Veteran filmmaker Brian De Palma has been responsible for many memorable movies like the original Mission Impossible, Carrie, Scarface and Carlito's Way. Recently, Palma has branched out into the world of novels, writing the thriller/political satire Are Snakes Necessary? along with co-author Susan Lehman. While discussing the novel in an interview, the celebrated auteur had less-than-kind words to say about the state of visual filmmaking in Hollywood.
"The things that they're doing now have nothing to do with what we were doing making movies in the '70s, '80s and '90s. The first thing that drives me crazy is the way they look. Because they're shooting digitally they're just lit terribly. I can't stand the darkness, the bounced light. They all look the same. I believe in beauty in cinema. Susan and I were looking at Gone With the Wind the other day and you're just struck at how beautiful the whole movie is. The sets, how Vivien Leigh is lit, it's just extraordinary. If you look at the stuff that's streaming all the time, it's all muck. Visual storytelling has gone out the window."
Harsh words, but in line with other criticisms that modern blockbuster movies have had to endure from critics regarding the muted colors and darkly lit scenes that have become a staple of big-budget movies aspiring for the tag of 'grittiness' and 'realism'. Palma further went on to lay the blame for poor visuals in movies at the door of modern studios.
"The whole system is changing. You used to go out and make a movie. Our generation, we wanted to take over the studios. Which we did. I think what's so interesting about the generation I came up with, they got very rich, extremely rich, working within the studio system. Now, we're into this endless streaming. Everything has 10 parts and six seasons. It's sort of moved back to the old studio system where the producers and the writers are the king. The directors, who knows who directs one of these things from another?"
"Then you have the whole Marvel universe, which is digital action stuff, all computer generated. When I made "Mission to Mars" and spent a year working on these shots with three or four digital houses -- one was working on the ship, one was working on the smoke, one was working on the dust -- I would storyboard a shot and it would keep coming back to me for a year as they added things. The shots are hopelessly expensive. You say: "What am I doing?" That's when I went to Europe and said I can't make movies like this anymore."
The criticisms leveled by Palma are unlikely to go away anytime soon. The Hollywood system has gone from a few studios selecting the best scripts to an explosion of international studios and streaming giants greenlighting more and more scripts to be made into movies and shows as quickly as possible to keep up with global demand for a constant stream of 'binge-worthy' content.
This style of assembly-line production naturally leaves little time for a more calibrated, artistic approach which results in distinctive filmmaking or memorable shots. That appears to be the tradeoff that Palma dislikes, prompting him to move away from the Hollywood system to pursue other projects. APNews was the first to bring this news.