Sic Transit Chick Flicks

 The apparent box office success of “She’s Just Not That Into You” and its nearly universal critical disdain plus the dreaded upcoming release of “Confessions of a Shopaholic” has aroused some controversy about whether Chick Flicks should be wiped from the face of the earth. I don’t think any viable expression should be censored, though that conviction was strained while listening to an audience of besotted women oohing when [spoiler] Ben Affleck breaks down and buys a wedding ring for a shrewish, nagging and grotesquely needy Jennifer Aniston. In addition, the Chick Flick has a noble pedigree, arising from the “Women’s Pictures” of long ago directed by the likes of  George Cukor (note the progress from Cukor’s 1939 “The Women” to this year’s version )

or Douglas Sirk and others. And it’s just one example of a legitimate genre debased by homogenized marketing, merchandising and the ongoing vulgarization and dumbing down of the audience.

Like the Holocaust movie. I remember some years ago as an undergraduate being stunned into silence with everyone else in my film class after a screening of Alain Resnais’s half hour long documentary “Night and Fog" (1955).

Probably no other film on the subject has had quite the same impact, but others have made worthy attempts: “The Diary of Anne Frank”  “Judgment at Nuremburg” (1961); “The Pawnbroker” (1964); “The Sorrow and the Pity” (1969) ; “Sophie’s Choice” (1982) ; “Shoah” (1985); “Schindler’s List” (1993); “The Pianist” (2002) ...

And then: “Life Is Beautiful” (1998), the film that transformed the Holocaust into a vehicle for feel-good films, ones in which the greatest crime in history is mollified for audiences into a familiar package of mawkish platitudes and clichés. A package easy to sell, as the crop of movies including “The Boy in Striped Pajamas,” “Defiance,”  “Valkyrie” and “The Reader” demonstrate. And leaves no hard feelings. One that, as Ron Rosenbaum points out in his “Slate” essay “Don’t Give an Oscar to ‘The Reader,’” allows the Academy to bestow Oscars with good conscience and no worries.

 The third genre where this pernicious dumbing down is occurring is in children’s movies. For example, there have been few dissenting reviews of  Coraline, and those have almost all criticized it for being too dark and disturbing for children. I thought it was dark and disturbing enough. I believe kids love dark and disturbing, like all the other cool stuff that adults think they’re not old enough to handle. It exercises their imaginations, it helps them learn about the world they must some day wrestle with. It shows them respect. These people would have put a PG-13 rating on “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) and “Pinocchio” (1940). They would have forbidden them to read Lewis Carroll or Roald Dahl. And they probably would have dragged them out of screenings of  “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) and “James and the Giant Peach” (1996), two edgier films by director Henry Selick, who adapted the bowdlerized Neil Gaiman novel “Coraline.”

And don’t get me started on the “Coraline” filmmakers' gratuitous inclusion of a boy hero (not in the book) who can rescue Coraline at the last moment. It’s like having the Tin Woodman return with Dorothy to Kansas at the end of “Oz” and chop up mean Miss Gulch. So we’ve come full circle, where the children’s movie degenerates into the lowly condition of today’s chick flick.


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