Listen, there’s an excellent article by Mark Harris on the paralysis currently afflicting Hollywood studios to be found in the US edition of GQ. It’s not exactly news – you’ve probably heard the song before – but here the argument is particularly cogent, the research and analysis thorough and detailed. Harris begins with an examination of the studios’ attitudes towards last year’s critical and box office smash, ‘Inception‘. To put it simply, they couldn’t deal with it.
“It has always been disheartening when good movies flop; it gives endless comfort to those who would rather not have to try to make them and can happily take cover behind a shield labeled “The people have spoken.” But it’s really bad news when the industry essentially rejects a success [Inception], when a movie that should have spawned two dozen taste-based gambles on passion projects is instead greeted as an unanswerable anomaly. That kind of thinking is why Hollywood studio filmmaking, as 2010 came to its end, was at an all-time low—by which I don’t mean that there are fewer really good movies than ever before (last year had its share, and so will 2011) but that it has never been harder for an intelligent, moderately budgeted, original movie aimed at adults to get onto movie screens nationwide.”
A sad, dispiriting state of affairs. Until we remind ourselves (in the UK) that Harris is talking about Hollywood studios and we are not Hollywood. The Hollywood studios do have a muscular grip on our exhibition network, however. As a result, the decline in their standards does impoverish our film diet and impact our cinema-going habits, though not as much as the escalating price of petrol.
Still, there may be some small reasons for hope.
If Hollywood is no longer inclined to produce ‘intelligent’ movies aimed at adults, then there is a clear gap in the market. Let’s seize it. One anonymous studio executive is quote as saying “we don’t tell stories anymore” – well, if the great, self-proclaimed ‘story’ machine has stalled, let’s crank up our own. But let’s not think about Oscars or US Box office. We need more than a King’s Speech or a Slumdog Millionaire, which were not exclusively financed this side of the pond anyway. Harris notes that Italian and Japanese audiences, for example, have recently begun to favour local product. Good. If Hollywood has let us down, then let’s carry on without them.
So, why don’t we? Is it a language problem? Have we succumbed to a kind of colonialism in reverse? Is America our land of dreams? Have we come to believe that Hollywood is the movies?