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Re-Assessing the 80s

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Re-Assessing the 80s

#1

Post by St. Gloede » January 10th, 2019, 2:14 pm

Not all may have fallen "folly" to this idea, but the general characterization of the 80s is that of a lackluster dead decade, at least for "art". It was the decade where the auteur died, not because audiences were interpreting films freely, but that the studios simply did not trust them. It was the decade of the Hollywood action film at it's most brazen, not to mention the decade of vapid slashers (apologies to the horror mafia) and assembly line film-making. Of course, the frequent placing as the "worst decade" was not helped by the fact that it was immediately following the 70s - often cited as the greatest decade of cinema, and immediately preceding the 90s - often cited as the greatest decade of cinema (though usually by two very different groups of film buffs).

Most will quickly spot the biggest fallacy in this argument, which is that it is entirely contingent on US cinema, and even more so high budget cinema produced by large US studios. Labeling the 80s as the weakest decade of all time is quite reasonable from this perspective.

However, what happens if we look at the rest of the world?

Many may still be tempted to let the overall argument stick, I was for a long time too. The new waves were mainly over, the fresh blood was lacking, and it is often considered that all the main cinema countries that had previously dominated, namely France, Japan, Italy, Germany, USSR and UK were going through a similar slump. As such the shift in quality between the 70s and 80s feel sharp and brutal.

There is actually a case to be made that world cinema was flourishing
No, not to the same extent as the 60s, but it is actually easy to argue that in certain cases the 70s was actually the slump, and that the 80s in many cases symbolized a return to auteur focus, and even a new beginning.

Japan's financial crash and the creation and over-focus on anti-auteur cinema was a product of the 70s - the late 70s and 80s was actually a return of the auteurs with ATG rising to prominence, bringing New Wave directors back to the limelight and bringing new talent to the surface. In many ways 80s Japan was a fantastic period for cinema - though of course on a smaller case than the studio backed new wave in the 60s.

Similarly the French New Wave had of course quieted down within the 60s itself, and while the directors stayed active and some produced highly regarded films, few would argue to 70s to be the pinnacle of French cinema. The 80s was a step up, with many of the French New Wave directors returning to a more prominent role, and a new generation of filmmakers coming into their own and even breaking into the mainstream.

You can certainly make the case that Italy had not made a comeback and would continue to fade out of the landscape, and the German New Wave ending in the early 80s left them in a somewhat similar situation. USSR and UK on the other hand stayed relatively stable in regard to esteem, ironic considering the formers soon to be demise.

But while parts of Europe were indeed nowhere near their best or steeply declining, Asia was rising, and the Japanese hegemony (excluding Hong Kong action films) was broken. China, Taiwan and Iran all experienced incredibly popular new waves, and shot into the world eye, re-defining the world landscape of cinema.

My take on the real value of the 80s
This is of course highly subjective, but what I have noticed and come to love about the 80s is the high output of genuinly auteur driven creative efforts, and I would therefor like to offer a counter narrative. While mainstream "commercial" cinema certainly lost many big auteur names, many of the great directors moved onto smaller personal projects, which may not have been as financially viable as say early French and Japanese New Wave, but which presented something new. In a way, a more personal, low-key and possibly even more mature mirror of the 60s (as the films I loved was often made by the now matured artists of the previous movements).

Your thoughts on the 1980s?

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#2

Post by 3eyes » January 10th, 2019, 2:25 pm

The 80s was a decade when I was watching mainly child-suitable movies that were available on BETA. I still haven't caught up, but enough that I'd say you have a case.
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#3

Post by mjf314 » January 10th, 2019, 2:46 pm

I think the 80s was the golden age of animated feature films (and especially anime), with more masterpieces than any other decade.
In the 80s there was a big increase in the number of animated films being made, and there was more variety in the types of animated films.
The 90s was worse for animation, but the 2000s was another good decade (almost as good as the 80s).

I think the 80s was also the first great decade of Hong Kong cinema. I'm not sure if I'd call it the golden age because the 90s was great too.

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#4

Post by Onderhond » January 10th, 2019, 3:19 pm

If this topic was posted 10 years ago I wouldn't have been surprised, but after a decade of countless 80s tributes, remakes and retro-drooling it's a bit strange to read that the 80s aren't properly valued.

Rather than fixed ideas about decade output quality, it seems to me like there's more of sliding window of valuation. When I got into cinema the 60s and 70s were really big, but through the years I saw that slipping. Right now the 70s seem to losing ground a little, with the 80s having enjoyed a decade of praise and the 90s slowly starting to replace the 80s hype.

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#5

Post by Ivan0716 » January 10th, 2019, 3:21 pm

80s is still my least seen decade since the 40s, but I don't think it's the worst decade (anymore).

I did a quick count of the films I've rated 8 and higher:
USA - 14 (Might be worth noting that a number of these were made by European directors)
France - 6
Hungary - 6
Japan - 6
Taiwan - 6
UK - 6
Greece - 4
Hong Kong - 4
Poland - 4
Portugal - 4
Russia - 3
Italy - 2
Germany - 2
Spain - 2
Sweden - 2
Georgia - 1
Iran - 1
Vietnam - 1

Without doing the same for other decades, I'd guess the 80s have the highest representation of smaller countries (percentage-wise) for me, 60s is close I guess but around 1/4 of my top films from that decade are French.

I don't think the 80s was the worst decade for any of the big film countries neither: IMO the 60s was worse for USA, the 90s for France etc.

Oh, and surely the 30s/40s were worse offenders of "assembly line filmmaking" in Hollywood than the 80s?

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#6

Post by sol » January 10th, 2019, 4:00 pm

6 of my ten lowest rated years on average (according to IMDb) are from the 1980s, but I have always been pretty fond of the decade. There is probably a case to be made that the 1980s produced more 'crap' than any of the decades before it, but the highlights of the decade are a good as the best of any other decade. In fact, my two favourite films of all-time are from the 1980s and I have another two from the 1980s in my all-time top 15...
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#7

Post by St. Gloede » January 10th, 2019, 4:40 pm

Onderhond wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 3:19 pm
If this topic was posted 10 years ago I wouldn't have been surprised, but after a decade of countless 80s tributes, remakes and retro-drooling it's a bit strange to read that the 80s aren't properly valued.

Rather than fixed ideas about decade output quality, it seems to me like there's more of sliding window of valuation. When I got into cinema the 60s and 70s were really big, but through the years I saw that slipping. Right now the 70s seem to losing ground a little, with the 80s having enjoyed a decade of praise and the 90s slowly starting to replace the 80s hype.
The 80s tributes are primarily connected to the US pop culture, not the auteur scene.

I also strongly disagree with your later assessment. The 90s was viewed as the best decade by the younger film buffs in the 90s itself and the 00s, with 94 and 99 hailed and repeatedly pushed as the best year of all time. If anything this praise has slowed down as the big director names at the time fading out a little. It is likely true that the 70s have lost a little of it's hegemony as well, but if anything in favor of the 60s.

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#8

Post by St. Gloede » January 10th, 2019, 4:51 pm

Ivan0716 wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 3:21 pm
80s is still my least seen decade since the 40s, but I don't think it's the worst decade (anymore).

I did a quick count of the films I've rated 8 and higher:
USA - 14 (Might be worth noting that a number of these were made by European directors)
France - 6
Hungary - 6
Japan - 6
Taiwan - 6
UK - 6
Greece - 4
Hong Kong - 4
Poland - 4
Portugal - 4
Russia - 3
Italy - 2
Germany - 2
Spain - 2
Sweden - 2
Georgia - 1
Iran - 1
Vietnam - 1

Without doing the same for other decades, I'd guess the 80s have the highest representation of smaller countries (percentage-wise) for me, 60s is close I guess but around 1/4 of my top films from that decade are French.

I don't think the 80s was the worst decade for any of the big film countries neither: IMO the 60s was worse for USA, the 90s for France etc.

Oh, and surely the 30s/40s were worse offenders of "assembly line filmmaking" in Hollywood than the 80s?
Really interesting statistics! I wonder if the same is true for me. I know the 60s were the one decade that France beat the US in terms of favorites, "but smaller countries" may be lacking.

Regarding the 30s and 40s you certainly have a case, but I would argue that the studio system were lead by a collection of respectable craftmen with international acclaim. There is a reason why the 30s to 50s are called the golden age of cinema (in the US).

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#9

Post by Ivan0716 » January 10th, 2019, 6:30 pm

Sure, the most successful directors have the license to pick and choose the films that they make, but I think that's the exception rather than the norm. I remember reading about the studio system of that era and finding out that most directors are obliged to chuck out up to half a dozen films a year, usually from hastily written scripts just to capitalise on whatever the latest fad was at the time, so I think in that sense the attitude of "film as a commercial product" isn't any worse in the 80s than in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the approach may be different (big budget blockbusters vs. endless waves of low-budget imitations), but the idea is the same.

It might also be worth considering that the 80s is still a fairly young decade, and most of the American classics from the decade are considered classics because they're seen and loved by almost everyone of the internet(:very "vocal") generation, most of whom remember films like Indiana Jones and Princess Bride with fond nostalgia as films that defined the era. On the other hand the older classics from the early half of the century are generally considered as such mostly by critics and film historians, so who knows, maybe a few decades down the line the idea of 80s classics would be different from today when looked back on by the type of people who lauded films like Citizen Kane as classics rather than us average filmgoers. That could just be over-optimism on my part. :P

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#10

Post by matthewscott8 » January 10th, 2019, 6:58 pm

Some points, it's difficult to talk about film history like this by using arbitrary 10 year periods based on decimal counting from Jesus's birth. It's more reasonable perhaps to refer to cinema after the birth of sound, or colour, or what the cinema of the Occupation was like in France, or how the end of commercial VHS production effected filmmaking, or the period between the creation and destruction of the UK film council. Or with reference to psychological and philosophical trends, how did psychoanalysis affect Hollywood scriptwriting, how did postmodernism effect the French New Wave.

Clearly quality is very subjective, someone may dislike all film noir as too pessimistic, but love poppy movies from the 80s or vice versa.

Then there are complications in that what many people are talking about when they talk about the history of cinema, is, what was it like going to see Hollywood movies at the multiplex as a teenager or young adult, and clearly they are only aware of their own era and understanding the zeitgeist for another is very difficult, I can't claim to understand what a typical teenager or young adult is feeling about the cinema in 2018.

Even looking at your own levels of appreciation it is very difficult to ascertain quality. Maybe you watch the schlock of the 80s, but you don't watch the schlock of the 70s, maybe I've seen a lot of 80s action movies but not 70s surf movies. Because I read particular books I might be, in a biased way, focussing on the cinema of quality from one era and ignoring it from another.

We are also probably focussing on movies produced for international film festivals when we bring in "what happens if we bring in the rest of the world".

I just think that to have any grasp on the emotional flux and rewards of the human experience of going to the cinema over the past say 90 years would require an incredibly intensive research project, involving 100s of people globally, including people that currently aren't part of the anglophone hegemonic network. It would require a huge amount of data work, data uncovery, a clear framework, surveying, contextualisation etc. Something that is probably actually beyond human capability at the moment.
Last edited by matthewscott8 on January 10th, 2019, 7:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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#11

Post by flaiky » January 10th, 2019, 7:08 pm

I love 80s cinema. I'm sure there is a lot of crap, like Sol said, but I just avoid it and the best stuff has a quality that really clicks with me. 1984 and 1980 have two of my highest rating averages. It probably helps that I like electronica soundtracks!

I've 'favourited' 65 films from the decade, out of 348 seen, which is a pretty high percentage. My list: https://letterboxd.com/flaiky/list/favo ... the-1980s/
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#12

Post by albajos » January 10th, 2019, 7:22 pm

80s gave us straight to Video action flicks. It was a much easier way of distibution, so the 80s was the first decade we got widely available independent movies.

But this started in the 80s, it never really ended. Now you can sell your movies by streaming instead. So for 40 years now, it's logical that the average ratings go down as opposed to Pre-70s. It is simply more to consume, and much of it is very very cheap.

--

There is a lot of 80s movies that would end up in a facorite list, but not neccessary a best list. 1984 alone had Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, Karate Kid, Terminator, Police Academy, A Nightmare on Elm Street which all got sequels.

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#13

Post by weirdboy » January 10th, 2019, 7:40 pm

albajos wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 7:22 pm
80s gave us straight to Video action porn flicks. It was a much easier way of distibution, so the 80s was the first decade we got widely available independent movies.
Fixed that for you

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#14

Post by beavis » January 10th, 2019, 8:00 pm

Russian cinema actually also had a boom in the 80's due to the changing politics. The Chernuka "genre" was born then
And then indeed the whole of Asia from Iran to Japan (more independent/art/punk cinema then ATG, where I feel the major peak was also in the seventees)
As for commerical American cinema, some critics may regard this as a low point... but it actually was a highpoint for genre film making
It is not my favorite decade, but it certainly has a style and feel of it's own that I very much like (cinema du look?) and these broad kind of criticisms should always be contextualised better when writing about cinema...

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#15

Post by Onderhond » January 10th, 2019, 9:25 pm

St. Gloede wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 4:40 pm
The 80s tributes are primarily connected to the US pop culture, not the auteur scene.
True, but to the majority of the people that is cinema. Even modern auteurs (like Refn) cited the 80s quite strongly to create new classics (ie Drive).
St. Gloede wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 4:40 pm
I also strongly disagree with your later assessment. The 90s was viewed as the best decade by the younger film buffs in the 90s itself and the 00s, with 94 and 99 hailed and repeatedly pushed as the best year of all time. If anything this praise has slowed down as the big director names at the time fading out a little. It is likely true that the 70s have lost a little of it's hegemony as well, but if anything in favor of the 60s.
I feel the status of the 90s is strongly linked to the rise of the internet. It gave (mostly) young people a way to break free from traditional institutions (ie older people telling them what is good) and form their own communities where they could praise the films of their own time.

But it all depends on what group of people you focus on. If TSPDT and S&S is your reference group, I guess the balance is quite different.

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#16

Post by maxwelldeux » January 10th, 2019, 11:02 pm

weirdboy wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 7:40 pm
albajos wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 7:22 pm
80s gave us straight to Video action porn flicks. It was a much easier way of distibution, so the 80s was the first decade we got widely available independent movies.
Fixed that for you
Hehhehe...

But I watched a documentary on this phenomenon last month - Rewind This! It talked about the history of home viewing and how the VHS (et al) distribution method meant that more genre films could be made and distributed for a profit without having to rely on the theater or that distribution network. Hence oodles of action, horror, and sci-fi films.

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#17

Post by albajos » January 11th, 2019, 12:00 am

And Cannon, so much Cannon

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#18

Post by fori » January 12th, 2019, 3:42 am

I think it’s actually quite well established as of this decade that the 80s was a great decade for art, and particularly popular art. The opposite sentiment seems to have prevailed in the past, but has been gradually reversed over the last 5-10 years. I also totally agree that the denominations of decade are very arbitrary, but it’s hard to find anything more concrete to divide eras since the “new wave” period (although that isn’t really a concrete line either).

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#19

Post by OldAle1 » January 13th, 2019, 2:14 am

Lot of interesting stuff in this thread. I'm not going to respond to anybody individually but I probably will hit on or glance off of some of the points already made. One thing that strikes me right off is the comment about the 60s being a worse decade for Hollywood - totally agree on that! And yeah, the 80s probably were not the worst decade for any major film-producing country though I certainly don't know enough about all of them. But on to personal thoughts -

First, I grew up in the 80s. I was 14 on January 1 1980 and 24 at the end of the decade, and given that I saw very, very few films before 1977 - and that I went from a small town with one cinema to a big city with dozens in 1983, and a college with a film society that showed 2 films 6 nights a week, and then started working in a video store in 1987, it was definitely my formative decade when it comes to film - bearing in mind all of what matthewscott says about decades being artificial constructs and all, the period in question works pretty well in my case. It works for me both on a nostalgic level and in terms of actual growth (if I've had any) as a person and cineaste.

Second it was still a great era for movie-GOING, which I don't think has been mentioned yet, not that it means anything to anybody who wasn't actually going to cinemas in the decade. But while video was making huge inroads, still most people - particularly in a big city like Chicago - who were really interested in movies were seeing them in the cinemas and there were still a large number of arthouses, and mainstream multiplexes more often showed foreign/challenging/weird/unusual stuff than they do now; it was a good period for exposure to film the way it deserved to be seen. At the end of the decade Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her lover got a nationwide release and played in 4 NON-arthouse theaters in the area; can you imagine that happening now? And on another end of the spectrum it was a growth period for cult films/midnight movies that had really gotten going between the end of the 60s and Rocky Horror and Eraserhead in the 70s. John Woo films playing regularly. Hong Kong cinema generally and some of the more outre elements in Japanese cinema getting more play in the west. A great time to be young and able to go to the movies, and of course with the coming of straight-to-video, as good a time for cheap schlock and exploitation as the decades preceding.

It was also I think the last decade in American cinema when studios were actually paying anything more than lip service to the notion of making films for a variety of tastes - on a variety of budgets. Budgets were certainly increasing but it was still pretty common for something like Back to the Future to come out as a major summer film with a $19 million budget and grossing 11x that domestically, something that is virtually never achieved now by anything but a horror film. I suspect it was the new profits from video and cable that helped Hollywood to continue to keep making the variety of stuff they did, or maybe it was a combination of the youth market still exploding while the adult audience hadn't yet disappeared. For whatever reasons there were, in any case I think it's pretty clear that there was often more creativity in the genre stuff, and more attention paid to the non-genre stuff than now. Yeah there were sequels but you usually didn't find 6 or 8 or 11 entries in a franchise unless it was a low-budget horror, or Police Academy, and because the studios weren't throwing $250 million on a typical film they had greater flexibility and more ability to absorb the occasional huge flop - and more incentive to try new things I think, because they were still expanding their markets both domestically and abroad. Not really the case anymore unless Hollywood can somehow penetrate Bollywood.

Most of what I'd say about the non-American cinemas has been said already, though I'm not sure anybody mentioned sub-Saharan Africa which had a pretty good decade with Souleymane Cisse's Yeelen and a number of other films and filmmakers from Mali, Senegal, South Africa and a few other countries making a greater impact than ever before.

I could go on, I love talking about the 80s but I'll just leave with this which should sum up the greatness all by itself


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