“The Movies are great medicine. Thank you Thomas Edison, for giving us the best years of our lives.” – The Statler Brothers
In 2010, I wrote one edition of Deer In Headlines that discussed how a good movie can transport you to a colorful land somewhere over the rainbow, show you what it means to have true grit or take you into the final frontier of space. At the movies, you can travel through time in a DeLorean, see pirate ships battle on the high seas or even visit a galaxy far, far away. But in the short time since my first, brief exploration on the subject of film, a lot has changed.
The first known film production ever recorded was a British piece called Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed in 1888 by inventor Louis Le Prince. When first introduced, people hardly took notice of motion pictures as they were more a science experiment in optics than an entertainment medium.
Shot at only 12 frames per second, on highly flammable celluloid plastic, that first grainy movie lasted a mere two seconds but pioneered what would become one of the most lucrative industries of the 20th Century and beyond. From silent features starring Douglas Fairbanks, to the first talkies, movies have a special place in the history of American culture.
Many lines from feature films have worked their way into our cultural dialect. Who can forget Sean Connery’s first delivery of, “Bond, James Bond,” or Roy Scheider’s astonished look as he calmly noted, “I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” What about Clark Gable’s straight-forward parting line to Scarlet O’Hara, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a,” well, you know the rest of it.
Today, however, while I believe movies still offer a level of escapism, I don’t believe they’re as well done or memorable as in the past. There was a time when, whatever your taste, someone out there was making a movie just for you. For all of us there is that one, special movie or that single line of dialogue that we carry with us our whole lives, but it just doesn’t seem like the most recent generation of films have the same staying power.
One of the reasons, at least in my opinion, is Hollywood’s complete and total disregard for originality. Everything seems to be a reboot, either of a previously successful film franchise or television program. The best movie I’ve seen in a while was the “Lego Batman” animated film. It was entertaining, full of nostalgia, and just a fun movie. Oddly original too, despite its familiar characters and settings.
If you want originality today, you have to get away from the mainstream box office and explore the countless number of independent films being produced around the country. Distributed on a much smaller scale, indie films can offer the same escapism as the summer blockbusters, but usually with original stories told in a much more creative way.
Created by small production companies, and lacking the mind-blowing budgets afforded to mainstream movies, an indie film must be more solid at the story level, unable to depend on “whiz bang” special effects to keep audiences engaged. And they’re not really geared toward moviegoers with short attention spans. These films tend to be rich in storytelling and move more slowly.
Independently produced films are tough to find at your local multiplex, so you’ll have to scan local newspapers and event websites for listings. And if you’re a streamer, Netflix and Amazon Prime both have a great selection of indies, from romantic comedies to more dark features. You’ll have to read some reviews and get some background before choosing one because the titles are not always as descriptive as they could be.
So my advice is that if you want to see high quality movies with great storytelling and an emotional hook that really makes you feel and think, you’ll have to look outside Hollywood. Great, new films are still, and I was skeptical too. But indie films offer a great alternative to the unoriginal, one-dimensional movies now flooding the cinema. See you at the movies.