Thursday, April 17, 2008

MOVIES- Star Wars and beyond

Over at CBR George Khouri makes one of the most concise and eloquent analyses of STAR WARS that I’ve ever read (props once again to my brother from another mother G.F. in leading me to this). He makes the case for STAR WARS being the pivotal movie, and indeed the most influential cultural phenomenon, in the last generation. It’s hard to argue with. The movie changed everything that would come after it by reaching back to everything that had come before it. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away is so much more than a tagline. It’s a statement of intent, a mission statement, a state of mind. Khouri does a masterful job of placing the original STAR WARS into the milieu of what movies had become when this revolutionary film hit the screens. It was a return to classic moviemaking after an era when movies had become so cynical, so disheartening, and so realistic that a return to what movies had been for most of the history of film was considered refreshing, novel, and revolutionary.

I feel safe in saying that no film has had the impact on film in general that Lucas’ initial foray into space opera had. It’s hard to even count the departures from what was considered the axioms of successful film that STAR WARS embodied. It was released in the summer- at a time when conventional wisdom said that summer was the time to release films that wouldn’t do well to start with- a lull for the industry. Now all blockbusters are released in the summer. STAR WARS literally changed the whole industry’s thinking on what the best time to present films to the audience was.

It was science fiction (not really, but it looked and felt and seemed to be to the mass audience and the industry moguls), a genre that was a niche market at best, a literary and film ghetto at worst. Yet it proved what Ray Bradbury had said for years, that science fiction was the literature of our times. It spoke to people about the world they found themselves in. If Dickens, Poe, Chaucher, or Shakespeare were writing today, they wouldn’t be writing character dramas, or horror, or sundries, or historical plays. They would be writing science fiction. Because we live in a science fiction world. Everyone carries a communication device that links them to everyone else in the world in their pocket. Everyone owns a computer that can do hundreds of millions of calculations a second and links them to a worldwide repository of knowledge. Wikipedia, a constantly updated encyclopedia of all human knowledge with over 10 million articles, exists- something that was impossible and thought to be some flight of fancy only a decade ago. When we go to the doctor we get pictures of our insides made with invisible light, or magnetism, or even antimatter. Our cities are glowing sculptures of glass and steel that anyone from any past epoch would think are the abode of the gods. It goes on and on. And all this in the span of a human lifetime. I grew up on a farm without plumbing, where we grew most of our own food and were tied to the land and our animals for existence every day. I live in a world where everything I use and need to live is of exquisite workmanship and embody technological marvels that I only read about when I was young. Just like everyone else- I live in a science fiction world.

But as a cultural phenomenon, STAR WARS was the breaking point for the last generation. Today, the young can hardly imagine a world without Cell Phones, and the Internet, and Computers. They look at things differently, in just the same way that the last generation could only think of a world without telephones and electricity and automobiles. For most of human history we only had speech. Reading and writing were only for the select few. After Guttenburg we had the written word. Literacy became the entry into human society. A hundred years ago Edison invented a way to store pictures that moved. That way of human communication is nearing an end but it hasn’t yet. The latest generation is still informed by film and television. So what is the latest and perhaps last paradigm shift for our world that will come from film?

That tomorrow.

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