u_topn picture
flashome picture
Atlantic Unbound Sidebar

The Decline of Film . . . Again?

WHAT'S happening to the movies? Back in 1964, in her essay "Are Movies Going to Pieces?," Pauline Kael lamented the decline of movies and their usurpation by a new, largely imported celluloid phenomenon: the art film. Kael was less than impressed. In an essay published in the December, 1964, issue of The Atlantic, she wrote:

"Movies are going to pieces; they're disintegrating, and the something called cinema is not movies raised to an art but rather movies diminished, movies that look "artistic." Movies are being stripped of all the "nonessentials"--that is to say, faces, actions, details, stories, places--everything that makes them entertaining and joyful."

Lucky for us all, Kael's prediction that movies--like opera--were on their way to becoming dull objects of academic study has failed to come true. But there are those who would sound Kael's alarm today, if for somewhat different reasons. Critic Mike Sragow is one of those people. In an Atlantic Monthly online conference last September, Sragow decried the decline of contemporary films, citing modern cinema's discontinuity with the past and lack of appreciation for older forms. But while Kael saw this decline as a sign of change in audience preferences, Sragow attributes it more to studio executives who, he says, increasingly display their "contemptuous treatment of the audience as an undifferentiated mass" by giving directors license to do little more than "play on nerve endings."

Along with Pauline Kael's perhaps premature eulogy of the movies, we're including an article she wrote for The Atlantic back in March of 1966 about actor Marlon Brando. Although she was later to rave about his performance in "Last Tango in Paris," in this piece Kael all but pronounces Brando's career dead, branding him "a self-parodying comedian." What are we to make of Kael's criticisms of actors and the movie industry as a whole? We've included a Book Review of Pauline Kael's "For Keeps: Thirty Years at the Movies" by Roy Blount Jr.

Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
Cover Atlantic Unbound The Atlantic Monthly Post & Riposte Atlantic Store Search