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Film: What’s Really Going On

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES August online 2015

Drawing by Henry P. Raleigh for August 2015 arttimesonline

I ran across this item in the New York Times Store gift list of oddities and antiques ‑ going for $950 is a chromed Smith-Corona typewriter circa 1950. An antique? An oddity? OK, I guess there are those few around who don’t know what typewriters are and the 50’s are a distant and little known past. Still, there is something of concern here and it’s all explained by a recent bestseller, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century which has something to do with class boundaries and mobility and whatever - I’ll explain more when I get through it - economics, after all isn’t my strong suit. At any rate it seems that after several decades of middle class growth and prosperity, enjoying typewriters, small screen TVs and films like “On the Waterfront” “High Noon” and “An American in Paris” and Doris Day and Rock Hudson - well, sir the party ends. Popular culture, or as we like to say “low” culture began colluding with “high “ culture and before you know it, there isn’t any middle class or maybe everything is middle class. Our political leaders have for some time been warning the middle class is DOA or is it KIA? OK, that’s the way it is and that’s one reason we don’t have any family type movies as we once did in the Golden Age (read middle class) of Hollywood films. That, as you may know, was the hey-day of the B movie, clean, morally up-lifting, the sustainer and protector of middle-brow values. So there you have it - no more middle class, no need wasting time sustaining and protecting something as anachronistic as a typewriter. Besides Mr. Piketty is suggesting, I figure, that money is the go-to value and that’s why you see, today’s films are divided into “big money”, tent-pole, epic superhero A’s and “little money low budget B’s, independents fussing around social issues, niche topics and as much risqué sex and horror as can be squeezed in.

Now I guess Mr. A.O Scott’s theory of “Strained Pulp” that I reported on last spring can be seen as a futile effort to return to mid-list movies, the family B’s, without necessarily sacrificing the hot sexy stuff and bathroom humor. He’s not alone in this for, in desperation I suppose, other film writers hope to identify something called the “New Action" film. These are like the old action movies but eliminating everything save the action. “Fury” is a New Action film - a standard 50’s style war film (pulp) about a Sherman tank and little else (new action.) “John Wick” another familiar vengeance plot (pulp) highly strained, leaving Keanu Reeves a Clint Eastwood clone, busy busy in non-stop mayhem (New Action.) But saddest of all in hopeless attempts to revitalize middle-brow aesthetics is the blatant re-doing of past icons as in the recent “Dumb and Dumber To” original cast and all.

Neither typewriters nor the middle class will be helped by any of these things. It all comes down to money - just as Mr. Piketty says, all right.

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