Oh cursed executives of cesspit Hollywood, will you ever understand what audiences want? Creators of illusion lost in fantasy. That sounds poetic.
Recently the cinematic adaption of It was put on hiatus due to the poor showing of the rebooted Poltergeist based on, and this is the truth, the latter picture’s usage of a clown for most of its advertising. According to Hollywood logic, the reason that Poltergeist underperformed was because American moviegoers weren’t drawn in by a clown in a horror movie. Not because the script was shit. Not because the performances were lackluster. Not because the reviews were bad. Not because it was yet another reboot to a classic movie released with the cynical belief that simply slapping a known name on a shoddy project with glossy visuals was supposed to distract the average moviegoer from its hollow, soulless core. Deep breath…
From the beginning it has been common knowledge, even a blasted cliche, that Hollywood is simply interested in profits. There is no denying that. The problem is that Hollywood, functioning as a business, has failed to understand the basic maxim of any successful endeavor: the customer is always right. I would like to say it is hubris as well as Hollywood’s incestuous bubble that has sheltered it from the reality of what moviegoers want versus what they believe we desire.
It used to be movies were spectacle. Moving pictures flickering in darkness, new groundbreaking stuff to our turn of the century ancestors. It was different, it was new. But when the initial thrill wore off, people wanted a simple story to flesh out the imagery which eventually evolved into wanting something deeper. In a way, audiences want the illusion to be real. They want to be transported. They want to laugh, they want to cry. The magic of movies, then as now, was the illusion of life. And people loved it, this dream within the real. Nothing could compete with it.
What gave rise to this industry, which is telling, were the cynical labs of Thomas Edison. From the beginning he saw lucrative possibilities, especially if he could keep the fledgling cinema market to himself. When he tried to monopolize the industry, hundreds of rogues fled west to establish a free collection of studios far out of reach of Edison’s greedy hands. They saw possibility. Some even dreamt of artistic freedom. That was the first knock on a business that put greed first, the moving of the powerbase from New York to California. Nothing could compete with the fervent work emerging from Southern California and what started as risky enterprises in California gradually became respectable.
Cinema even came to alter the national landscape. Birth of a Nation created riots and resurrected the KKK. Clara Bow established what it was to be a woman in the Twenties with her flapper style and sexual liberty.
Then sound came evolving the industry. It made movies fully immersive. Sitting there, watching this story carried by light hovering before you in the shadows; it is powerful stuff. It is magic. The Depression made it almost holy in those cinematic palaces. People escaped the grim reality around them for a few moments to experience that ethereal world. The sky was the limit.
But with all that money came the negatives. Studios monopolized distribution, signed talent to binding contracts of near servitude, scandals constantly broke of murder, rape, and worse. A bubble came to surround Los Angeles thick with nepotism and cronyism. Despite all that, the Golden Age of cinema was just that breaking ground, being innovative, giving the audience something they had never seen before. And when profits were threatened, the studios were more than happy to censor their talent to keep the money rolling in. Profit, rather than artistic integrity, was the mantra especially if said talent threatened their day to day operations. Movies became idealistic and unreal, shells of what had come before.
Television is what brought about a short lived revolution to cinema. With audiences able to get their fix at home, cinemas had to resort to gimmick and spectacle to draw the audiences in. Even that proved to not be enough. Hollywood had lost touch with America. But then Europe gave America a view of what cinema could be: art, visual poetry,emotional storytelling. Plot and sense took a backseat to character and soul. With studios going bankrupt and the entire system collapsing, what did they have to lose? So they put the business back into the hands of the artists. With that we got The Exorcist, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, the Godfather, Taxi Driver. We discovered Coppola and Scorcese, Friedkin and Polanski. Hollywood corrected itself, got back in touch with what people wanted. But then Lucas and Spielberg gave us the one two punch of Jaws and Star Wars and the money poured in again with all its corrupting influence.
There is nothing wrong with making money, but Hollywood never learns. It’s just the cyclical nature of cinema, poverty inspiring story, story making wealth, wealth leading to greed, greed smothering art, the collapse, and then we start again. If a sure line was drawn, if Hollywood was run properly, imagine the things that could arise.
The thing that fouls the entire system is studio interference in the movie making process. Most executives fail to realize they are on the business side. That means controlling costs, that means coming up with advertising ideas, that means selling distribution. That does not mean deciding races of characters, changing plot to suit a vapid test audience, or re-editing a picture without notice. Nor does it mean pushing an agenda or trying to set the new fads. Cinema is meant to be a reflection of society, not its arbiter.
With its closed circle, isolation from reality, and profit for profits own sake, Hollywood is setting itself up for another fall. This Memorial Day weekend is proof of that. With the rise of the internet, video games, cable television, and more, Hollywood is once more facing another crisis to which they have answered in the same failed way which includes spectacle (3D, DBox, and IMax) and going to the well of established properties whether with sequels, shared universes, or reboots. Their actions show a lack of creativity and understanding of what their audience desires. Hollywood just can’t compete and if they aren’t careful, if they don’t return some modicum of control to the artists, then they are going to find themselves lost in the ether that Hollywood emerged from.