Usually, it's put in a hostile fashion: What's the matter with you? Don't you like anything?
But sometimes, it's asked in a sympathetic tone: Isn't it dreadful? There just aren't any good movies any more, are there?
While it's nice to hear a sympathetic tone, and anger is always somewhat painful, neither of these points of view is really correct. Nor do they reflect the conclusions of a movie critic who often sees as many as six new feature films a week.
There are lots of good movies made, even in the judgment of a very critical critic. "Breaking Away" is a delight. "Don Giovanni" is beautiful. "Starting over" and "The Seducation of Joe Tynan" are funny. "The Onion Field" and ". . . And Justice for All" raise interesting issues. "Apocalypse Now" and "Northern Lights" are ambitious projects that have some stunning moments. "Time After Time" is a nice little thriller, and "Yanks" is a pretty little tearjerker.
These are just new films now playing in the area. Many good ones have come and gone, and there are some fine pictures from the past playing in town.
What, then, is the problem?
That none of these is a "classic" and a "msaterpiece." The funny pictures are just funny, not "hilarious," and the pretty or even beautiful are not "hauntingly" beautiful. And besides the films mentioned, there have been and are many, many dreadful films.
The problem is in expectations. Of what other art do people expect to be served up several excellent works a week and at least one masterpiece a month? The theater?Painting? Musical composition?
If there's one "masterpiece" a generation in such fields, audiences are grateful. Each field draws on past accomplishments, so that a theatrical season, for instance, in which no great play appears may still keep audiences happy by productions of past classics. (And, incidentally, a "classic" can only be "past" -- it's something that has stood the test of time. A "masterpiece" should, of course, be the crowning work of the career of a master artist. The instant application of either of these works to new films is ridiculous.) Ballet and opera audiences go perhaps too far in cherishing the great work of the past and not expecting anything monumental to come along in modern times. Obviously, at any given period -- even the Renaissance -- hundreds of inferior works came and went for every one destined to become a classic.
But we're a society that believes it deserves a constantly renewed amount of high quality "entertainment," and movies, like television, are expected to provide this. It helps if you're easily satisfied with the average product. People don't bother to apply absolute critical standards to what they watch, but merely relative ones among, say, competing films or television programs, will always have something of which they approve to watch.
But you can't have both. Parents' organizations that are angry because there aren't enough high quality television programs for children who watch several hours of television every day or even every week are being unrealistic. How much top-quality creativity do they think there is in the world? Must there be a constant supply coming at us?
May movie buffs seem to think so. If one does not herald the opening of terrific, fantastic, stupendous new movies regularly every Wednesday and Friday, it must be that one is disgruntled and never plesased, or that the movies themselves have gone to pot.