at times remind us of the images of a kaleidoscope. The Song of the Sea is an unpretentious story devoid of the cleverness and typical hooks used in commercial animated cinema.

The peculiarly beautiful art direction combines with the music and a folkloric atmosphere, to convey the message that there aren’t good or bad people out there, only beings who give their best in the midst of their personal conflicts.

I have often spoken with my friends about the shortcomings of current cinema, in the hopes they will understand my concerns.

I have almost never managed to make them identify with me. However, I was gradually able to see that, despite the fact they accept and even like violence, obscenity and other such phenomena, occasionally they feel the need to see something different, something that gives us hope back, reminding us that the good exists and is our destiny.

4 thoughts on “On The Crisis of Cinema

  • Update Kabir on your stellar recommendation, Song of the Sea. Was voted the number one best Irish Movie of 2015. You’re review was note worthy and yes you have a future not only for writing but for your insight and brilliance.

    #1 – Song of the Sea

    Cartoon Saloon and director Tomm Moore’s Celtic myth is a truly glorious creation. Song of the Sea is easily the most visually accomplished animation to be created on our shores and could be used in any animation school in the world as a lesson in the art-form. Each frame of this lovingly crafted could be hung on the walls of any art gallery, and not look out of place. The simple story is full of childlike wonder but also allows itself to be bittersweet when it has to be. All of this is married to a uniquely Irish score that allows the film to be a story of Ireland’s past and its modern day.

  • Kabir, just saw the latest Pixar movie, The Good Dinosaur. Would love to read what you think when you get the chance to see it. Has the values you seem to possess, family, morals and a lesson here and there.

  • Thanks for your analysis and reviews, which have piqued my interest enough to see both films. If, due to advances in special effects, the drek produced by Hollywood’s “dream factories,” are even worse than before, just remember that this is nothing new. At least during Hollywood’s heyday, in the 1930’s-1960’s, the studios felt they had to produce at least some films of artistic merit. Now box office drives all, and the studios and production companies appeal only to the trashy tastes of the masses. In this case, an observation by one of the last century’s most sinister figures holds true: “There are three types of people involved in the arts: those who create culture, those who preserve culture, and those who destroy culture.” (I paraphrase here.) Those now in charge of the “dream factories” (really the “nightmare factories,”) are in the last category. Socrates was right when he said, in REPUBLIC, that culture must be controlled by “the guardians!” (Although I’m not in favor or returning to Cuba’s “grey period” of the late 1960’s and the 1970’s, nor the Soviet black period of the 1930’s through 1960’s. Instead, those who know art, rather than the cultural bureaucrats, or Hollywood moguls, should have some say in what gets made and what gets to see the light of day in the theatres and on television (as opposed to the trashy treasures of each week’s “package!”)

  • Kabir, you’re going to be famous some day. I’ve had some music video experience with some top notch american artists and you have talent. Was reading your story and totally correct regarding American humor and movies, for the most part, poor! European, including Spanish, Mexican of course, are brilliant. I’m an Irish citizen so you reviewed Song of the Sea and upon your recommendation I just watched it, again, brilliant! Not only great but one of the best reviewers of movies in the world gave it an A+ rating so you know your vocation. Thanks much for a stellar job and like so many I’ve been fortunate to read on this great Cuban venue, perhaps someday I will meet you.
    Just for your info, I worked on the casting for John Mellencamp’s Our Country music video filmed in Savannah, Georgia. You’re probably way to young to know who he is but google him.
    Slante- Brian

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