Friday, February 20, 2009

The toilet bowl - yours and mine

The bulk of what the Hollywood studios are producing these days is crap. And as crap, there is only one place where it belongs. Yet they continue to pump it into the theaters, not only without shame, but with a smug sense of triumph. The dismal truth is that what you are seeing on the screens is not a cynical appraisal of what the studios think you want, but the level best that they can imagine and accomplish. And it is getting worse.

There are two reasons for this. First, the changing nature of the film business. Movie studios are no longer autonomous or even semi-autonomous entities run, for better or worse, by moguls whose egos sometimes created works of note. Now they are wholly owned subsidiaries of multi-national conglomerates whose intention never was and never will be to make movies of any worth to anyone. Their goal, understandably, is to turn as large a profit as possible for their shareholders to whom, through their executives and boards, they must report. I read yesterday, for example, that while Sony made huge profits on its electronics divisions, it barely scraped by on Columbia, its film division. This will scarcely endear Columbia to Sony's stock owners, the board of directors and the top executives. And so, more than ever, Columbia executives will be pressured to make movies that make money, and there goes the neighborhood theater.

The second reason is the quality of the young people being brought into the business. In my experience they are, by and large, inferior types who are hired and routinely promoted for reasons that have nothing to do with their erudition, culture or judgment when it comes to film. They seem to be, at best, amiable young folk who dress well, have attended acceptable schools (usually to get MBAs), know how to conduct themselves in the corporate climate - which means knowing how to grin, grovel and get along - and have an instinctual eye for the bottom line, rather than having their heads in the clouds of art.

Between these two forces - corporate greed as embodied in the conglomerates, and corporate culture as embodied in the young studio execs - the industry is quickly losing any sense of taste, risk, social responsibility or even humor. And who suffers for it? Not the stock holders, who can simply apply more pressure to make money or force the firing of those who fail to do so, but the audience, the customers, the movie goers, the very people for whom the industry was created, dreaming as they have always loved to do in the dark. Their dreams are being sold out, by older corporate types who are too invested to care, and younger ones who are too eager to please.