I have been watching a PBS series on the history of the American musical and it has made me think about the state of contemporary filmmaking (I know, I know, but stay with me on this). In the series, I was constantly intrigued by how the development of the musical, what people wrote about, what was produced, etc., was so often influenced by the environment at the time (WWI, the Roaring Twenties, the Depression, etc.). And then I thought that was also true of filmmaking. In the silent days, the films after WWI often dramatized both a disappointment at how the war didn’t create a perfect world, as well as reflected the changing, loosening morals of the time. When the depression came, the movies, especially pre-code ones, reflected the dark despair of the time, and further explored the change in morality. Even when the code came in, movies were a reaction to the depression (both by exploring it and by creating a fantasy world to escape to), as well as a reflection of the changing technical aspects of film. WWII had movies that were growing in honesty, dealing with adult themes in ways they weren’t before, as well as being one huge propaganda machine. After the war, the adult themes continued as foreign films started influencing American films and the U.S. reacted to the red menace and the growing discontent with social norms and bigotry. The sixties on were a reflection of the Viet Nam war and the changing mores. And then…well, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly movies are reacting to today. I often felt that the issue with contemporary films is that people don’t have anything to say, aren’t reacting to anything, but I’m unsure why. We’ve had 9/11 and an economic depression, two wars, an unsettled Middle East, a world that feels on the brink of a huge change, but I’m just not sure that films are reflecting these themes. In fact, I’m not sure that filmmakers are reflecting any themes period. I sometimes get the idea that the most successful American filmmakers artistically are the ones who make movies that do nothing, but just do them brilliantly (Quentin Tarantino and the Cohen brothers), while the ones who are the most successful financially are the ones who make escapist fare like super hero movies. But I’m just puzzled how this happened and why filmmakers are so different from earlier ones, why they aren’t saying anything when there seems so much to say; or maybe it’s just my imagination.