|There's good, there's bad and then there's annoying.|
But what made me admit that Hollywood is in decline rather than a slump is that it has fallen so low that it is now in the same realm as popular music.
What do I mean by that? It's something that I noticed a couple of months ago. I love classical music. It is my favourite musical genre and the only one that I don't mind hearing in the background while I'm occupied with other matters. Turn the wireless to Radio 3 or, better yet, Classic FM and I'm happy. Nothing delights me more than to walk into a secondhand book shop and discover Mozart wafting over the Tannoy. It's a little slice of heaven. Indeed, it's one of the reasons I enjoy visiting the local library, which plays Debussy in the car park. Turn on any other music, or worse, talk and I immediately want to reach for the "off" button. Last year, the library switched from classical to pop for a couple of weeks and I felt as if I'd leaned over to sniff a flower only to have it squirt lemon juice in my face.
So I like classical music. What's playing in my office at the moment? I have no idea. What classical tunes do I have on my MP3 player? Hardly any. Can I name three works by Mahler? No. That's because I don't care. I'm happy to listen to whatever comes on. It's all good.
What is on my MP3 player are pop tunes of various types from soundtracks to rock music to jazz to who knows what else. Do I like it as much as classical? No. So why is it there?
That's where the epiphany came in. Going through my music collection, I realised that there was a common factor in all of them: Every single one annoyed me. I came to understand that the music that I'd selected for my player weren't the ones I liked the most, but which irritated me the least. And it's the reason why I cannot work with pop music playing. Because it's so annoying, I have to actively listen to it. My brain is processing what is aggravating my synapses. Part of my cortex is always occupied with the insipid lyrics, the simplistic tunes and the untrained voices–not to mention that MSG of the music world, reverb.
What I'd discovered is that, with a couple of notable exceptions, I do not like pop music. At best, I only find it interesting the way any bad piece of art can be interesting. Why this is, I can't say exactly. It's isn't what pop music is, but what it lacks. There's something missing; an element of polish, craftsmanship or complexity. It's the difference between a talented artist who grabs at the low-hanging fruit of his art to create flashy works and an equally talented man who toils for years to master his craft and creates something beautiful. Anyone can bang out a chord on a guitar with an afternoon's practice; it takes months to get anything except a screech out of a violin.
And so we come to Hollywood's decline. What convinced me that cinema is on the skids is that as I review the new films I've seen over the last ten to fifteen years, I liked very few of them, loathed most of them, and the rest irritate me. I may be willing to watch a film once. I may even enjoy it the first time through, but never completely and I certainly don't want to see it again. I thought Star Trek was a nice little roller coaster, but the only reason I keep the DVD is because the Rifftrax make it tolerable.
That's an important distinction. If I select a DVD from my cabinet and the film dates to, say, 1968, odds are that I'll be willing to watch it again. Indeed, I may have lost count of how many times I've seen it. I even know what kind of refreshment I want as I pop the disk into the player. Blade Runner? Brandy. Theatre of Blood? Nice cup of tea. Xanadu? So much cheap plonk that it becomes hilarious. On the other hand, if someone asks if I want to see Spider-man or Casino Royale again, I'll say no, thank you. Bear in mind that this is from a man who's seen You Only Live Twice immeasurable times and will even watch a Roger Moore when the wife isn't home.
Maybe this isn't scientific, but I feel that I've stumbled on an effective litmus test of an art form in decline. It's when something isn't so awful that it's easy to reject it outright as crap, it's when it's done well enough that I'll tolerate its presence, but it still gets on my nerves and I'd rather be watching something better.
That sums up the state of Hollywood today: It's annoying.