Currently, I am watching Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) on my laptop. Well currently I am writing this, but previously to currently I was watching Some Like It Hot.
I wonder if Mr. Wilder would be upset knowing that his film, which was created for the grandeur of a large screen, was being viewed on a 15 inch monitor? Would the Capras and Hitchcocks be disappointed knowing that their pictures are now watched in such an isolated viewing space when their work was meant to be experienced alongside an audience?
Going to the movies isn’t just meant to be entertainment; it’s the experience. It’s the screen, the squeaky chairs, the popcorn and Reese’s Pieces combo, the guy next to you hogging the armrest, the three year old laughing at something that was not meant to be a joke, the collective gasps, the catharsis. It’s all of it.
Recently, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were speaking at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where the two lauded directors lamented how difficult it is to now get films into movie theaters and how the poor performance of big-budget pictures would bring about the “implosion” of the film industry. Mr. Speilberg went on to predict that less action-centric films like Lincoln would be moved to television.
To that I say, “Please don’t, Mr. Spielberg – keep faith!” The film industry has changed before and it will do it again and then probably a few more times after that.
Movie ticket sales bottomed out in the ’60s and ’70s because of television but then Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) were made and the industry emerged from decimation on the backs of the high-concept blockbusters, created by the very people who are now predicting this supposed “implosion.” And before that, there was the destruction of the studio system in the 1950s and then before that there was the adoption of the Hays Code in the 1930s.
Film evolves just like anything else in this world. Economies, governments and mammals – they all change and grow because it is how they become better. Most importantly, people evolve and their tastes evolve along with them.
Hollywood has been trying to make one-size-fits-all films for a while now and it has recently become very apparent that this model is beginning to fall apart. It seems that somewhere along the way Hollywood has forgotten something: Audiences are smart. We understand nuance and, at times, even appreciate complexity. We are individuals. We cannot be boxed into age demographics or four quadrants.
Maybe this is just me being a naïve kid, but audiences will inherently recognize when a film is good. You don’t need to dangle shiny effects in front of our faces or throw in a third dimension for us to show up at the theatre. Don’t get me wrong, those are great too, but they aren’t necessary. Film, at its most basic function, is about storytelling, right? So if the story is good then people will show up, gimmick or not. Sure, it may not gross $1.1 billion, but what’s so wrong with making a modestly budgeted film that will earn a modest profit?
Now, I know that I cannot fully comprehend the complexities of the film industry and all the mathematics involved in selecting what pictures get made, but I do know that I do not want to show up to the movie theatres in ten years and have to take my kids to Thor XVIII because it was the only movie released that month.
So, Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas, you are right – the industry needs to change, but I hope it doesn’t happen in the way you have predicted with only a select few mega-budget, post-apocalyptic young adult novel adaptions being made a year with tickets prices exceeding $25, ’cause that is not the industry I signed up for, and that is not the cinema I love.
I am fully aware that I am seeking employment in a silly, oftentimes absurd industry. I don’t need Steven Spielberg to tell me that. But as I see it, we can either condemn it or we can fix it.
Sure, the film industry has its fair share of internal problems, but it is also a self-correcting system. When something doesn’t work it will become apparent (as it already has) and it will be fixed – hopefully for the better.
In the immortal (and all too appropriate) words of Osgood Fielding III, “Nobody’s perfect.”
Featured image via kottke.org