The Death of the Hollywood Dream Factory
It’s not news to anyone that the Hollywood studios have become hypnotized by the corporate drive to fatten the bottom line. Honestly, they can’t be blamed for this – if they don’t make money they won’t be in business very long. But somewhere along the road to fiscal responsibility they lost their most important asset: creativity. What happened? What went wrong?
This total rejection of the precious essence of the creative process itself was not accidental. If a down-on-his-luck former glove salesman like Samuel Goldwyn can shepherd “Gone With the Wind” and hundreds of other masterpieces, why can’t today’s studio bosses green-light an occasional film with an engaging story line which grabs us on a deep, emotional level? What’s missing here and where did they go wrong? The answer is simple.
All it takes is one “Spiderman,” or one “Batman: the Dark Knight,” and dozens of spineless studio executives rush for the exits searching for that next blockbuster “tent pole” that will pay off like a malfunctioning Vegas slot machine. Making these kinds of popcorn pictures doesn’t take one ounce of talent or even a glimmer of intelligence. Put in enough coins and that slot machine will eventually pay off no matter how much you lost in the process. “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane” were works of pure creative genius while today’s studio releases are visually-stunning but completely empty black holes. Imax, 3D and complex CGI effects simply tell me that the story, character development and dramatic structure are missing. It’s like a big arrow pointing at the screen which says, “Sorry, we blew it again, but it looks cool, huh?”
The majors all follow, (or try to follow) a specific economic model. Put some big names in an expensive picture, market the hell out of it and create what is known as a “brand.” Then, sell and re-sell the picture over and over again. Who cares if the picture is an empty piece-of-crap, put it in 4,000 theaters and you’ll make some money before the word gets out and the “brand” has been registered in the minds of the public.
Although theater attendance is lower than ever, the theater owners know what’s up. Isn’t something wrong when they make more money from popcorn than admissions? Meanwhile, the narrow-minded, self-righteous studio executives in their Armani pants, white shirts and skinny ties order up “assets” and “brands,” not movies. They tell everyone they’re the real Hollywood but they have less business acumen than the manager of a 7-11 store. And they know it too. They’ve killed the Hollywood Dream Factory that the world had come to know and love. But, there’s some good news here.
Previously, the Friday morning edition of my local paper was always formatted the same way: The opening weekend studio release got the front page and all the indies were relegated to a few short paragraphs at the back of the entertainment pages. It didn’t matter that the studio offering was a piece of empty-headed crap, it got the big spread anyhow. The studios and theater owners buy co-op ads and the thin line between the advertising and editorial departments was easily crossed. But this business-as-usual approach seems to be slowly changing. I hope.
Perhaps it’s guilt that forces film critics to recommend good films to their readers and resist the powerful pull of the press junket and strictly controlled access to famous stars? I mean, how would you react if you were an unknown small town movie critic given the opportunity to meet Brad Pitt face-to-face? They’re pulling your chain and you know it! But they usually play the same game over and over like a good paper-trained puppy should. It’s the very rare critic that has the guts to go up against the distributor’s publicity machine. But who can blame them in a world where Paris Hilton and OctoMom beats out Nobel Prize winners for the public’s admiration?
All of us need to stomp our feet and say that CGI does not substitute for a good story and classy dialogue and that Imax makes bad acting worse. We need to write to our local film critics, bemoan the death of the Hollywood studios and demand that the innovative smaller pictures get their due. Not just a passing mention, but an in-depth analysis of what worked and what didn’t. True creativity lies in the small pictures that struggle to be noticed and should be judged on their merits, not money.