When I was a mass communications major in college (alas, this was not TOO long after mass communications consisted of Columbus yelling, “Can you guys in the back of the Santa Maria hear me okay?”), one of my film projects was a “Phantom of the Opera” takeoff.
I was giddily excited about “Murder in the University Center Theater,” but I gave absolutely no thought to needing more (i.e. ANY) illumination for the catwalk chase scenes. Huge chunks of my masterpiece wound up on the cutting room floor because they were too dark to be recognizable.
Little did I know, I was merely ahead of my time.
Flash forward to 2019. With alarming frequency, my wife and I are engrossed in a movie or TV drama only to find the characters plunged into an interminable shadowy scene with some sort of nebulous pandemonium breaking loose. We keep asking each other, “Where did everybody go? Who’s on top? Did he leave? Is there blood? Does anybody on screen have any idea what they’re doing?”
If we wanted THAT sort of conversation, we’d just watch the Democratic debates.
Despite the critical success of the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music,” few in Hollywood are willing to follow the admonition of the Carter Family and “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life.”
Sure, I know the root problem. Most of your ’70s cop/adventure shows were filmed with flat, unimaginative lighting and cookie-cutter color schemes. New generations of directors have gone overboard in rebellion, grabbing every opportunity to shoehorn in dark scenes that are supposed to be evocative, atmospheric, cutting-edge and roughly twice as long as a self-indulgent guitar solo.
They say that “seeing is believing”; but NOT seeing is also believing — believing that the stunt doubles union has some sort of dirt on the producer and is just phoning in performances.
I know, I know. The filmmakers utilize the dark scenes to be MOODY. But not many people want to shell out 10 bucks to have Ron Howard or J.J. Abrams tell them, “Wrong? Nothing’s wrong. And if you really have to ask, maybe you should just sleep on the sofa tonight.”
Ideally, the murky scenes are designed to keep you emotionally engaged and breathlessly riveted on the (barely seen) action, but MY mind keeps wandering. (“I wonder if those are really sock monkeys and Pez dispensers up there instead of zombies and pirates? And how much cocaine did the cast buy with the money they saved on special effects?”)
Don’t get me started on the directors who add insult to injury by abruptly launching into subtitles or a barely audible conversation. (“I will tell you a secret. I forgot my lozenges. My blood pressure has nearly bottomed out. And a hair-trigger LIBRARIAN is holding my mother hostage…”)
When I watch a show, I want to root for the heroes and hiss the villains in a manner that will not embarrass me. That’s hard to do when you reach the breaking point and scream, “Forget the cellar! Forget the abandoned warehouse! Forget the jungle! Right now, I would give my left femur for RAINBOW BRITE to burst into the scene!”
*Sigh* If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Maybe I’ll direct a Columbus film.
“I plant this flag in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella. OUCH! My foot! I couldn’t see my foot!”
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”