Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Decline of Hollywood - Who’s Responsible?

I have to say: I suspect and perhaps correctly that unlike the majority of people in my age range (I'm 32), I am much more knowledgeable about and prefer movies that were made back in the "old days". Generally, today's movies bore me. I appreciate the use of special effects and computer generated effects when it is warranted, but today, they are the preference to what drove movies in the old days: plot and character development. Of course, working within the confines of the Hays Code, and without today's technologies, they had to work with something. What they did have going for them was original content at least from a certain perspective. Gone With The Wind speaks for itself. Could such a movie be made as well today? I doubt it.

Now in life, changes do happen and in Hollywood, it has been no different.
Just about all of the "big-time" directors, actors, and producers of Hollywood's Golden Age have faded away.

The decline of the studio system and consequently Hollywood's Golden Age can be traced initially to two factors:

* a federal antitrust action that separated the production of films from their exhibition;
* the advent of television which would later expand to VCR/DVD, HBO, etc...

Later on, other factors continued to chip at the movies market dominance and market share:

* The rise of the internet and other alternative forms of entertainment. This is probably the most significant. There’s just plain too much competition for business as usual in Hollywood. If I were twenty and starting out in film today, I wouldn’t even think about Hollywood. I’d go straight to the internet and start from there.
* younger people's preferences for alternative forms of entertainment such as video games (I was quite a video game freak in my younger days too). I am told by some teenagers today that they are often more original than today’s movies. Guess what? I don't doubt it.
* The continued corporate take-over of Hollywood. It has been going on now for decades and has reached a tipping point. It used to be said that movies were the blending of art and commerce with commerce finally taking precedence. Now, art isn’t even mentioned. At one time, movies could bring you in with a good story and plot combined with good acting and overall production values; now they’re like industrial parks making industrial product, "an emotional Detroit" as Lillian Gish once said.

There is also the "The de Havilland decision" that brought about more artistic and contractual freedom for actors. Of course, Olivia de Havilland happens to be the sister of one of my favorite actresses, Joan Fontaine.

However, the problems for Hollywood are deeper than just actors having more artistic freedom (which is actually a good thing in my opinion), technology or right-wing versus left-wing politics. I don't think one's personal politics determines whether one is a "good" or "bad" actor or what not. John Wayne was a republican. Claudette Colbert was a republican. John Ford was a democrat. Frank Capra voted for FDR. James Stewart once got into a fight with his good friend, Henry Fonda once over a political squabble. But far and away, most people would have some admirable to say about their contributions to the history of cinema. In Wayne's case, the term "icon" and "living legend" have been used to describe him and for good reason. But let's face it, they can't be brought back. There is no one alive today that reminds us of John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart. Of course, the way movies are made today, most if not all of these people, even in their prime, would have to find another line of work.

One thing that I do find disturbing about many of today's movies is due to CGI, among other technologies have made the production of movies feel like olestra running through your body. Sometimes the real thing is best.

I'm sorry folks, but making movies the way of 300 (a good programming feat which marketers made sound like the second-coming of Lawrence of Arabia) completely devoid of human interest, or plot is not about to solve them.

Another part of the decline is that today, it is all about being a celebrity. That is a story onto itself. Few of today's "movie stars" are truly actors. Very few of them are truly dedicated to acting as an art form and passion, learning and being dedicated to their craft. They are mostly pretty faces filling celluloid. Sorry people, all the constant rah rah about Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears bores me to death. The same can be said about the people who run the business end of things too. Of course, you never hear about the perhaps millions of people over the past 100 years or so who have gone to Hollywood and didn't "make it". Some went about their lives after realizing it wasn't in the cards and others sadly turned towards another fate.

I don't claim to have an answer towards fixing this trend. Maybe I shouldn't even try. Maybe we should just let bygones be bygones and watch Turner Classic Movies if we want to relive those past moments. That was a special time and we will never live it again. But I wouldn't have minded being born 50 or 75 years earlier, so I could have experienced those days first-hand working with Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Irving Thalberg to name a few. Now that would have been something.


The Nemesing One said...

I think the viewing audience is the number one thing to blame. Supply will always meet demand and the lowest common denominator is king. We're a nation who watched Temptation Island for heaven's sake. Why should Hollywood try hard anymore when they don't really have to? I'm enjoying the blog. Keep up the good work.

juliana said...

I agree with much of this Chris but I do believe their are many good smaller films out there right now. That is where you'll find them..but because we all stereotype thing into moral or political groups I think some miss out on fine fine films. For example, I know a lot of men, maybe Christians, would not see the movie Brokeback Mountain. Contrary to what most conservative people may think about the film it isn't really about two "gay guys" having sex all the time. The characters and acting are some of the best I have seen in my was so painful when Heath Ledger died because I remembered how brilliant he was in that role. It was a beautiful story of pain and hardship..with a very real but "feared" side subject.. that is an example of where I don't think certain "types" of people may go enjoy the artsier films.. they are SO good..but often about things that conservatives don't want to be caught seeing or wanting to see. Just an opinion.. but also an observation.