The Good Old Days

Sometimes, on a rare lazy Sunday afternoon, my wife and I will try to go to the movies. “Try” is the operative word, because more often than not, we can’t find anything that makes us want to leave the house (and spend forty bucks for two matinee tickets, two drinks and a medium popcorn).

I understand that Hollywood isn’t making movies with me in mind. Movies are a business whose target demographic is teenage  boys. That’s why we’re subjected to mostly action flicks, action sequels and dumb comedies (with plenty of bodily function action). If you’ve read my blogs, or my books, you know I’m no elitist. When I’m in the right mood, I get just as much entertainment value from “Iron Man 2” or “Hot Tub Time Machine” as the next emotionally-stunted middle-aged male.

But every now and then, I want something different. Something like “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Last Detail,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” or “Chinatown.”

(Quick digression: A few years ago, I ventured into my local Hollywood Video and asked if they had “Chinatown” in stock. The teenage girl, eager to help, disappeared into the back, emerged five minutes later and triumphantly handed me “Big Trouble in Little China.” That’s when I joined Netflix.)

In any event, those films have a couple of things in common. First, they starred Jack Nicholson in his prime, back when he was full of that wild-eyed crazy-ass intensity, when he still had something to prove. (Not like now, going through the motions in-between trotting out his well-worn shtick.) Second, none of them could get produced by a major studio today. They’d have to go the indie route, assuming they could find investors at all.

Here’s the strange part. When Jack and his films were considered mainstream (along with Pacino, Hoffman, Hackman and the like), my friends and I were in our late teens and early twenties. We were the target audience. Those guys were our role models. I took my vocabulary to a new level after watching “The Last Detail.” I grew my first beard after watching “Serpico.” I learned all about “Poughkeepsie” and pork pie hats after watching “The French Connection.” Those movies had lots of action. But they also had lots  of smarts. We got entertained and learned some cool stuff in the process.

Today’s fare is just plain dumber. And I know what that makes me: a curmudgeon. It happens. My personal theory is it’s life’s way of preparing you to die. At some point, if you live long enough, you get sick of everything and taking that long nap doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I’m not there yet, hopefully not even close. But I can see where this is heading.

That’s not to say that I’m one of those guys who thinks everything was better in the good old days. Whether we’re talking about books, movies, music or sports, every era had its share of stinkers. (Don’t believe me? Listen to replays of Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.”) It just seems like there’s more of them now. It might have something to do with the corporatization of America, the unwillingness of studios and publishers to bet on anything except a sure thing.

The irony, of course, is there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Bubbles burst, trends end and you can’t time the market. So, as creative people, you may as well write something you like. That’s the only sure thing I know of.