Why Are Movies Bad?


All right, if Claire can talk about her tuna cans, I want to talk about what’s on MY mind this summer Friday! Forget politics. Why are movies so bad? I’ve been in a lot of pitch meetings this month. I meet intelligent, creative, dedicated producers and executives who really want to make good pictures. There are good writers out there, good directors… but the pictures stink. (Yes, I saw Toy Story 3. I know they don’t all stink, but in general…) The usual excuse is that the commerce kills the art – but then you watch director’s cuts (in which the arteeste shows the film he would’ve made if the suits hadn’t ruined it all) and, guess what, they’re worse than the original. And you realize – commerce is GOOD for art, commerce is a corrective for art. It’s not that. I blame Obama. Or soccer. Or Obama playing soccer. Someone must pay!

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    How many studio executives appear at these meetings? I suspect therein lays your answer. Studio executives overrule producers insisting on the insertion of elements designed to appeal to other demographics beside the target audience. Commerce is partially to blame, but it’s the strange mechanism of product placement and in film marketing that makes a villain of commerce. Fundamentally, a well-written, well-acted, well-directed film should be commercially successful without synergistic partners, tie-ins, product promos and other distractions.

    Christian Toto has advocated independent film since I began reading him. The films he touts are almost never perfect cinematic experiences but they are far better than the usual options at the theater. Regrettably, you need a sherpa to help locate the few worthy of attention and not the self-indulgent film school projects.

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    Not current, I know, but something I just happened to catch on TV, and was very impressed with is “Juno.” I remember people telling me it was clever, and worth seeing, but I didn’t believe them. It was funny, clever, low-key, and I really couldn’t predict anything that happened in the story. That was refreshing. My biggest disappointment is when I can predict what happens next. That happens often, and when it does, I feel robbed. A lot of times, I see the trailer, and that’s enough for me. I fill in the rest in my head, and don’t have to buy a ticket.

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    Juno was a fine film. A good example of a small picture with hungry and capable actors, working with a good script and a solid director with a minimum of studio interference. They exist but are increasingly rare.

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    Paul A. Cantor covered this topic exhaustively (and entertainingly) in his lecture series Commerce and Culture which you can get from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Executive summary: the market is the best (or maybe, the least bad) way to fund art. Government grants are the worst.

    Check it out. Cantor is a geeeenius.

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    Andrew Klavan: Why are movies so bad? 

    I’ll grant your point that movies are bad, but surely you have some all-time favorites (aside from “True Crime” and “Don’t Say a Word,” that is).  What would those be?

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    There’s a popular notion among artists everywhere that “mainstream” is bad. The less artists interact with non-artists, the more ridiculously warped their aesthetics become.

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    Diane Ellis

    I’ll grant your point that movies are bad, but surely you have some all-time favorites (aside from “True Crime” and “Don’t Say a Word,” that is). What would those be? · Jun 25 at 9:47am

    Well, Diane, my all-time favorites – films like The Godfather, Branagh’s Henry V, Casablanca, Gone With The Wind and The Maltese Falcon are beside the point – or rather, that is the point: they ain’t making them like that anymore. When I look at the films I’ve liked this decade, they’re almost all fantasy and children’s films: stuff like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Dark Knight, The Incredibles. Talk about adult, human drama now and we’re talking television: The Wire, The Shield, The Sopranos, Mad Men. There’s nothing remotely of that quality in the theaters. I’m speaking off the cuff here, so maybe someone will remind me of something I’ve forgotten. But most of the stuff the critics have loved – Crash, There Will Be Blood, Eternal Sunshine – others I won’t mention because friends worked on them – I thought were empty, pretentious pabulum.

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    Hm. I see fantastic movies almost weekly. It’s just that most of them are Indie-type flicks like the extraordinary Winter’s Bone, or foreign films like Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (I can’t wait to see how badly Hollywood trashes the remake of the latter.)

    So … saying movies are bad is like saying state governments are bad. There’s California, and then there is Indiana. (Hmm, Indie … Indiana. Coincidence?)

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    I think the quality of almost any story finds its roots in the quality of its characters. Considering just the films you’ve listed, Andrew, that seems to be the difference. Perhaps Hollywood writers have fallen into a bad habit of trying to force a story onto a predetermined theme.

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    I heard an interesting point the other day that I have never heard anywhere else. I believe it was in a Medved interview — but memory fails — but the person involved commented that in the early 50s something like 80% of American adults had seen a movie in a theater within the last month. But in 2010, that figure has dropped to less that 10%. (I may not have the figures exactly right, but the point remains.)

    In the “good old days” movies were made to entertain adults. Today they’re made to entertain “tweens”. No wonder there is little that emtertains, much less engages. an adult intellect.

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    Ross notes a crushing statistic: “Of the 25 highest-grossing movies of the last decade, only “Avatar” and “Finding Nemo” weren’t based on pre-existing properties.” What’s bizarre to me is that this could lead to longer, better, richer, more rewarding, more subtle, more engrossing narratives. A mania for novelty would presumably produce nonsensical, contextless fluff — one Beverly Hills Chihuahua after the next. Paradox: manias for novelty produce so many distinctions that the difference disappears. But reaching back to venerable properties and titles has produced more superficiality — each sequel simply more bloated and incomprehensible than the next, to the point where it’s all interchangeable. Sigh!

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