Another Perspective

Don’t Save Me the Aisle Seat

Even in Salmon, Idaho, there's no reason to go to the movies.

By 1.5.10

The movie theater here in Salmon, Idaho, is called the "River Cinema." It's a duplex in the original old-time theater building a mere block from my front door. From the street I see a lobby with homey small town décor with a snack bar and popcorn machine, just what you'd expect in a town of 3,000 people. I say "from the street" because after eighteen months' residence in Salmon, I've yet to set foot in the place. Most of its cinematic fare is kids-oriented, and much of it animated. Except for such Disney spectaculars as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, even a Boomer like me can remember a time when the only cartoon was the short "Bugs Bunny" shown before the "Main Attraction."

Occasionally a serious contemporary film tempts me, that is, until I read a couple of reviews in the conservative press. As the legendary producer Sam Goldwyn used to say: "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." By not plunking my money down at the box office, I suppose I'm sending my own message.

I haven't sat in a movie theater in five years. The last time was when I saw The Aviator (2004), with Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, and Cate Blanchett as his lover Katharine Hepburn. I've always liked Hepburn's films, especially The African Queen and her pairings with Spencer Tracy, so I was curious about Blanchett's portrayal of her. I enjoyed that aspect of the picture. As for DiCaprio, I've always thought him overrated, and now annoyingly so as he cultivates his green-mania, but I liked him in Titanic.

Purposefully lacking a television, I rarely see movies that way. I can watch DVDs on my laptop, but I don't often do that. As I age I'm more and more videophobic. There's books and music, and there's talk radio and the Internet. There's a hike in the woods with friends.

I do monitor goings-on amongst the Hollywood Left thanks to Andrew Breitbart's and the Drudge Report. I read James Bowman's reviews in The American Spectator, Joe Morgenstern's in the Wall Street Journal and John Podhoretz's in the Weekly Standard. And it's certainly not hard to keep up with the public idiocies and treasons of Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore and Matt Damo, among legions of other moral and political airheads. But this is an odd pastime for somebody who doesn't go to the movies.

The motion picture industry lost its moral compass decades ago. The movies were more life affirming -- and certainly more entertaining -- when they were directed by colorful characters like Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston, and starred real movie stars like Gary Cooper and John Wayne and Joan Crawford.

Movies also used to have plausible and intelligent plots because they were written by talented but many-times washed-up novelists, playwrights and journalists who were drunks (William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Agee, Calder Willingham, et al.) and in dire need of money. Ben Hecht showed up in Hollywood broke. Faulkner wrote screenplays to buy time to write his novels.

The last two generations of screenwriters grew up with television, and went to college and film school, and since they didn't read much, never figured out what a good story was. Consequently, in the last few years Hollywood is compensating for this failure of imagination by putting many of its eggs in the biopic basket (the subject list is endless: Truman Capote, Muhammad Ali, Ray Charles, John Keats, Virginia Woolf, Amelia Earhart, Queens Elizabeth I and ll, Julia Child, Che Guevara, Jim Morrison, and Hughes and Hepburn in that last movie I saw -- and lately in Invictus, Clint Eastwood is giving us Nelson Mandela, after previously giving us Charlie Parker). While Hollywood's Golden Age occasionally cultivated this formula (Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln; Greer Garson in Madame Curie, etc.), it mostly relied on the Novel as its cinematic wellspring. Not so much today, though Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic nightmares are popular with Tinsel Town's nihilists. Maybe it's time -- now that special effects are so sophisticated -- for a remake of Moby Dick. A computer-enhanced White Whale wouldn't sink in the Irish Sea, as John Huston's did. Though Melville's classic probably wouldn't do well at the box office, insofar as most Americans under forty haven't bothered to read it, including screenwriters from that age group.

As for remakes, here again, Hollywood shows its modern penchant for mediocrity. Rather than try the reader's patience with the movie industry's recent mundane efforts, I'll list all the upcoming "new" ones to be avoided: Guys and Dolls, Arthur, Straw Dogs, Red Dawn, Barbarella, and True Grit. Steven Spielberg is even redoing Jimmy Stewart's whimsical 1950 comedy Harvey. I think the whimsy will be lost in the translation.

As Dorothy Parker once wickedly said, "The only 'ism Hollywood believes in is plagiarism." 

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About the Author

Bill Croke, formerly of Cody, Wyoming, is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.