“Film is perhaps more like these records of daily life than it is like the documents that record great events”, written by essayist and film historian Tom Gunning. Film historians believe that studying film is important because film is a reflection of a time, an era. This phenomenon helps explain why 1967’s highest-grossing film, The Graduate was beloved by the upcoming generation X; meanwhile, a newer audience is beginning to have trouble relating with the message. The Graduate’s capturing of a generation’s struggles mostly resonates with the generation that struggled with said issues. In saying that, it is then important to analyze and examine recurring themes in today’s media to hopefully better understand today’s culture and values. The modern-recurring theme that I find odd is of film’s fearness towards cheesiness.
I believe that cheesiness in film cannot be objectified. Instead it is the opposite of objective: subjective. I might find the end of Romancing the Stone cheesy, and you might find the ending of Rocky cheesy. Acknowledging this, we ask ourselves, how we do define cheesiness? I generally hear “cheap”, “lousy”, “unrealistic”. I say those are side-effects of cheesiness. I find the root of cheesiness to be “inauthenticity” For an example, I feel the ending of Rocky to not be cheesy at all, because the scene feels deserved to me. Meanwhile, at the end of Romancing the Stone, the scene fell flat. The difference was that in Rocky, I was able to relate with him and his struggles to the end. His external conflicts may never be relatable to me, but I can relate to his everyday internal conflicts. In contrast, at the end of Romancing the Stone, it felt hollow to me. Void of reality. Her internal conflicts were dealing with her external conflicts. The film never built upon emotions with me. Thus, when the final scene came, there existed no strong emotional structure, and therefore I could not resonate with the scene, and it felt forced or cheesy. It felt cheesy because it felt like a poor imitation of life. Meanwhile in Rocky, Rocky’s love for Adrian and his self-doubt was all too relatable. Therefore, a proper definition for cheesiness in film could be “the feeling of inauthenticity and or a lack of realism in a scene caused by the viewer being incapable to relating with said scene”.
Cheesiness has always been a problem for blockbusters. Many blockbusters are not the best written films. In the eighties, I felt as most blockbusters were very cheesy, never deserved, at the end. Our modern day solution to this: to stay away from cheesiness. Walking away sounds like a good idea in practice, but Marvel Studios’ hit-blockbuster Doctor Strange is a perfect example of why this does not work. The film follows the same hero-origin structure akin to most films in the genre: like Marvel Studios’ Iron Man, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The film followed the structure laid out by the films, beat-by-beat. Though Doctor Strange had its’ own spin. Every time the film got dark and grim, and the scene begins to climax … it makes a joke. To illustrate, in Spider-man 2, before he fights the villain at the end, we get a scene where he chooses to either fight the villain or just walk away. The film holds on Spider-man’s fists, and I was able to emphasize with his struggles. This could of been cheesy, but it felt deserved. Throughout the whole film, he faced moral dilemmas as being a superhero, this scene was the culmination of them all. Doctor Strange tried the same thing. In Doctor Strange, we have experienced lost and see the main character watch how dangerous the conflict can be. He looks into the mirror, and the film asks “should he stay or should he go”? Everything has led up to this scene. The music begins to crescendo, and … the film makes a sleazy joke with his cape. Any momentum this scene had was lost to a sleazy and personally not a funny joke. This scene was not the exception, but the rule. Every time in the film, when things began to get dark and grim, and we would worry for the character … the scene ends with a joke. Now, Doctor Strange is not considered a comedy nor did it try to be considered as one. But because if they truly allow the film to become emotional, it may fall flat and become cheesy. They replace the tyrant of cheesiness with quips and ironic punchlines. The problem still exists in the film, and I believe the new tyrant is worst. Yet, the film is no longer the exception anymore, Raimi’s Spider-man would now be considered the exception. Want to see more, watch or rewatch The Avengers, Ant-Man, Thor, even DC’s Batman Versus Superman and Suicide Squad. They all face this fatal flaw, and in avoiding cheesiness, they lose something important. They lose sentimentality. We never get these special moments with characters. Instead, we get punchlines. We no longer get great scenes like the end of Rocky, or the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Instead, we recieve films that are too afraid to fail and too afraid to be mocked as cheesy.
I always found great stories are stories that take risks. Most great filmmakers has or will make a dud. In a subjective field, not every film is perfect. To make art, one must accept failure is inevitable. Though, these films are not trying to make art. Today’s highest-grossing films are trying to make the most profit they can, thus they give the masses what they want. What does this say about us as an society? Are we tired of sincerity or did the big studios choose this for us? I do not have any answers to give. History will tell, soon enough. Though, I can give you a glimmer of hope. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman has been smashing box-office records left and right. In an interview about the film, the reporter mentioned the word “cheesy” and Jenkins was quick to respond: “Did you say cheesy? Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis”. I believe Jenkins is right. It is time for us to tell “real stories”, stories rich of sincerity. It is time for us to stop being afraid, and to accept the occasional mistakes. It is now time.