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Archive for August 14th, 2009

*Note: Best wishes to Roger Ebert, who I sincerely hope gets a good voice as discussed here, not for the film and general community’s benefit but so that such an articulate, witty man can communicate without frustrations to his loved ones and friends.   Bless him.
Also, I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but bear with me.
A few days ago, Roger Ebert posted a journal entry titled “The gathering Dark Age”, inspired by a blog entry from Patrick Goldstein.  Goldstein’s piece describes how The Hurt Locker, a critically acclaimed film from Kathryn Bigelow, is not doing that well amongst folks in my age range (18-30, I’ll say, for argument’s sake) even with stellar word of mouth.   (Word of mouth has long been touted, according to Ebert, as something that will help drive box office totals up and up.)   Ebert laments this fact and then goes on to state that my generation exhibits a decline in education and intelligent thought.   I am reluctant to disagree.
Ebert also points out that studio marketing and publicists have leashed the real thoughts of actors and actresses; the studio hype machine has lead to boring and predictable marketing that is a dog-and-pony show.
You can read Ebert’s entry here.   Something about it stuck in my grey matter for days and I kept coming back to his thoughts over and over again.   I thought I would write about it here, if only to see the discussion that may surface over it.  I am certainly no peer of Roger Ebert’s, but what I felt and thought about this subject spanned far more than a simple comment left on Ebert’s journal.
Some may have heard about “The Hurt Locker,” but simply lack the nerve to suggest a movie choice that involves a departure from groupthink.
With regard to Ebert’s critique of my generation’s failure to come out for The Hurt Locker, I don’t know if that’s the best movie to use as an example.  Iraq war movies have not done stellar box office in the past, so I find myself surprised that The Hurt Locker has done as well as it has.    Secondly, I do think you have to take into account that a chunk of that 18 – 30 demographic has loved ones fighting in that war.   Watching something like The Hurt Locker may be too uncomfortable and too close to home for some folks.   The nostalgia of certain properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers is small but not discounted, I don’t think, since the subject of Transformers killing at the box office is brought up.   With a major recession in play, I also believe that people are going to trend towards more lighthearted, ‘simpler’ fare.
That being said, none of that is a great explanation for why The Hurt Locker is failing to draw in some of my peers.   I don’t like swallowing any of those explanations, though they’re valid for some folks.   By my own logic, (500) Days of Summer should be trampling over the competition at the box office … and it isn’t.
Ebert’s warning that my generation is headed into dire straits is not unfounded.   We are a generation that is, in my opinion, less educated and less knowledgeable than the generations that came before us.   Those of us in our twenties cannot abdicate personal responsibilities because our education system taught us only to take exit tests; we may have to – as a generation – spend less time watching the exploits of those two nitwits Heidi and Spencer Pratt and read some books or go to a museum.   Those of you reading this are probably one of those ‘educated’ types, so I’m going to say that it’s difficult to change another person unless they want to change.  At the moment, most people my age see nothing wrong with not at least attempting to be an educated, articulate person.
Do I hold out any hope for this?  Not really.
It is not just the teenagers and the twentysomethings.  My advice to anyone who wants to see a cultural decline in general and in film – go work a few weeks in a suburban video rental store.  Watch what the forty to sixty-ish age people are renting.  There is a reason your local Blockbuster gets three hundred copies of The DaVinci Code in; if people aren’t clutching their pearls at that scandalous movie’s subject matter, that’s what they want to watch.   It’s not the teenagers renting that crap (they’re renting seasons of The Hills or whatever reality show’s on MTV these days).  Ignorance is something that I see being taught, not randomly accepted by my generation.
We, as a society, have become lazy.   I will hold myself accountable for my own personal laziness, as I am no saint incapable of such a thing.    My generation is particularly visible in this regard.   As a culture, we export American movies to the rest of the world but refuse to watch their cinematic endeavors because reading subtitles is hard. God forbid we learn another language.
This, I think, is why the remake is popular.  It’s a win for the studios and a win for the public.  The studios churn them out probably faster than they can original properties, viewers get a sense of nostalgia (or are ignorant enough of the original, like The Taking of Pelham 123, that it feels new) and everyone’s happy.   Lazy.
We watch big budget blockbusters because they are comforting and because change is scary and unfamiliar.   We only want to watch what’s advertised on TV or what film’s got the prettiest poster.
It is going to take effort to revive interest in good movies.  It will require effort on everyone’s part which is why it will take a good, long time for the pendulum to swing back to the less lazy side, because this requires work and thought.   Good movies require some involvement on the viewer’s part, some sort of emotional investment, thought process or question that the viewer is left pondering.    Movies like Transformers do not.   That is part of their appeal.
I myself am guilty of a bad movie fetish.   I am willing to admit my own hypocrisy here because there’s not really a leg to stand on with that issue when you love Predator as much as I do.   But I acknowledge that there’s a different feeling I get, a different level of brain activity I experience when I watch something like The 400 Blows versus Predator.   They are two different levels of liking, two different planes of my brain.  Movies are like food; you don’t want to eat one meal for the rest of your life, and so it goes with movies.   Predator is fast food.  The 400 Blows is some gourmet, four star, high end stuff.   Every movie has a time and a place, but the awareness in our culture that the two are not similar just because they are both movies, that perhaps you may involve your brain in a different way for the two seems to get lost in the shuffle.  More and more we are losing the cultural connotations of movies so that when Transformers beats out The Hurt Locker in dollars and cents, when we see more advertisements on TV and more fawning pull quotes on the DVD box, this somehow adds up to not necessarily a depiction of the movie’s quality but we have given so much space in our brains to the more talked-about film that we gravitate toward that.   This is only allowing ourselves to cede some small measure of thought to hype and advertising instead of working a bit to discover which is the better movie.
As long as we are willing to be told instead of willing to do some small part of investigation on our parts as a whole – and not just as teenagers and thirty year olds and retirees or whatnot, but as people – then we will continue to get the kind of cinematic “experiences” that studios know will produce a bigger bottom line.
There will always be a market for the bad movie, the drive-in flick that we seem to have evolved into the “popcorn flick”, but quite a few people have forgotten that sometimes it’s not the destination, but the getting there that’s the most fun… the process of learning, of educating oneself, the broadening of horizons and the opening of the mind… that can be so much fun.
Are we forgetting that?

*Note: Best wishes to Roger Ebert, who I sincerely hope gets a good voice as discussed here, not for the film and general community’s benefit but so that such an articulate, witty man can communicate without frustrations to his loved ones and friends.   Bless him.

Also, I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but bear with me.

A few days ago, Roger Ebert posted a journal entry titled “The gathering Dark Age”, inspired by a blog entry from Patrick Goldstein.  Goldstein’s piece describes how The Hurt Locker, a critically acclaimed film from Kathryn Bigelow, is not doing that well amongst folks in my age range (18-30, I’ll say, for argument’s sake) even with stellar word of mouth.   (Word of mouth has long been touted, according to Ebert, as something that will help drive box office totals up and up.)   Ebert laments this fact and then goes on to state that my generation exhibits a decline in education and intelligent thought.   I am reluctant to disagree.

Ebert also points out that studio marketing and publicists have leashed the real thoughts of actors and actresses; the studio hype machine has lead to boring and predictable marketing that is a dog-and-pony show.

You can read Ebert’s entry here.   Something about it stuck in my grey matter for days and I kept coming back to his thoughts over and over again.   I thought I would write about it here, if only to see the discussion that may surface over it.  I am certainly no peer of Roger Ebert’s, but what I felt and thought about this subject spanned far more than a simple comment left on Ebert’s journal.

Some may have heard about “The Hurt Locker,” but simply lack the nerve to suggest a movie choice that involves a departure from groupthink.

With regard to Ebert’s critique of my generation’s failure to come out for The Hurt Locker, I don’t know if that’s the best movie to use as an example.  Iraq war movies have not done stellar box office in the past, so I find myself surprised that The Hurt Locker has done as well as it has.    Secondly, I do think you have to take into account that a chunk of that 18 – 30 demographic has loved ones fighting in that war.   Watching something like The Hurt Locker may be too uncomfortable and too close to home for some folks.   The nostalgia of certain properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers is small but not discounted, I don’t think, since the subject of Transformers killing at the box office is brought up.   With a major recession in play, I also believe that people are going to trend towards more lighthearted, ‘simpler’ fare.

That being said, none of that is a great explanation for why The Hurt Locker is failing to draw in some of my peers.   I don’t like swallowing any of those explanations, though they’re valid for some folks.   By my own logic, (500) Days of Summer should be trampling over the competition at the box office … and it isn’t.

(more…)

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