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Does today's Hollywood stack up to the Hollywood of decades past?

October 29, 2010 |  6:43 pm

One of the perks, or hazards, of writing about contemporary films is that you often get letters and messages from readers about the weakness of said films. Nothing today, goes the refrain, is as original/good/uncynical as it once was (which is probably why the remake trend both exists and gets people so riled up).

Like analyzing World Series teams from different eras, these are questions entirely without resolution,  but not without arguments (and arguers). Are "Inception" and "Avatar" as groundbreaking in this era as "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" were in theirs? Could Humphrey Bogart or Marlon Brando act circles around Matt Damon or Javier Bardem?

The cable network TCM has now tried to see how pervasive these feelings really are. To commemorate its upcoming airing of the seven-part series "Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Contemporary Hollywood," the channel polled 1,000 people (nearly half of whom self-identified as “classic film enjoyers”) to see how the current film era measures up in the popular imagination.

Certainly there are some achievements that, quite literally, can't be compared. Even if an overhwhelming number of respondents (71%) believe that Denzel Washington "carries on the tradition" of Sidney Poitier, most of them wouldn't deny Poitier faced obstacles few contemporary black actors do.

And one hopes that some of the findings aren't representative -- such as when nearly 25% of respondents said they believe that Antonio Banderas exemplifies, more than anyone else, Errol Flynn in the modern era. (The survey design may also skew the results, as the questions cite the older era but all of the multiple-choice answers come from the present-day; it might have been more instructive to include choices from a number of eras and see where each landed.)

Still, in many respects the survey shows that we believe the present is, in fact, just as good as the past.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents, for instance, believe that Steven Spielberg's influence matches that of Alfred Hitchcock. And 73% were willing to say that modern power couples such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt or Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones stack up favorably to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

There may be a kind of cognitive dissonance at work here. In the abstract, we might think that the old days were better. But when we actually get down to specific comparisons, we rather like our current stars and films.

There were, of course, some exceptions. When asked if there was a contemporary version of Marilyn Monroe, "None of the Above" outranked everyone, even Jolie. Some things really were better in the past.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Gone with the Wind. Credit: MGM.


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The present is not even close.
Too much money wasted; way too much insiders only.
And everyone thinks they can automatically write, direct and act and they can't.

Where Stephen may be close to Hitchcock; he's not the Hitch Man.
What Hitch did for far less money and spectacle was primarily focused on
the script and writers before everything else...including marketing and distrib.
Once the script is truly nailed down...the storyboards -- the visual template for
visual driven stories called...movies was the next step for Hitch.
It's really hard to screw up a good story that way.

But Hollywood present continues to do so.
And will...until they straighten up.

Because in the digital age...artists -- not suits -- who know their audiences and
give them exactly what they want -- for far, far less money -- are going to take over.

I'm sorry, but along w/ being sexaaay, and being known for playing an airhead ditzy blonde (yeah, yeah, yeah, supposedly Monroe was actually smart, mmkay, shut up) -- wouldn't a similar present day star have to have an affair with a President, be hooked on pills, overdose and die, to measure up (or measure down) to Monroe? The closest anyone has come, is probably Anna Nicole Smith.

Maybe script considerations have taken a hit, but what about cinematography? Just look at "The Social Network" -- it just looks so lush!

If you're comparing eras of Hollywood, sure, maybe today's atmosphere is too money driven, etc. But if you look at film as an art in general, today can't help but be better -- there are so many people doing it that there are many more interesting films that come out all the time if we look at everything on the indie circuit, not to mention things that don't even get a wide distribution.

Even if they took away your Netflix, would you rather go see a movie on Friday night in a city with an arthouse cinema or two today or in the past?

In two words: Hell no!

I flip the cable channel. Theres a movie with someone killing someone. Flip. A girl in a bathtub, covered with blood. Flip.Someone is shoting a gun. Flip. Someone pulls a knife. Flip. Horror movie. Flip Horror movie. Glip. Horror movie. Flip. Idiotic romantic comedy of very rich people who dont work. Flip. Car chase. Flip. Building blowing up. Flip some one is shooting someone. Flip Some one pulls a knife. Flip. Black gun pulls a knife. Flip Latino shoots someone in the face.Flip. Naked girl screaming while a man humps her from behind. Flip--Need I go on?

In some ways yes, and in too many ways no. http://www.blueribbonpress.net/Newscast.htm

There is no Hollywood anymore. Whenever I see the tour buses ambling through the relics, I imagine the guide telling the group "This is where Hollywood used to be."

The so-called stars of today merely seem like high school classmates you weren't impressed with even then.

Ironman Carmichael, you are so right.

Hollywood today sucks, compared with yesterday. It is very difficult to watch a movie today and say it was good

Is there a link to this survey? As a classic movie fan myself -- but one who tries to view things in a historical context, not simply wallow in nostalgia -- I'd like to see the results.

As far as animation, I'd say Pixar's output is certainly better than Disney's classic animation period. It's not just their incredible animation technology, it's how they always perfect one thing FIRST: the story. Writing rules at Pixar.
By contrast, although "Avatar" was a giant hit, its weakness was the story. Too many live action films today have terrible screenplays by bad writers.

Hopefully, our friends with the digital crayons will be able to bring back the old stars someday soon. I'd much rather watch a digital Greer Garson than a real Angelina Jolie. At least we wouldn't have to see her "tats".

Ultimately it's all about the scripts. Today's are generally awful and rely on blood or special effects to bail themselves out.

Even yesterday's cartoons are better.

Today's movie and TV are junk except for Nature and History shows. I'll watch almost any mid 1930's to early 1960's shows. And Liz Taylor is not included. She could not hold a candle to a Hepburn or Myrna Loy.

For all of today's "action" or "reality" none of them can compare to Old Hollywood movies like The Cantebury Ghost going thru a wall. All these wonderful tricks without a computer.

Back in the past, Hollywood trained the actors and actresses how to Act, Dance and Sing. Today's people can't do any of that. They just run from one explosion, shooting or romp in the sheets to the next.

To today's junk I say NUTS!

I have since tracked down the site for the poll:


Does anything in this country stack up to the past?! Hell no, but Hollywood is a toilet bowl of brainless !@#$!

I'm a a major movie goer my entire life but the crap coming our now days is 90% aliens, idiotic frat comedies, Jim Carry garbage, Ben Stiller garbage, Adam Sandler trash, and that dip-wad from The Office and his mind numbing non-comedies, assorted violent BS and endless vampire crap.

We have to wait for months between the very few mature, well- written films that do get made and then sit through previews for the junky, immature under forties pulp that runs before every movie at sound volumes so loud I've actually covered my ears and on occasion just left and got my money back.

Don't even get me started on the state of politics, general rude behavior or insanity on the freeways.

What do YOU think is better now days?????????? Believe me after the 60's 70's this country headed for the tank and electing idiots like BUSH and having a--holes like Rush, Glenn Beck and Sarah "airhead" Palin and brainless Tea Partiers dumbing things down to even lower, lows isn't looking at all for the future either.

Sorry you asked?

People follow lame celebrities (many of whom I don't even know what their known for) like their god and overpaid athletes behave like spoiled brats with a lifetime 'get out jail free' card.

Who the hell are Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan and Lady Gaga? Charlie Sheen is the female version of that Coutrney Cox trash and they both spend most of their life's in rehab sessions that never work.

And the music industry? Oh. please! Lots of industry, but hell their is NO music anymore!

Drugs, spousal abuse, packing guns in public, assault, numerous arrests, public drunkeness, child endangerment, murder and reckless driving are the common lifestyle traits of modern America's sports, music and film heroes.

Do those sound like symptoms of 'better times'?

Boil it down to: Ain't got no class' no mo'...

I have to say no to the idea that todays films are better than the past. today actors are selected for their looks- not talent. there are few that have any charisma like the oldies had. there is no real dialogue in films today. it's all about computer images and special effects. I prefer the films of the 30's, 40's and 50's myself. today it is all about money - not talent or great stories. so sad

Hollywood today relies on male/female nudity, graphic violence, cursing, and CGI to convey stories. Hollywood of the past relied on script-writing and superb acting.

Ever since Star Wars ( a great film, mind you), Hollywood's philosophy of showing, not telling, has been predominant. As such, we have entire generations of film makers and audiences that have been raised to be reliant on imagery of film, instead of the substance of film.

As a student of film, it is my opinion that Hollywood has failed its ancestors, but the public is too ignorant to understand this.

On the other hand, if fart jokes are your thing, we're living in a cinematic Golden Age.

Which one is better we ask? Neither in my opinion. One would need the actors of yesterday along with the filmmaking technology of today.

If Billy Wilder tried to get a script read, let alone developed or produced in 2010 he'd get nowhere fast. Good thing he was at the right place at the right time or we wouldn't have "Double Indemnity", "Sunset Boulevard", "Some Like It Hot", "The Apartment", "The Lost Weekend", etc. Today the suits would have asked him to add fart jokes to his timeless scripts.

It seems to me that the great films happened in times of stress, and they dealt with the great issues of life that their audiences grappled with at the time. But the cleverest ones, like Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, transposed the woes of the Great Depression into other times and places.

We have a lot of high tech wizardry today, but it cannot make up for a tepid story which does not face the deep problems.

As time goes by, I remember a few films with fondness, even if some of the sub-plot was cheesy. Titanic was great because it talked about class, about being a survivor, and about probing the past with our technical skill, to reanimate the dead. It's about our pretensions to power, versus our powerlessness in the face of an iceberg or the mere passage of time.

2001: A Space Odyssey almost holds up as well, but not quite for me.

Is Antonio Banderas today's Erroll Flynn? Well, no. I think Banderas has a lot more range and though he may not have been in as many swashbucklers as Flynn, he's played many more interesting characters. Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to be a sheer force of nature, and I wish her a long career.

The Hollywood of yesteryear is waaaay better than today. Too many prima donnas and money controlling what gets on screen. The actors are icons for a reason. Tell me any actor who doesn't try and emulate someone in the past? The originals were just absolutely great, especially those in the silent film era.


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