In a post reflecting on the career of the recently deceased film director Robert Wise, Flickhead observes that
Nearly a household name during the days of West Side Story and The Sound of Music—their poster graphics were once an inescapable, integral part of ‘60s pop culture—Wise was virtually forgotten a decade later. Whether viewers who are now in their twenties or thirties will ever screen his pictures seems doubtful. Like so much of pre-1980’s American film culture, Robert Wise represents a cinematic language that’s rarely ever spoken anymore.
Wise may not be as well-known as he once was, but in my opinion it's simply incorrect to say that he "represents a cinematic language that's rarely evey spoken anymore." To the extent that Wise possessed "mannered, conservative instincts," as Flickhead also puts it, he seems to me to epitomize current Hollywood filmmaking. (I don't necessarily mean to disparage Wise's achievements; some of his films--The Body Snatcher, Born to Kill, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting--are very good indeed.) The vast majority of Hollywood movies are every bit as formulaic, predictable, and vacuously "well-made" as most of the films to come out of the "machine" in operation during the so-called "golden era" that also produced a director like Wise. Although there is a more vibrant independent film culture now, I can't say that very many of the films produced by the indies seem to me particularly radical or experimental. At best these films are more idiosyncratic, less obviously commercical in content, but they're hardly groundbreaking in technique. I've seen nothing in recent years that makes me think about the possibilities of the film medium in fresh ways. (Memento came close, but Christopher Nolan's subsequent films have been notably disappointing. And David Lynch continues to provoke.) Slices of life, coming of age stories, and "quirky" comedies predominate, and we're exposed to few characters who can't be played by the likes of Ben Stiller and Jason Lee.
What made the golden age of Hollywood "golden" was that despite the strictures and conservative assumptions of the studio system, directors of more than ordinary talent and with distinctive styles--Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, Lubitsch, Sturges--were nevertheless able to flourish. There was room for skillful, artistically respectable filmmaking despite the commercial imperatives with which these directors had to live. Now all is commerce, the cost of making films and the need to find financing on a project-by-project basis seemingly requiring an adherence to established codes and conventions. Robert Wise certainly does not belong in the same artistic company as Ford or Hitchcock, but his "conservative" approach has hardly been superseded by contemporary directors of the usual Hollywood product.
Notice: Anyone who would like to set me straight and point me to recent films that do indeed encourage us to "think about the possibilities of the film medium in fresh ways" are hereby invited to do so.