The Movies: A Dwindling Joy of Summertime
Remember back in childhood when summer was the best time of the year? I remember anyway, by contrast with the painful, numbing sensation the hottest months now provide me. I should start this way: I do not like the heat. Often I sit inside the house, these days, avoiding the wretched crush of the blaring sunlight. Of course I don’t care for the cold either, age creeping up and allowing the forces of nature to sink deeper and deeper into my soon-to-be arthritic bones. But this is neither what I want to talk about, nor the agonizing home repair projects these few weeks allow my wife and I, as neither of us is currently burdened with much responsibility–at least for the first half of summer. My wife is a teacher and gets four full weeks before returning to teach summer school and I have the freedom to set my own hours. Both of our children are away at overnight camp. It is quiet, tranquil, and while we miss them, there is of course also a subversive pleasure in avoiding the demands, complaints and fighting of two hormonal teenagers. And yet something once looked forward to seems to have disappeared from our lives.
Of course I am talking about summer movies. I, like many of you, used to love this time of year in the theater. Remember that? Big budget monster movies and action flicks that burned adrenaline and helped you not just escape your humdrum life, but were so exciting you could leave after the show was over–even late at night–and wonder what to do next, racing around with joy until daybreak.
Today very little inspires us, although this is at least partially the result of growing older and having children. I mean, look at the line-up of big movies slated just for this month of July:
Of course there is Spider-Man: Far From Home, the first post Avengers: Endgame Marvel super-hero movie, and it honestly looks pretty good. The trouble here, at least for me, is the fact that these Marvel movies are, for my son’s generation, what Star Wars and Indiana Jones flicks were for me and my peers (although the explosion of so many titles all taking place within the same universe not only waters the series down, but gives you, like with the comic books I used to read [and kids today hardly bother with], the narrowing decision of picking your favorite. But nevertheless, these gigantic budget, massively successful movies serve the same purpose, every few months, that we used to wait three years for). The other problem, at least for me, is the fact that with my children away, I can’t even think of seeing this until they get home. This is made for them, and for me to take them. It makes the second biggest movie of the mid-summer out of reach.
Speaking of mid-summer, one film I will be seeing without them is Midsommer, a scary-looking horror flick that appeals to my inner nerd. Growing up I was a horror buff, literature and film, and even to this day I get excited over the idea of that rare high quality creepshow. Sure, this movie is more directed towards guys like me (or at least at those younger than I am with similar tastes), and it gives me something to look forward to as an escape. And yet it will be drowned out by the glare of the web-slinger and the other family or teen-oriented releases overwhelming the screens (Toy Story 4, Aladdin, and the forthcoming Lion King, certainly the biggest movie left to this summer–all movies I have an interest in seeing which no one else in my family cares for. I cannot picture myself, in my middle-forties, going by myself into a theater filled with screaming or even excited children, watching these stories by myself, the wretched glares of nervous and overwhelmed parents side-eying the creepy old guy sitting there anachronistically, presumably staring at their children).
Indifferent films like Crawl (a terrible-looking giant alligator movie; a superfluous addition to the already overwhelmed genre of ancient things eating people), and Stuber, quite possibly an entertaining piece about mismatched guys involved in some overly intricate crime story, played mostly for laughs (a tired genre)–these movies I will likely never wind up seeing, something that has increased as I’ve aged, the passing interests that the following year I will have forgotten enough about to not even bother on some sleepless night to put on for thirty-seven minutes before having had enough (that’s what Netflix is now for, right?)
There is–and it is what I most look forward to on screen this summer–Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, opening July 26, and I expect to love this. Although, and of course, at my age very few things fulfill the highest expectations, and pure enjoyment or being moved profoundly is no longer really a reaction in this broiling, burned out, cynical climate that overwhelms nearly everything else outside of the movies (and there are even movies being released today that reflect this trend, in the most atrocious ways possible; I think of the endless sequels to tired franchises, pure money-grabs to a dwindling audience, and the constant remakes, now of truly mediocre films that had a boom back in the VHS and early DVD days, redone with bigger budgets and far more sex or gore. None of these films are necessary, even if they wind up being pretty good.)
And so summer movie season has declined precipitously. Even the kids realize this, more interested in the same/similar Youtube video, or watching vague new shows on Netflix. And while some movies are definitely successful–those event films like Spider-Man and The Lion King will certainly make a fortune–there comes a time when we’ll get burned out completely on super-heroes and live action remakes of stories that still linger in our memories with affection. This is what has happened to our biggest international entertainment industry. And we can go back in time to every generation and watch them trash what movies have become (or even at the dawn of moving pictures about how they will corrupt society), but the interests of business, always relevant to which film gets made and when it will be released, has so overwhelmed the concept of story-telling in this greedy, selfish age, that the reflections of the real world seen through the remade fantasies from yesteryear merely wind up depressing the bulk of us, wishing the world away back inside our air-conditioned homes, blindly staring at whichever thing becomes available, briefly, on some streaming service, mostly another memory of a different time in your life.