Friday, June 11, 2010

Cinephile's Lament

If you care about good films, the summer blockbuster season takes on the feel of a child's birthday party--a lavish four-month birthday party for someone else's spoiled brat. You begin to think, "How much sugar can these little creeps ingest? And why don't their parents make them stop?"

Between May and August (though, now, the time frame has been widened to April), we're subjected to Hollywood's artistic implosion, a freaky shadow image of the ongoing financial crisis. The root cause of most evil, as I remember reading somewhere, is the love of money, and Hollywood is breaking its own back in pursuit of big cash.

Look, I'm not naive, Hollywood has always be greedy. Always. But if you look back at the studio system of the thirties and forties you'll find that the people who made movies by and large were in the business because they loved making movies. After the studio system fell apart in the 1950s, Hollywood drifted. Corporations stepped in, and suddenly the studios were being run by marketing people. Movies got bigger and more expensive, but television siphoned away half of the potential audience for a night at the movies. In the late sixties and early seventies, the movie geeks and film school students took over. The late Dennis Hopper got some weed, a couple of motorcycles, and Jack Nicholson and went out in the desert and made Easy Rider. The film was a money machine, so for a while the town handed the keys to the kingdom over to the young and arty and we had the age of Taxi Driver, The Last Detail, and The Conversation.

Then Lucas made Star Wars. Whatever the merits of that particular film, it taught an unmistakable lesson to the suits: one film can generate billions of dollars. It doesn't have to be the best movie ever made. Hell, it needn't even be good. It simply needs to be marketed well.

Summer has become the season wherein the studios--though we would be more accurate to call them the conglomerates--release their "tentpole" films. These movies are designed to go off like fireworks. You buy them, they explode, pretty colors spit across the sky for a few seconds, you buy some more. And now you can pay ten dollars more for some plastic glasses to watch this shit sparkle in 3D.

If I sound bitter, it's because I am bitter. I love movies, and movies (especially Hollywood movies) are being made less and less for cinephiles. Movies are made for fans of television shows (Sex and the City, The A-Team...The A-Team?), fans of comic books, fans of last year's blockbusting marketing extravaganza.

What about the movie geeks? What about the people who want to be wowed by a film, who want to walk into a theater and fall in love with a film? Show me something interesting, show me something smart. Wow me with art. Make me think. Make me smile. Make me cry. It's been done. It's been done so well, in fact, that I've become a film junkie, a man addicted to good movies.

Candy is good. Food is better. I like sugar, too, but five months of nothing but sugar will rot the teeth right out of your head. Beyond the summer season, where it's accepted that movies are supposed to suck, things aren't a whole lot better. How could they be? Infection spreads.

"There's no trick to making a lot of money," Mr. Bernstein says in Citizen Kane "if all you care about is making a lot of money." That's as true in Hollywood today as it is on Wall Street. You needn't make something that people want--a house, a film--you need only sell the idea.

The idea is key. It's the big ATM card. What you're selling doesn't matter, so long as you sell it well. This is why movie screens have become an avalanche of sequels, remakes, and video game adaptations. You need a brand because a brand sells itself. That's the idea, the magic idea. The product sells itself. That's all you need because you're not trying to make movies, anymore. You're trying to make money.


Marshal Fine has similar beef over at Hollywood and Fine. He takes aim at Transformers and his aim is true.


Naomi Johnson said...

My sentiments precisely.

Anthony Marais said...

Bravo! "Star Wars," "Rocky" and "Jaws" were the combination punch that buckled Hollywood's (already weak) knees and left it crashing down to the mat. Thank you for promoting quality cinema. The world needs it. I certainly do!