Is technology killing movies?


And with that question, film critic Joe Queenan

isn’t questioning movies like Beowulf or 300, with CGI background or characters. I might have been with him on


No, Queenan is lamenting what the advent of the information

age has done to movies. His case in point: Psycho.

If it were set in today’s world, and her PDA could save Janet Leigh

from that fatal shower at the Bates motel.

I sort of see his point: I’m

as tired of post-Matrix computer-age drivel as anyone else. But

the pre-cell-phone-era films Queenan applauds, such as Beowulf,

American Gangster
, and No Country for Old Men, have something

in common (aside from limiting cutting-edge technology to spear manufacturing

or bolt pistols): a decided lack of strong female roles.

You might as well call the Coen brothers’ movie No Country for Women

at All

Queenan contends that one reason the

Coen brothers set the film in the late 1970s was to make “a perverse

point about the way gadgetry frustrates drama.” (Apparently

forgetting that the movie is based on a novel by Cormac MacCarthy,

who set it in 1980 himself. Ahem.) Anyway, Queenan’s point

is that easy access to information and tools by tech-savvy protagonists

ruins movies.

His example of the computer-age action

hero who ends up looking more like a typist than an action figure is

Eddie Izzard in Ocean’s 13. The lameness of the star-studded

love-in that is the Ocean’s franchise aside, let me offer a translation

of what he wants: More bloodshed, please. He says,

If it were up to me, every movie

would be set in an era without mobile phones and Google, every movie

would put the hero in a situation where he could not call in an air

strike via his BlackBerry but would actually have to slit the terrorists’

throats and strangle their frothing dogs with his bare hands.

I don’t think it’s an accident of grammar

that Queenan sticks to the male pronoun here. Queenan points out

that in the tech-free days of yore, “if you want to find out where

Grendel hails from or how many soldiers Xerxes has on hand, you’re going

to have to rely on spies, traitors, camp followers, ex-girlfriends,

information-gathering goatherds or duplicitous dwarves — not a database

search.” Notice that the only room for women in these scenarios

is as the ex-girlfriends or wives.

My girlfriend and I were actually discussing

this trend in epics the other day after we saw The Assassination

of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
. We actually liked

the movie, but agreed that confining Mary-Louise Parker, who played the wife of Jesse James,

to a role limited to shooting dirty looks at Casey Affleck and

crying over Brad Pitt‘s body was absolutely criminal. But

there was no room in this period film for a larger female role without

a serious reconceiving of the entire project.

My point is this. Technology

doesn’t ruin movies; lazy plot devices and poor character development

do. And gendering action roles as male so that women are shunted

to supporting characters is nothing new, but it’s still disappointing.

Give me a strong female lead. It doesn’t matter to me if she can

heft a spear or hack into a military high-security database.

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