lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

A Response to Mark Harris

There’s a lot that could be said about Mark Harris’ recent article for GQ, The Day the Movies Died, but I’m just going to say a couple of things.

First is to say that articles like this are so regular, I think they’re the basis of the calendar in some civilizations. Every year, around Oscar time, someone comes out and proclaims that movies have finally reached bottom, as if things have changed suddenly since the previous year, when they proclaimed the exact same thing. Just like the year before. And the year before that, too. These are are nothing more than trolling articles. They’re designed to cause controversy, rather than to put forward a legitimate argument. In a way, it’s sort of ironic: writers complaining about Hollywood’s selling out the last of their artistic integrity in favour of a few extra bums in seats by churning out deliberately ‘shocking’ bullshit-pieces like this in favour of chasing a few extra page views.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t make some valid points. For example, his discussion of Hollywood’s segmentation of the markets and preference for kid-friendly movies has been justified this week, with the news that Guillermo del Toro’s film of At the Mountains of Madness has been cancelled because the director was demanding an ‘R’ rating, while the studios were pushing for a PG-13. As Roger Ebert puts it, “Hollywood holds Del Toro hostage to 13-year-olds, or, the death of movies for grown-ups”.

Still, that doesn’t excuse bullshit like this:

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 … but that it has never been harder for an intelligent, moderately budgeted, original movie aimed at adults to get onto movie screens nationwide.

Ugh.

First off, alarm bells should be sound every time you see a blanket statement like “Hollywood studio filmmaking was at an all-time low in 2010” without any sort of facts or figures to support it. Since it takes all of three minutes to fire up IMDb and find out if he’s right, let’s take a look for ourselves. I guess I’ll use Warner Bros. (not counting its subsidiaries) as an example. Ignoring any shorts, or direct-to-video movies, Warner Bros. distributed 25 films in 2010, 17 of which were original properties – i.e., not sequels, remakes or based on an existing property. In 2009, they distributed 24 films, only 13 of which were original properties. 2008 was worse still. Again, they distributed 24 films, only 10 of which were original properties. I’m not saying 2010 was a particularly great year for original films, or that it even holds a candle to, say, 2001, but we can easily demonstrate that Harris was completely wrong in saying that “Hollywood studio filmmaking was at an all-time low in 2010” - why should we trust the rest of his article?

So here’s what’s on tap two summers from now: an adaptation of a comic book. A reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a TV show. A sequel to a sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a young-adult novel.

While this is all true it’s worth pointing out that Warner Brothers have 51 completely original properties lined up for 2012. And those are just the ones that are big enough to warrant a listing this far in advance. Also, let’s just remember, that’s 51 films from just one studio - I really can’t be bothered going through all the rest and counting them all. Point is: yes, there’s a lot of recycling, but really, nine films?

… And soon after: Stretch Armstrong. You remember Stretch Armstrong, right? That rubberized doll you could stretch and then stretch again, at least until the sludge inside the doll would dry up and he would become Osteoporosis Armstrong? A toy that offered less narrative interest than bingo?

Remember when it was announced that Hollywood would be making a movie based on Facebook? Remember the jokes? “Oh, it’s going to be two hours of someone sitting at a computer click “like” on things?” It turned out to be one of the best movies of the year. I’m not going to be rushing to Paddy Power to put money on Stretch Armstrong picking up the ‘best picture’ oscar. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t write it off just because you can’t see the possibilities.

So cable has become the custodian of the “good” niche; entities like HBO, Showtime, and AMC have found a business model with which they can satisfy a deep public appetite for long-form drama.

AMC? The same AMC that dropped the jaw-droppingly superb and completely original Rubicon in favour of the dreadful, painfully derivative, “zombies are popular now, right?” fanboy-appealing Walking Dead? That AMC, Mark?

I realise this is entirely personal because I loved Rubicon, and I’m still gutted that AMC killed it before audiences had a chance to discover it. And so I think that holding AMC up as a bastion of original storytelling is just stupid.

(Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be over here burning candles in my shrine to Rubicon, Party Down and Terriers.)