Hollywood appears to be a tender subject for film-lovers sometimes – I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on it myself. I am currently studying the relationship between spectacle and audience at university, and it throws light on how much of the industry’s interests lies with profit and the filling up of cinema seats. For example, the idea of a franchise: Spielberg and his Jurassic Park theme parks, the Jaws collector’s items, the endless array of products to buy that will “help me understand the context of the film”.
It cannot be denied that when looking at the mass amounts of films produced each year, all with glaring adverts screaming product differentiation, that it is hard to see when they’ll stop showing us something new. Will they ever pause for a moment from the high-budget, low-concept film, or likewise will they stop spending so much money on furthering high-quality technology? Hollywood is very much about consistent rejuvenation, difference in products and new experiences, all things to justify cinema prices and leaving the comfort of home viewing.
Art-house in comparison is often high-concept, with thicker narratives and characters, furthering instead of technology (Hollywood always has: from CGI in recent years, to widescreen forty years ago, to running the film-reels backwards during the very beginning of cinema), the avant-garde camera styles, editing, cinematography, and such. But does it deserve to be so snobbish about the admittedly greedy, undeniably material, industry it’s fighting so hard against? Is it pretentious in its need to make Hollywood seem so redundant?
During the French New Wave, many critics met the film festival revelations of cinema with great acclaim, certifying that the biggest directors in France, such as Jean Aurenche, had yet again created influential movies. One critic, however, called Francois Trauffaut, noticed a deficiency: where was the substance?
Trauffaut insisted he could make his views clear in the magazine he wrote for; Cahiers du Cinema. His work for this magazine not only dismissed the “Tradition of Quality” that French cinema abided by at the time, but influenced collectively groups of writers to see the gaps in the limp, similar storylines, thus defining the entire tone of the magazine (you could say he was the smug jester of the time, causing chaos here and there for all of these prolific directors). Death was but a “make-up job” in these films, a surreal subject brushed under the rug in a superficial manner, dramatic and painless. Everybody seemed to be following suit, the formula of film as much a science as it was an art, perhaps more so: realities of life were made redundant, and Trauffaut notes with sarcasm that none have emotional depth: “the school which aspires to realism destroys it at the moment of finally grabbing it”.
Funnily enough, this cinephiliac enjoyed American cinema immensely, in particular Hitchcock and Welles. Likewise, the critic who developed the “auteur” theory, Andrew Sarris, believed that Hollywood was the perfect machine to create films, make money and increase audience enjoyment. He believed that the inner personal visions of the directors could only truly be hindered if their ideas had been terrible in the first place. Although not a great person to acknowledge the collaborations of people other than the director (such as set designers, actors etc), Sarris made a valid point: that the individual’s artistic creativity could never be suppressed fully by Hollywood as they could always work around it, and the good critic would be able to see the great works amongst the commercial rubbish.
So holding these two up as evidence to suggest that even back in the 1960’s, there was always a battle between art-house and mainstream, let’s move onto a film by Richard Altman – M*A*S*H. To give a little insight, I read today a critic on a blog (like me, but with a lot more daily views, so maybe this post will have to quietly disappear) saying that Richard Altman’s anti-patriotic views were laughable, his liberalism extensive, blah blah, blah blah, I won’t name him. However, if I were to name him, I would call him Exhibit A, or more specifically Jed Babbin who writes for The Spectator, what a twat. This is precisely the type of person I do not like – my opinions are probably not as well-informed as his, being eighteen years old, but how can this man hate not only this film, but the ENTIRE industry of Hollywood?!
Firstly, I have to obviously say that the views in M*A*S*H of pacifism and war will be completely variable for everybody (if anybody) reading this blog-post, and I don’t wish to offend anybody’s views or even take mine into consideration. And even after that has been filtered out, the views of liberalism, and the conservative approach, could divide readers, but other than that, to look at the bigger picture; that M*A*S*H is not (well, not just) a mockery of America and its habit of going to War an awful lot. And here it is; the anti-war comedy, with even the opening shot showing that the viewer is in for something different, something that goes against the politics of the US. Thirty-three years ago this film was released, and yet still its back-story is remembered for the director’s habit of being so innovative.
Every soldier is ridiculed here. The speech is interruptive, with the PA system often taking a role in talking over everybody. The film itself lacks plot and direction, effectively showing us Altman’s views on how bizarre war is in itself, and how corrupt the Vietnam War was. Obviously, the studio didn’t let him say this at the time, but it truly was, despite its comical moments and often unnerving characters, about the sadness of it all, the circular deaths and hatred breeding hatred. It is jarring, disjointed, brave and powerful, and it rebels against the idea that one simply shouldn’t create a film about the inefficiencies of Vietnam. Surely to do so, to truly mock the system, it offered its deepest condolences with the lives lost.
Hollywood to me exemplified in the rebellious production of this film – whether your views are of the same as Altman’s, or Babbin’s, or you like arthouse better – it is true that here, a film was made even though many people frequently campaigned to get the director fired (a minor problem to Altman, who learned to “sneak things in”).
If anything, this disjointed view of the Vietnam War, its levels of cinematography so baffling and mischievous, shows Altman’s views: that the truth of it all, the many deaths and tragedies, lay in absurdity. In the same way that Richard Altman gave us a masterpiece amongst great chaos, in a time where being anything but patriotic was mocked, Hollywood gives us the machine, and the directors? The good ones manage to “sneak” through eventually, and true creativity cannot ever be suppressed.