This Would Seem Like the Perfect Time for the Studios to Get Back into the Movie Business
Dennis Burger told me a great wailing and gnashing of teeth could be heard emanating a couple of weeks ago from this year’s virtual Comic-Con because nobody knew when the new Wonder Woman film was going to be released, so all the vast profusion of product tie-ins, including a novelization and a new line of cosmetics, was being left suspended in the void, causing tremendous consternation among that franchise’s carefully cultivated and indoctrinated fan base.
Sorry, but I find it impossible to shed a tear over any of that, mainly because it was just another instance of the tail wagging a very shaggy dog. None of this is what the movies are supposed to be about.
Starting in the late ‘70s, Hollywood began moving away from making movies and into the “big event” business, creating not films but properties—things that depended as much on merchandising and other ties-in for their success as on anything that was projected up on the screen. It was a business model that eschewed cultivating discernment and appreciation, stoking
emotional addiction instead, ultimately going even more primal, coming to rely on constantly increased jolts of physiological stimulation—pumping adrenalin—to short-circuit any more considered response to what was being presented. And its success hinged on exploiting the emotional immaturity of teenagers—boys c. 12 to 14, in particular.
The result, 40 years on, is a culture defined, in almost every important respect, by arrested development. And the consequences, as we’re currently watching them play out, couldn’t be more devastating.
The movies became just another extension of the bubble & bust economy, an excuse for blind indulgence, consequences be damned. The audiences were huge, the profits were huge, the movies, almost without exception, were crap. And along the way, we came to confuse popularity with quality, which might be the biggest knot that needs to be undone.
But there’s no law that says it has to be this way—it’s just
that we’ve been trained to believe this is the only viable model. Well, that model isn’t serving any of us very well at the moment.
With traditional movie release patterns out the window, the almost complete cessation of film production, the fate of theaters in the balance, and vast economic uncertainty on the near and far horizons, it’s pretty obvious that all bets are now off. So it can’t hurt to daydream a little and imagine a better tomorrow.
So let me make a modest proposal.
What if we let adults make movies instead of the unending stream of entitled juvenile smart asses that have been at the helm throughout the postmodern era? What if all film budgets were capped at $50 million? What if special effects were only used when absolutely necessary and only to enhance the story instead of being slopped all over the movie like great gobs of Crisco and sugar on a flavorless wedding cake? What if there was a moratorium on franchise films and their latex and spandex, parallel universes, and weapons of mass destruction? Better, what if there was a moratorium on—yes, I’m actually going to type it—fantasy, and films returned to using something resembling reality as their point of departure? And what if most of this new breed of movies was meant not for Netflix or Amazon but actually for theaters, which were designed with taste and an aspirational flair that created a sense that what you were about to see actually matters instead of making you feel like you’re in imminent danger of being whisked away to a CIA black site.
I know, I know—I might as well be talking about cold fusion or perpetual motion. But nothing I’m suggesting here is impossible—it’s all easily doable. And once everyone has adjusted their expectations, it would soon become desirable—and way more sustainable than the current model.
Why is it that people who are so obsessive about planning their diets and tending to their gym memberships are OK with almost all the entertainment they consume being the equivalent of a super-sized sack of White Castle hamburgers brimming with fries? We’ve gorged ourselves on noxious piffle until our brains have gotten fat on the stuff and our neural pathways clogged. Irrational exuberance has proven to just be a cover for a coldly calculated effort to extract our last dime and a mass stifling of our imaginations.
I realize the public would need to overcome decades of propaganda (or marketing—same thing) and a serious case of the Stockholm syndrome for any of this to ever come to pass, but throwing off the escapist fetters would be like emerging from darkness into the dawn.
Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtable, marketing, product design, some theater designs,
a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.