The end of movies reconsidered

Image of Staying Alive posterI had previously written about the end of film in regards to the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, but after reading John Kenneth Muir’s brilliant “The Five Most Ludicrous Musical Numbers in Movie History” I now know I was wrong. This happened long before with Staying Alive (1983).

And Muir quotes David Denby’s review of the film, which is awesome:

This is no ordinary terrible movie; it’s a vision of the end. Not the end of the world, which will probably be much quieter than Staying Alive, but the end of movies…As you watch it, the idea of what a movie is – an idea that has lasted more than half-a-century – crumbles before your eyes. (New York Magazine, August 1, 1983, page 54).

And here is the final dance sequence, enjoy this horror show:

On another note, Muir also includes the final dance number from Xanadu (1980) which is a childhood favorite—it was all about the roller skates!

Long live schlock!

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4 Responses to The end of movies reconsidered

  1. sebastian6 says:

    The Staying Alive video is virtually unwatchable. I got about a minute in, when the two competing women gave each other a hateful glance, and had to stop.

    I am a huge, huge, huuuge fan of No Country For Old Men and will defend it to the end. I think the end of film is represented more by Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay than anything that the Coens or Stallone/Travolta put out.

    Doesn’t forumla (making sure there is an explosion every 4 minutes on average) represent the end of film more than either a hard to swallow narrative (NCFOM) or a cheesy sense of surreality (Staying Alive/Xanadu).

    I may be misunderstanding but if you look at the films of the 30s, they took their cinematographic cues from stage plays and broadway. Isn’t that what Xanadu and Staying Alive are doing almost exactly?

  2. Reverend says:


    Aha, you want a film rumble with the bava? 🙂 You know I love it, but much of this post was tongue and cheek because I absolutely dig the cheesy musical moments from Staying Alive and Xanadu—particularly the latter which is a film I still think about regularly for some unknown reason. I think the whole idea of Muir’s post was just plain fun.

    But, and this is a big, capital BUT, my post about No Country for Old Men stands, and that wasn’t necessarily about the death of movies, but rather cinema more generally. And the distinction is actually important because cinema suggests something more than the Jerry Bruckheimer films—which I don’t particularly like because they are unimaginative and stale for the most part—but don;t really threaten the art of movies in any real way. This is not the case with No Country for Old Men, which is by all intents and purpose a film that was better off never being made. The film didn’t need to be made because the very narrative itself asks and answers the very question the Coen Borthers failed to:

    Let me ask you something. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

    Of what use was their complete nihilism without a trace of their characteristic wit and irony. NCFOM was had not a trace of ironic, it was beautifully acted, filmed, and written—but absolutely vacant, empty, and sterile. It was, like McCarthys’s novels, better off left unfilmed, unwritten, unsaid. For if we truly follow a rule of nihilism down the line, where do we end up? How can one feel anything for NCFOM? It seems to go against the very rule of the film.

    So, I ask you, how can this be understood as a step forward in cinema? (I think we all know winning best picture after Crash won one makes that award utterly meaningless—same might be said for American Beauty the more I think about it.) It can only suggest the end of cinematic art form, the complete embrace of histrionic emptiness—a shadow dance in a pitch black room—much like the final shot. Why make it? Why not just project blackness on the screen for 2 hours, it would be far more novel, and may provide a complement to Derek Jarman’s Blue 😉

  3. Elizabeth says:

    “It was, like McCarthys’s novels, better off left unfilmed, unwritten, unsaid. For if we truly follow a rule of nihilism down the line, where do we end up?”

    Something about this statement bothers me. I guess maybe because I see a difference between articulating something & following it. Don’t you feel that any idea has to be given shape so that at the very least you can choose to not follow it? That’s what I feel was the conflict with Ed Tom: he knew there was violence & nihilism out there that he didn’t understand but if he avoided it constantly, it wouldn’t have made him better for not encountering it, just ignorant.

    (I should probably go back & read the original post.)

  4. sebastian6 says:

    I have to wonder as well, and forgive me if I’m misunderstanding, but are you saying that movies that explore nihilistic (I don’t believe this movie to be as nihilistic as it is *fatalistic) shouldn’t be made? Isn’t any theme under the sky worth exploring for meaning?

    This is a lame response because what I’m going to do is excerpt someone else’s thoughts because they said it much better than I could. This is excerpted from the blog. He says what I’ve been thinking about. Something about the scene with old Ellis seems to be the heart of the movie. The speech he gives is really the thesis of the whole movie.

    “What you got ain’t nothin new,” old Ellis tells Ed Tom, trying to shake him loose from his nostalgia. “This contry is hard on people…. You can’t stop what’s comin. Ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

    So without further ado, here’s
    an excerpt from this blog entry, said much more eloquently than I could ever do:

    “to me it’s one of the most important lines in the film, especially when taken into context with the rest of Ellis’ speech, funny that it should come from the one character who looks like he’s been fighting off death for decades. Ellis is making a comparison between the violence and lack of safety that was then, when the “old timers” were around, and the violence that is now, that Chigurh represents. When he says “That’s vanity,” he turns the narrator’s, or Ed Tom’s, opinion on its head. To feel that you have it harder than anyone else did, that death didn’t arbitrarily present itself before you were born is vanity. To quit or give up because of that is vanity. It means you’re saying you have it harder, and you don’t. Just because the means have changed, doesn’t mean the ends weren’t there before. We spend the whole movie listening to Ed Tom, believing his advice, understanding his dilemma, and then here it seems like he was wrong. And that’s the problem with Ed Tom, that’s always why he’s a step behind. We wonder that maybe if he hadn’t been so vain in thinking he could do nothing, Moss could have been helped sooner. It’s what makes the scene in which Ed Tom says he’s going to do something good for mankind three times a day so important. So, if Chigurh represents death, then Ed Tom represents safety, or God, or what have you, “I can protect him” Tom says to Moss’ wife Carla Jean, but inevitably for Moss and us, the mortals caught in between, doesn’t that feeling or idea always seem a step behind the terrible events that take place in our life. No matter what, that promise of safety can’t stop death or pain.

    So, perhaps when Moss took the shotgun slug to the arm, he was already dead. He was avoiding death from the get go. Moss crosses the river Styx, running from death, as the dog chases him. Maybe the whole cat and mouse game between Moss and Chigurh is the chess game that Bergman personified in “The Seventh Seal”. In that case Chigurh isn’t even a bad guy, he is simply death doing his job, he’s “Death on a Pale Horse” by Piers Anthony. He’s something only the vain fear, those that think either death has made it harder for them alone (Ed Tom) or those that think they can avoid it or fight it or pretend it doesn’t exist (Moss has a chance to save his wife but his vanity keeps him from sacrificing himself to keep her alive) or bargain with it or contain it (Carson Wells, Woody Harrelson’s character), and even Chigurh, who believes he is above the inevitability of death almost and unexpectedly meets his demise. And that is the brilliance of the film, in the final few scenes the Coen’s very subtly flip the themes we’ve been following on their heads. First when Chigurh meets a flip of the coin, and when Ed Tom is told, “That’s vanity”

    In the end it’s ironic that Moss isn’t killed by Chigurh, but by the Mexican drug runners. He doesn’t see it coming, we don’t see it coming! That Chigurh shows up to take the money, it would seem, well he’s just finishing his job, right? So there’s no one left to get in his way. Ed Tom is lucky. A few minutes earlier, and he might have been facing his early retirement. And in the end, no matter how much hope the imagery Ed Tom conveys from his dream, about his father waiting for him in the darkness, it’s a sad ending for the character, because he has become the idea of the ”old-timer” that he wondered about, unable to deal with what’s now and has always been, death.”

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