Today, I read an blog-post by a movie critic Devin Faraci bemoaning the decline of good storytelling in movies and film. It got me thinking. I posted a comment. Thought I’d expand on it and share here:
Like you (Mr. Faraci), I want more movies that provide at least a medium standard of storytelling skill. I feel insulted by a poorly told story that I’ve been asked to spend money on. Most of my friends believe that a poor story, no matter how well told, is a waste of money. We are more content than ever to wait for movies to show up on cheap or free TV. It’s not about the ticket price. We’ll spend ‘theater money’ on a good story.
I also am discouraged by a year’s offerings that have so little to do with life as I know it – diverse, complex, challenging, goofy, unexpected, heartbreaking, thrilling, real, alive. I don’t see much of this in the predictable or formulaic visions (dark, heroic, fantasy, or romantic) that become more boring with every copy or repetition. Yes, sometimes I go to movies to ‘escape’, but even then I hope for a solid, somewhat original story.
That brings up the issue that as you age beyond teendom, you become more experienced, more discerning. You become more capable of recognizing and, with writer’s skills, of telling a good story. A fallout of age-ism in Hollywood: tho there are plenty of great young storytellers, age-ism significantly reduces the number of great stories overall coming out of Hollywood and, with the decline of audiences older than 30, reduces aggregate annual box office tallies.
Some think that abandoning ‘what works now’ means no ticket sales. I think the issue isn’t quality of story, but how accessibly that story is told. People seem to crave good stories that are well and accessibly told through point of view, pace, character, etc.
Spielberg filled movie theaters with a patently fake shark and a good story. Lucas filled movie theaters with fake other-worlds, melodrama, pretty good actors, and good story. The Notebook may be schmaltzy, but the story was good and it sold tons of tickets. Biographical movies that told good stories and sold tons of tickets: Braveheart, Lincoln, Erin Brockovitch, Amadeus, Roots, American Hustle, and too many more to name. Good mystery movies with solid stories: Sixth Sense, Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Inception. Sure, I, like many, wish for more diversity in theme and characters. And, that would just add to the pot of more great, diverse, interesting stories to draw from.
I could go on, but …
I see another risk in poor storytelling. We learn from stories, whether from movies, books, TV, or our next-door neighbor. We learn bits about how the world might work, skills, manners of speech, how different people might think-feel-act, exposure to different problems and solutions, and, sometimes, how to treat each other. The specter of living in a society of people who’ve been casually educated by stupid stories, stupid choices (like that Mr. Faraci describes in the Jurassic Park premise) frightens me. Now more than ever we need good stories accessibly told to help us navigate, with brains and humor, the social/science/tech/political life we find ourselves in and to help us envision a world we want to live in.
What do you think?