Have modern filmmakers become hollow men?

Producer, director, self-professed fan-boy – and most certainly, an Imagination Connoisseur, Jonny Stewart, follows up his last letter with a probing piece asking whether or not modern filmmakers have been “crushed” by the corporate money-making machines of today’s entertainment business. 

Greetings Rob and Fellow Robservationists!

Thank you for bringing me into the fold. This is a great community and I’m loving all of the episodes, comments and letters.

I wanted to follow up on my last letter which I had to end a bit abruptly.

I referred to the “War on Humanity” and sometimes how I feel that David Lynch may be the only voice in commercial entertainment that made it through. I wanted to expound on that and clarify my point, which happens to be about the almighty dollar.

As a cinema and sci-fi lover some of the recent forays and efforts from tentpole movie and TV properties and even some more cult-like films have left me a bit wanting, and even feeling deceived at times by our corporate over-lords.

I of course am a “fan-boy”, and saw all of the Marvel movies, Star Wars movies, Star Trek movies, and DC movies in theaters, some multiple times. I own many of the comics. I’ve debated the philosophical whims and goals of Batman, Superman, and yes, The Punisher. Some recent exhibitions I dissected while others I simply scoffed through and ate popcorn. I haven’t even finished Star Trek Discovery.

My underlying issue with most of these modern film and tv shows now is that they seem hollow. Often times it comes across that I’m simply being strung-along for the next set-piece, political comment, joke, or action-sequence, only to be left feeling like I got rused. Where has the originality gone? Originality at its core challenges us and our psyche, and other than some of my favorite Lynch shows, Nolan masterpieces, and Villeneuve explorations, I feel challenged by little now.

I could go into a list of all the disappointing times this pandering has happened, but it would no doubt fill the entire show, and in most cases many would agree on the moments and likely already know the things I’m referring to – okay maybe one for fun good measure – the entire Last Jedi film.

As for Lynch, I tend to think that the greatly lit Kubrick torch of old was first passed to him. Sure Lynch is obtuse, allegorical, and sometimes downright confusing at times, but at least he’s damn original and challenges the mind. I could watch the originality of a Lynch outing, much as I did his latest Twin Peaks outing, with the same pursed lips and boggled mind that a Kubrick mind-bender brought me.

The commercial machine of capitalism has brought us such classics as mediocre Marvel movies to boot, TV series wrought with failings, and killed properties that haven’t seen the light of day. Hell, take the Star Trek mentions you’ve made that were shelved never to see their true audience, or even the crushing way two ambitious show-runners at HBO ran the enduring George RR Martin into the ground with their final, often loathed seasons of Game of Thrones.

To me, outside of Lynch, Nolan, and Villeneuve, most all other commercially viable purveyors of art have been crushed by the fascist machinations and ideals of an Ayn Rand writ about society of drones. If it don’t sell, we don’t make it. Or actually more clearly: if it don’t make us a billion dollars, we ain’t making it.

I for one want my art-in-cinema back. I want my Kubrick. I want my Fellini. Hell, even my more real-to-life Truffaut or Godard would be just fine. Nowadays these types of films get buried into the lost streaming categories of Amazon Prime – which I of course often peruse.

I think nowadays I most often find glimmers of hope in Hollywood in Lynch, Nolan, and Villeneuve, and sometimes fresh things like the independent film “Vivarium” and a very good fresh sci-fi outing like “Upgrade” – which if you haven’t seen these I recommend watching.

Thus ends (or begins my rant) on the state of cinema and TV today.

I dig around and find things I enjoy, like The Prisoner. But I’d rather see these unique things celebrated as blockbusters.

Here’s hoping to seeing Tenet soon on the big screen.

Live long and prosper,
– Jonny

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