by Desmond White
Not to bust your blocks, but before Star Wars, there was a conspiracy to make films as boring as possible. The idea was to censor controversial topics such as sex, politics, and racism by talking about them lethargically, endlessly, and with such garble that viewers couldn’t help but feel fatigued whenever the topics were mentioned elsewhere. Most films featured white folk standing in a room talking about stuff that happened off-screen – a trend started by Shakespeare but traceable through film history to 12 Angry Men and The Odd Couple. The stars might be shouting about depression, but audiences were too depressed to care.
Because baby-murder or suicide could excite viewers, the writers of Old Hollywood relied on implication to make their stories even more incomprehensible. The idea was to put exciting bits in the background and only have characters imply they happened. For example:
Do you have any children?
Well, not exactly, but I did sell some baby shoes that were never worn HINT HINT.
Oh, I get it.
Unless you have a Ph.D. in six-word stories or knew Hemingway personally, the conversation above would be boring, implication-ridden gibberish. But that’s how films did it – by taking sensitive subjects like poverty and the premature death of children and only hinting at them through subtle head nods and nudges and starring at the camera with an eyebrow raised.
In 1977, Star Wars saved the film industry by reviving the mantra of creative writing professors everywhere: ‘show, don’t tell.’ Subtly and inflection were replaced by exhilarating space battles and merchandise; dramatic pause with special effects; thinking with fighting. Any implication was tossed out the window (literally, they could afford the budget). Star Wars established the blockbuster, itself connotative of a city block exploding into fire and smoke, as a genre that ignores delicacy, ignores humdrum and lifelessness, that blasts its fans out of their sluggish minds with the blatant truth.
Which brings me to Guardians of the Galaxy. What makes Guardians so perfect is that it completely understands what Star Wars was trying to do, and doesn’t get in the way. Instead, the film’s contribution is no contribution. It’s not an homage so much as filler, giving fans some time off from watching Star Wars so that the eventual re-watch will feel refreshed.
Guardians understands that there doesn’t need to be another huge Hollywood shake-up. If anything, the CGI spectacle movie needs to be preserved before the sinister supporters of Old Hollywood can convince the big movie studios otherwise. Movie executives aren’t the smartest of creatures. They’re more like the Guild Navigators from Frank Herbert’s Dune, although replace melange with cocaine and the ships they navigate with their minds with, well, more cocaine. The Navigators don’t really determine anything, but parasitically feed on the existing power structures that be. So, too, do executives, and in their spice-mindled states, they become easily confused as what those power structures want. If they think that cerebral mind-bogglers or metaphysical horror films are trending, they’ll deliver. What Old Hollywood doesn’t understand is that they’d probably hate it if every movie made them think. They’d start putting off going to the movies just like we might put off documentaries on Netflix to watch stray episodes of Psych.
One last thing but probably most important – I’m surprised at the countless critics upset at Guardians lack of depth or its reliance on video game logic. We live in an age of post-modern enlightenment, an age of post-structuralism and the deconstruction of the metanarrative. Shouldn’t we relish Guardians‘ twists and innovations, such as the lack of any genuine character development? Why can’t we have a movie that artificially mimics emotions but never truly conducts it? Maybe a film that’s really a series of meaningless action sequences and lowbrow comedic pandering compiled in an order that imitates cause-and-effect is exactly the kind of film we need in our movie theaters.