The decay of the “average feature film” is such a common refrain it’s worth noting how Thomson’s version veers from the standard complaint. He does not think that moviemakers have simply stopped trying. He suggests, most startlingly, that the seeds of today’s anodyne blockbusters took root in the heyday of postwar film. Pronouncing Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece, “Sunset Blvd.,” “the start of a new adulthood,” he explains how shrinking audiences led to a crisis of cinematic confidence. (The pictures did, in fact, get small.) In Thomson’s eyes, the French New Wave, and especially Godard’s work, was one propitious outgrowth of this change: because the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd rose to prominence as critics, their filmmaking employed a vocabulary tinged with allusion and anxious self-awareness. (“The critic in Godard was battling the storyteller,” Thomson writes.) By the time the young filmmakers of the late ’60s and ’70s arrived — Bertolucci, Coppola, Scorsese — moviemaking had become the province of artists schooled in “film studies”-style appreciation.
more from Nathan Heller at the NY Times here.