Hadley Freeman is a prolific fashion journalist who writes for The Guardian and Vogue. She was born in New York but moved with her family to London, England in 1990 when she was eleven years old. Freeman has spent most of her life here in Britain, but it seems that she defines herself mostly through the Hollywood movies she loved watching during her formative years in the Big Apple. One can make the argument that Freeman is much enamoured by her movie-watching experiences of the 1980s, and that she’s almost bubbled herself into a state of arrested development where she perpetually revisits the films of her youth for means of both enjoyment and comfort.
Freeman has a 1980s film appreciation blog where she selects movies she greatly enjoyed watching and writes posts about why she considers them exemplarily. She also has a new book out called Life Moves Pretty Fast: The lessons we learned from eighties movies (and why we don't learn them from movies any more), a piquant examination of Freeman’s addiction to fun films of the era, lamenting on why studios don’t make products like that anymore.
Freeman has been promoting her book pretty hard, but one supposes that her mission to raise the profile of ‘80s ‘classics’ is part of a wider issue to do with a generation of adults revelling in things they enjoyed in their childhoods, reluctant to critically evaluate them accordingly. No-one doubts that Freeman’s onanistic tribute to popcorn cinema the ‘80s is deeply personal and introspective, but the journalist has gone to some lengths, interviewing famous filmmakers of that period and consulting with former studio executives operating back then to shed light on why films like that can’t be realised in this current age.
Freeman is of the same generation as your humble blogger, meaning the films that comprised her formative years are mostly mine, too; however, as fun as those movies are they may also have contributed to the current Hollywood trend of producing inane products that showcase spectacle over substance.
The 1980s brought in a culture where kids were cajoled into tying the knot with things of their past and never outgrowing them. This wasn’t the case with our parents’ generation who, for example, delighted in beach movies when they were young but dismissed such fare once adulthood took over.
Yet we keep returning to the infantile pastures of our childhoods because there really isn’t the impetus to abandon such things. Silly blockbusters made us happy when we were kids and they continue to pacify us, hence why they remain an intrinsic part of us now. There’s something disappointing about that.
Geek godfather Simon Pegg, he of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible franchises, stood back from the nerdy blockbuster scene he has been an active contributor to and engaged in harsh opprobrium on the situation. He told the Radio Times that the need for grown adults to perpetuate their childhoods is of great concern, saying: “Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes... Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!”
Pegg added: “It is a kind of dumbing (sic) down … taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about... whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”
What we are dealing with is a generation of adults who are extrapolating as much enjoyment from cartoons and superhero fodder as infants are. We’re living in times when thirtysomething pop stars like Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen are singing with childish abandon, performing in ways that seem awkwardly unfitting. Heck, even Taylor Swift will soon be as old as what Kurt Cobain was when he died, yet she’s still locked in the mind space of a teenager stuck in her bedroom smitten with the boy living two doors down. What’s more is that the audiences for such material ranges from kids to middle-aged people, which means that this is the only entertainment major media corporations want to focus on because it sells to everyone. Because our tastes are so simple, it’s made the job for tastemakers simpler too. We’re a generation hooked on nostalgia, recombined elements and mediocrity.
One feels that when Hadley Freeman’s love affair for ‘80s cinema kicked off, Hollywood’s prime target remained its domestic audiences, whereas now it seems that foreign markets are actually even more profitable. This has come at creative and cultural costs because up until twenty-five years ago studios catered for fragmented tastes, developing movies for kids and content for adults separately, using the summer period to launch four-quadrant blockbusters targeting everyone. The latter was shipped off to overseas distributors, though as earning capacities were limited in such territories, they were never deemed fundamental revenue generators. Furthermore, adult blockbusters like Fatal Attraction and Wall Street were seen as too controversial and parochial for global theatres, thus making these films difficult to translate in such markets. That has changed as domestic audiences have become less enthusiastic about cinema attending while places like the Far East continue to grow in terms of audience numbers. And let’s face it; nothing translates as simplistically as big explosions, transforming robots and superheroes. The actuality, therefore, that national demand for simplistic characters and plots conflates with the required tastes of those in China is a win-win for Hollywood. They don’t have to try as hard to sell it.
In the 1980s John Carpenter remade The Thing and David Cronenberg did likewise with The Fly, both remakes of 1950s B-movies of their youths’. They, however, conceptualised these remakes in completely different ways, updating them with levels of complexity and story advancement that warranted their existences. They took childhood favourites and radically reinvigorated them, in turn rejuvenating these films as meaningful entities that reflected modern times. This isn’t the case with reboots nowadays that get by on making obvious nods to their forbearers while in no way justifying why they deserve to be revived other than the CGI is marginally better now than it was in 1996.
This essentially means that subsequent generations are goofing on titles that have more relevance to their parents than themselves, meaning they are defining their childhoods through things that are not integral cultural landmarks to their times. Their memories of movies unfairly consist of recycled brands that have been soullessly repurposed because they reek of familiarity and have currency with an older market needing to bask in films that existed when they last felt happy in life. The remakes and reboots have no artistic reason for being other than audiences love recognisable film titles that feebly separate themselves from earlier incarnations through updated software. Rather than creating original blockbusters to service this generation’s viewership, Hollywood demands that it piggybacks on the sentimentality of a previous audience reluctant to move on.
Unlike Hadley Freeman, my argument is that the 1980s was when films started to diminish in quality and audiences became stupider. It was our generation that became regressive and unattractively sentimental, desperate to hold on to what entertained us when we were toddlers. This summer we had Jurassic World and next summer we’ll have Independence Day: Resurgence not to mention a Ghostbusters reboot, three blockbuster sequels that come decades after their original releases, all to capitalise on adults’ addiction to films they valued when their critical faculties lacked discernment.
The movies aren’t getting smaller, we are.