Cinema started as an unpretentious form of entertainment, and today in the age of superhero megamovies in 3D it might have reached its zenith as a form of massive hypnosis and mindless diversion with merchandising. But there was a brief period, that lasted maybe from the 50 until the 70s, when Film was considered a major form of Art. Before that, no one took film seriously; after that, nobody cared anymore.
During that brief decades the world had Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, Tarkovski, Kubrick, Wilder, Truffaut, Malle, Kurosawa and several other filmmakers who developed new ways of telling stories and seemed to be expanding the possibilities of cinema in ways not thought before.
Today, what is left of that? There are a few aging French directors. There is Michel Haneke, who seems to be highly praised by today’s critics, but to be honest his films always leave me cold. Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese and all the great American directors of the 70s seem to either have gotten tired or to have sold out long ago.
Maybe I have aged too; maybe it’s not cinema that lost its power but myself. It is also true that the music I tend to hear even today is not very recent, the most “modern” ones are from the 80s or 90s; can’t stomach much of what came after that. Has the world changed or have I changed?
One thing that certainly took place was a continental shift. Maybe what happened was not so much the decay of art cinema as the decay of European art cinema: Europe became somehow less important in film-making (where are the great Italian masters of today, for instance?) and the United States lost its inferiority complex towards Europe: Woody Allen and Scorsese stopped imitating the European masters and developed their own style, and the younger directors such as P. T. Anderson didn’t even look to Europe as a model anymore. But perhaps the real news of the last decades is the emergence of a new Asian cinema, with Japan, Korea and Taiwan making some of the most innovative films out there.
Still, it seems true that cinema is no longer thought by many as a major form of art. Perhaps the most famous director working nowadays is Quentin Tarantino, and that says a lot. Whatever you think about his work, it can hardly be called serious in the sense that those works of the 60s were. (However, it is also true that many of the films of the 60s and 70s were certainly overvalued and some of them did not age so well.)
The public has also changed, it is true. Most films today are created for an audience of teenagers, or for adults that are still mentally teenagers, which would be the majority of the population of the world today. However, it is also true that we tend to see things in a diverse way nowadays, so maybe it’s not so much cinema that changed but ourselves.
In terms of mere technique, cinema improved a lot. And, because technology also reduced the costs and improved the quality, there is a vast array of independent movies that continue to create more original works, even if having less exposure to the commercial market, or maybe because of that.
Still, I can’t remember any good recent director that could be the equivalent of a Fellini or a Bergman in those earlier times, but I could be wrong. I don’t watch as many films as I did before. Indeed, has the world changed or have I changed?
Here’s an article saying that intelligent movies are dead, another saying that they not dead yet but are dying, and finally a contrary view saying that the death of cinema is just an impression of nostalgic old fools.