One would be hard-pressed to find a definition of the creative process as simple as that offered by Chaplin in referring to the method for maintaining the argument of his films: getting people into a predicament, and then getting them out of it.
It would seem an easy recipe, but — by means of talent — it gave rise to a universal symbol (the character of the Tramp and his stories), today studied not only by those interested in the cinema, but also those attempting to better understand the most diverse connotations of an era, including the stock market crash of 1929, masterfully reflected in Modern Times (1936).
The Chaplin who had begun as a stereotype of the mischievous clown, grew to become an artist bursting with humanity and social empathy, in keeping with a truth he sought out and few would argue against: that culture should not accommodate human beings but elevate them.
One hundred years after those first attempts by Chaplin and a few others to distinguish themselves from a common and repetitive Hollywood, a subculture of ignorance continues to reign in the world, which is revitalized by those in charge of fueling it: the so-called mass entertainment industry; which while satisfying many people with repetitive, repackaged products, is interested in the manufacture of a “typical consumer,“ who accepts without question — and even boasts about — the intellectual mediocrity of the material received.
Some of these self-satisfied consumers, who have no concept of individual taste, which is deserving of the greatest respect, demonstrate their arrogance by attempting to impose themselves, inhibiting any space for difference and discernment. “Light culture,” manufactured by specialists to make them believe that they are viewing “the very best” and the most appealing, and which they, won over by consumer friendly models and advertising, defend with an exclusionary grandiloquence, preventing anyone from challenging their way of thinking with their “antiquated theories.”
It is no longer a question of critically reviewing Hollywood movies, as is the case with films from any other country, but for those who watch these, uninterested in adopting positions for or against, what emerges from this mass industry is the only thing of any worth, as these are the most popular films, with the best special effects, the only ones made with budgets of 150 or 200 million dollars. After all, they are sought anywhere in the world, as if that “world,” of which they from a part, was not the objective on which the multi-million advertising and marketing campaigns are centered (including their ideological symbologies, although there are still those who continue to swallow and repeat the idea of the “end of ideology,” either consciously, or because they are unaware of the interests spoon-feeding them).
The story is so old that it appears the staunch defenders of this sole type of film — demonstrating contempt for all others — do not know it. Those viewers who have been around for a few years, however, can attest to it: in Cuba we used to see, primarily, three types of cinematography: the U.S., domineering par excellence, the Argentine and the Mexican; the latter preferred by those who did not know how to read, or misread the subtitles. European films were scarce, and followed by people linked to the field of culture. Asian films were projected in Chinatown and responded to a simplistic narrative pattern.
It wasn’t until after the Revolution that cinemas began to offer a more diverse program, screening films from various countries; not without certain upset for audiences accustomed to the classical forms and rhythm of the North, but who gradually understood (not all, of course) that cinematographic creation could also be a step towards cultural elevation and aesthetic satisfaction, based on a more demanding art form.
There was no shortage of good and excellent U.S. films — not all from Hollywood was cut and dried – just as viewers who were traumatized by the transition from Tarzan to Bergman were not lacking.
But once many got a taste for something different and began to grow intellectually, they could no longer go back without making comparisons, as an essential resource of knowledge. This was a golden age in which one rushed to see the latest film by Fellini, or Kurosawa, so as not to be left behind when it came up in conversation.
In the seventies, with the emergence of video, our television – with space to fill – was crammed, and remains so today, with Hollywood films. Good, regular or not so bad, because the worst, luckily, have no place.
People went to the cinema less, while the gradual emergence of new technologies allowed for mass consumption of the simpler and “less complicated” products, which is the great interest of large blockbuster films, protected to the hilt by the advocates of a single type of film, that “entertains them” as it may; it does not matter that the same trivial arguments are repeated over and over again, supported by the technological development of special effects.
These visual pyrotechnics are of course enjoyable, after all the cinema is also a spectacle, but 120 years after its birth for the benefit of humanity and culture, with so much talent contributed by artists and technicians across much of the world, nobody should be content merely with the superficiality and simplicity of the shiny outer shell.