If you don’t know me personally, you may not realize how frequently I quote movies. On a daily basis, films I’ve seen—particularly multiple times—are the source of some of what I say. Films have tremendous impact. Some theorists have even argued that they are the new mythology. So imagine my distress when an opinion piece in the New York Times suggested that movies are losing their relevance. Media comes in so many varieties that we can take our choice. YouTube and TikTok have given television its first real competition in my lifetime. Our local CD store is a rather sad place, and does anybody even remember Blockbuster? But movies—the media of entertainment for over a century—irrelevant?
What of the movie star? It doesn’t matter which one. The phenomenon of it. The person recognized as a household name. Now we seem to be losing yet one more frame of reference. There’s no firm ground left for culture, it seems. Is this why things are falling apart? Movies weren’t the only glue, of course, but I wrote three books on movies. The larger implications are sobering. Media, of course, is always changing. Movies are but a modern form of story-telling. Already decades ago the weight for this began to swing towards what we used to call video games. The younger generation prefers stories where their actions decide the ending. To a point. Someone had to program this thing and has predetermined possible outcomes. Like a movie, it’s a story.
Stories are probably the oldest form of human entertainment. The nonfiction books that sell the best are those with a narrative arc—they tell a story. Nonficionados may be reluctant to admit that they’re drawn to stories, but we all are. It’s human nature. While I prefer books to movies, there are times I just can’t settle down to read. And also, horror novels don’t quite scare the same way that horror movies do. Movies have their place. They can be tremendously expensive to make and many now have so much CGI that actors are disguised beneath layers of code. Kind of like The Matrix. Even so, they are telling stories in a format that has become a huge industry that ties culture together with common references. Can you image a world where there was never a Star Wars? The internet has perhaps blurred the line a bit and movies are evolving. As long as we tell one another stories, however, we’re still human.