City Journal Winter 2016

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By Andrew Klavan:

The Identity Man

Books and Culture

Andrew Klavan
American Movies, Foreign Minds
Hollywood no longer honors our nation’s uniqueness.
August 6, 2010

Two recent articles in the Wall Street Journal confirm a lot of people’s feelings about modern American movies. The first, a witty tirade by Joe Queenan, asks whether 2010 is the worst year for movies ever:

Go into a movie theater any day of the week and watch as the audience sits listlessly through a series of lame, mechanical trailers for upcoming films that look exactly like the D.O.A. movies audiences avoided last week.

Maybe one should never say “ever,” but after watching Robin Hood and Prince of Persia—and even after not watching Sex and the City 2 and The Last Airbender—I feel Queenan’s pain.

The second article, by Lauren A. E. Schuker, takes an agonizingly clear-eyed look at the growing—or maybe I should say full-grown—influence of foreign audiences on theoretically American movies:

The rising clout of international audiences is a sea change for Hollywood. Decades ago, a movie’s foreign box office barely registered with studio executives. Now, foreign ticket sales represent nearly 68 percent of the roughly $32 billion global film market, up from roughly 58 percent a decade ago. . . .

The result is that one of the most American of products is now being retooled to suit foreign tastes. Studios have begun to cast foreign actors in American-themed blockbusters like “G.I. Joe.” Scripts are being rewritten to lure global audiences. And studios are cutting back on standard Hollywood fare like romantic comedies because foreign movie-goers often don't find American jokes all that funny.

It certainly seems at least possible that the second article explains the first. That is, perhaps the economic necessity of appealing to countries other than America has sapped American movies of their quality. For surely, the thing that once made American movies so great was the greatness of unique American values: individualism, self-reliance, a healthy disrespect for the powerful, and the romance of infinite territory.

American movies used to be big because we and the world used to see America as big: big in our dreams, big in our plans, big somehow in our souls. Consider this description from British nurse Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth as she watches the first American doughboys marching to the front during World War I:

They looked larger than ordinary men: their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the under-sized armies of pale recruits to which we had grown accustomed. At first I thought their spruce, clean uniforms were those of officers, yet obviously they could not be officers, for there were too many of them; they seemed, as it were, Tommies in heaven. . . . I wondered, watching them move with such rhythm, such dignity, such serene consciousness of self-respect.

It took stars like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart to depict that race of men—and epics like Stagecoach, High Noon, and The Philadelphia Story. Do you think the pewling, self-hating, apologizing, and appeasing leftists who dominate so much of the arts these days see us like that?

American movies used to be important because the stakes were so high. We were the last, best hope of earth. What happened here mattered to everyone. If the good guys lost in America, they lost everywhere. If they won, everyone had a fighting chance. The Left has sought to make us forget this about ourselves. They teach that it’s virtuous to believe this country is just one more in the list of nations. It’s not. History proves it never was.

American movies will not be great again until they’re made by artists who comprehend America’s unique greatness. Let the rest of the world make its own movies.

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