“Nowadays I seldom go to the cinema, and this isn’t only because there are few where I live. It’s because, judging from reviews, there is very little I want to see. It’s also partly because I have the impression that directors now despise dialogue, or resent the need for it, and so often have it muttered just out of earshot, or smothered by music. But the real reason goes deeper, and is also why cinema is in terminal artistic decline.”
Is he right? I would be interested if commenters could give examples of where they think there are still films getting made that are packed with dialogue. As Brian Micklethwait wrote earlier this year about the film, Margin Call, there are still films getting made that are designed for intelligent people who don’t require lots of car chases to hold their interest. (Not that there is anything wrong with a car chase or a straightforward race, such as when Steve McQueen is involved.)
To make a more philosophical point, assuming that Massie is correct – and I think he probably is – does the decline in dialogue mainly reflect the changing demographics of film audiiences? It might do so. The sort of more intelligent material that holds lots of dialogue, credible plots and so on is now increasingly getting made for television, especially in the US. Think of shows (I am not saying they are all good, by the way) such as Mad Men, The West Wing, CSI, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, The Sopranos, etc. And of course another factor is how, as humans, we tend to remember the good stuff and forget, or try to forget, the old 80-20 rule: 80 per cent or so of most stuff that ever gets made is utter crap. Even most Elizabethan plays were probably not all that good. But we remember Shakespeare.