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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Cinema: A Life

An Op-Ed 

Cinema is not dead but it is indeed on life support. Not the films themselves. Not yet, anyway. There are still extraordinary artists out there whose work is worthy of residing among the gods. I’m referring to the culture surrounding cinema, which is vital in its ability to thrive and function. 

Many people talk about how they want cinema to have another golden age. I don’t. I want the cinema to have something bigger. Something better. I want cinema to have an entire ocean of films made with a quality that’s never been tried before. I want filmmakers to have complete creative control over studios and full access to whatever they need to make their films perfect. Filmmakers make great films when they have the means to do it. Studios, Pay careful attention: GIVE THEM THEIR MEANS. They can make magic if you give them their spellbooks. 

I want actors to be psychologically brave enough to commit to extreme stories that aren’t told often. Many but not enough and stretch themselves, to do what makes you uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable is not the same as feeling unsafe or working with someone who doesn’t care how you feel. Defying discomfort is power for artists because it makes them limitless and powerful enough to endorse and carry profound bodies of work to audiences' eyes. 

Filmmakers give as much time as they need to make their work perfect and perfectly meet their intended vision. Maestro’s can’t conduct their orchestras if they are rushed. A certain HBO show that’s become a cultural worldwide phenomenon has taken much longer than expected for its 3rd and final season to come out (Many know what show I’m talking about, I know you're excited too!). I’m anxiously waiting for it but I’m doing it graciously and patiently because I know the creator/showrunner will ensure its perfection by taking his time and not throwing a whole bunch of ingredients into a pot like lots of shows do because they are rushed by the networks who care about viewing numbers and money before the quality of what they’re selling. Filmmakers & executives have to make a living. I get that but financially, anything beyond a studio’s necessary means to live should be spent on ensuring the guarantee of greatness. 

It isn’t that a film has to be a box office success to be a masterpiece. It doesn’t. It’s truly a great film “Deserve” to be seen by as many people as possible, discussed throughout the world, and the impact it’s made for. It’s 2024. America is amid the greatest divide and historical reckoning the human race has ever known. This is the era of absolutely no return. This should be the time when cinema doors are flooding with tsunamis of audiences who are open-minded enough to watch films of all genres. They’re not. 

“Everyone has their tastes.” I constantly read. No, no, no, no. It’s not the audience's “Tastes”. It’s their “Attention Spans.” We as audiences have to stop seeing the act of moviegoing as simply “Going to the movies”. Cinema is so much bigger than that. Moviegoing is empowerment. Moviegoing is rebellion. Moviegoing is an entire identity. I want people to see various kinds of films with the ability to reflect. I want audiences to focus and pay close attention but not think too hard in that they can’t experience the kind of magic cinema is known for. It ISN'T that hard. Once you as an audience regain your power and use it without limits, you’ll get used to it. You’ll feel reborn. 

I want audiences as a collective group to focus the entire time. The film starts when the previews start.  The lights go down and the screen lights up.  It is time to pay attention, not gab and distract others. There’s nothing worse than trying to give yourself to a film and have those around reviewing the film in real time.  Save it for when the credits roll.  That’s the time to be excited to talk amongst each other afterward. The end of the movie is only just the beginning.  The whole point of cinema is to experience everything. I could watch Matt Reeves' The Batman, Mad Max: Fury Road & Furiosa all in one week but I EQUALLY enjoy the quiet, patient, simple melancholy of a Kelly Reichardt film. I can watch a buffet of Mission Impossible films while appreciating a Dee Rees, Alice Diop, or Ryusuke Hamaguchi film. 

Audiences should also be able to feel confident enough to chat with strangers after the film as they walk out. You're all there for the same thing. The community of cinephiles is much bigger than you think, you just have to have sincere passion within you and if you can’t feel it, you’ll find it once you participate more. The art of making a truly great film is not to make a film audiences want to see but a film audiences want to see “Several Times”. That’s why both Dune films were so successful. That’s why Oppenheimer was so successful. 

We as audiences also need to develop much stronger stomachs & psychologies. There are great people in this world but also individuals of absolute evil and the world overall has become limitlessly evil. Maybe it’s always been. If goodness prevails, we have to acknowledge the difference between “Hearing vs Seeing”. Cinema opens people’s eyes and makes culturally significant changes. If so many films weren't censored, the political outspokenness many actors partake in now probably wouldn’t be seen as patronizing. It can feel that way often though, because so many kinds of stories and people are being ignored completely. 

Audiences share this responsibility too. We have to “Care enough” to see what is most distressing to us. Films can have severe psychological impacts on us. I can’t pretend that they don’t. That’s human nature, though. It says wonderful things about you as a person if you find yourself distraught. What I have no tolerance for in cinema is “Weak People”. I don’t mean that in the traditional sense. If you can’t get through a traumatizing film without feeling extreme distress or sobbing or feeling rage, that’s ok. That’s not weakness, that’s strength. I applaud that. It’s when people weaponize their discomfort and use it as a shield so that they don’t have to watch and pay attention to stories or images that upset them, my blood boils and eventually explodes. 

I think that is so tone-deaf and beyond selfish. So many people are truly living the kinds of existences seen in stories and when people can’t even bring themselves to watch because it’s too upsetting or “Triggering” for them, they become just as culpable as the perpetrators onscreen. 

Whether, it’s severe brutality & violence, war, rape, bloodshed, illness, racism, animal cruelty, environmental devastation, or whatever else it may be, watching that is NOTHING compared to experiencing it. Watching a slow, realistic depiction of these events can be a way of experiencing it to an extent and admittedly could be dangerous for those battling severe depression but people can’t just DECIDE that reality is too much for them. We have to try and make our way through on behalf of people who can’t. 

We have to feel love for those suffering more than we feel discomfort for their circumstances. Empathy is humanity’s greatest strength and it’s dying out. We can save it and cinema is a great way of doing that. All anyone wants is to be seen and to be heard. For audiences to put their comfort levels first is to ignore those who are suffering and silence their voices further. You don’t want to be someone who does that. If you see someone sobbing after a devastating film, it’s ok to hug them and say “I, know”. That’s what would make audiences strong enough to see films that provoke that kind of reaction. Crying is its language. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak it. 

TV is a means of visual storytelling as well. If film studios and TV networks decide to give audiences truly great stories nonstop, eventually we’d have to adapt to all of them. If a film or show is brilliant and an audience doesn’t like it and the industry keeps making stories like it, those audiences eventually will settle in as an audience because they have no choice. It’s like a child refusing to eat their vegetables. If you don’t feed them anything else, eventually, they’d rather eat what’s in front of them than starve. Audiences are STARVING for great cinema & shows. For the industry to do its part and provide us with the magic it can create, audiences have to do their part too, and support this art form. We need to “Grow Up”. I don’t mean that disrespectfully or condescendingly. I just mean that we are all capable of giving so much more of ourselves to art than we are now. 

A truly beautiful, smart, and amazing friend of mine is a professor, she's in the military a good deal of the time and even SHE finds the time to binge multiple shows and see so many films throughout the year. “I love films,” she said. “I want to experience it all”. 

Even rewatching great films from not that long ago would be a decent place to start. This year's Palme d’Or winner Anora is a film I couldn’t be more excited for if I tried. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project & Tangerine are truly among my favorite movies of all time and I don’t have a whole lot of those (That’s like picking your favorite child). Those two films have absolutely zero flaws and have to be the two most “American” movies of all time. These are stories about people who have been thrown down to the fucking bottom with nowhere lower to go. These people are the scraps this country’s abandoned, discarded, and forgotten. Sean Baker tells these stories because HE WANTS TO TELL THEM. He could’ve made anything else and he chose his films. He has no issues using professionals & nonactors, finding locations himself, getting to know the various communities, improvising on set, having NO censorship, and doing it all with a cinephile's warm beating heart and having NO ulterior motive. People like him are filmmakers who are going to save cinema. Cinephiles who follow all this advice are the audiences who are going to save it. Industry professionals AND audiences. We all have to work together here. Do your part and eventually, we’ll achieve victory. 

That’s what cinema ultimately is. Victory. Cinema is water and theaters are vast, big, and beautiful oceans. Now seems as good a time as any to jump back in the water. 

Cinema is not dead but it is indeed on life support and it is counting on us to resuscitate it.

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