It probably had something to do with me recently finishing reading Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls...a wonderful overview and analysis of the American film renaissance of the 1970's. It's the kind of book that lets you come away with sound insight into how today's theaters have come to serve up such dumbed-down drek -- and nostalgia for an eternal Golden Age.
And all the while wondering...why doesn't Hollywood make movies like that anymore?
Then along comes Tony Gilroy and his latest, Michael Clayton, which manages to be very contemporary yet feels like it could be dropped seamlessly into the middle of the above mentioned classics. A character study and morality play neatly wrapped in the paranoia of a corporate conspiracy.
But before I could blog anything, the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday puts out a nice piece on Gilroy (Bourne Supremacy; Bourne Ultimatum) and his new film.
As subtle and unflashy as "Michael Clayton" is, it feels both nostalgic and incredibly fresh, reminding viewers that movies weren't always about fireballs, flatulence and merch-friendly franchises. Many viewers will no doubt walk out of "Michael Clayton" not just puzzling over its plot twists, but wondering why so many movies in the '70s were this good, and why so few today are. "The audience [then] was tuned up for that kind of movie," Gilroy says. "That's what people expected when they went to the movies."
Gilroy chalks the '70s heyday up to two forces dovetailing to fortuitous effect. "As you're coming out of the '60s, everything's up for grabs," he explains, referring to the cultural and political ferment that found expression in Hollywood in the 1970s, from the antiwar allegorical satire "M*A*S*H" to such laconic, often provocative urban thrillers as "The French Connection," "Klute," "All the President's Men" and "Taxi Driver."
Gilroy goes on to say how he had to change what he's known and gets paid very well for in order to write Michael Clayton:
For Gilroy's part, the desire to resuscitate the cinematic values of his youth meant changing habits he's honed over 20 years as a successful screenwriter, most notably of the "Bourne" movies starring Matt Damon. Out with the on-the-nose, direct and obvious, and in with the elliptical, implied and oblique.
"I had to fight a little bit against the things I'm most rewarded for doing," he explains, adding that as a screenwriter "you're really rewarded for buttoning up scenes, you're paid very well for having everything tidy. You don't even know how and why you learn the things you learn, it's sort of positive reinforcement. So a lot of the scenes in this film are the scenes that are exactly not the moments that you put in the other thriller. It's sort of like the bizarro-world thriller, in a way."
Good on him, though I do think he's selling himself and the Bourne movies short. Personally, I liked them a lot. Still, it's not like any of this means any new renaissance on the horizon. Too much money at stake. Hollywood is what it is now...and films like Michael Clayton and The Nines the upcoming We Own The Night will be the anomaly instead of the norm.
But go read the article anyway...and for what it's worth, I would've said the same thing.
EDIT: Here's a good Cinematical interview with Gilroy talking about his process.