"You can take Hollywood
for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve
for what we don't understand. It can be understood too, but only dimly
and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole
equation of pictures in their heads."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Last Tycoon" (1941)
Whereas America in
its battered history had and will depend on courage, determination, straight
thinking (but not too much), mighty armaments and stretching the truth,
show business (a much older institution) needs nothing but insouciance
— and knowing how to pronounce it.
- David Thomson
"I wonder what it's
like out there?"
- Van Johnson, breaking the 'fourth wall' in Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo"
"Sir, I have seen your
film and it is vulgar!"
"Madame, my film rises below vulgarity."
- Mel Brooks, responding to criticism of "The Producers"
"Welcome to Hollywood,
a land just off the coast of planet Earth. I am never quite certain if
I am visiting the zoo, or if I'm one of the animals in a cage."
- Elinor Glyn, gossip columnist, in "The Cat's Meow"
"The impact of Hollywood
and the movies has been to exaggerate nearly everything about America."
- David Thomson
~ The Movie Business
~ James Bowman
~ The Big Picture by Edward Jay Epstein
~ The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood by David Thomson
~ Danse Macabre: A History of Horror by Stephen King
~ Monsters and Mayhem by Andrew Tudor
~ The Worst Movies of All Time by Michael Sauter
# THE MOVIE BUSINESS
"Working for Warner
Brothers is like f*****g a porcupine - it's a hundred p***ks against one."
- Overheard at the 2002 Oscar ceremony
"The industry is s**t,
it's the medium that's great."
- Lauren Bacall
"In Hollywood, an equitable
divorce settlement means each party getting fifty percent of the publicity."
- Lauren Bacall
"Half of the people
in this room are more dressed up than on any other day in the year, and
the other half are more dressed down."
- Bill Murray, quote from acceptance speech at Independent Spirit Awards
"Don’t thank your parents.
If you were raised in a nurturing environment, you wouldn’t be in show
"Don't say, 'Wow, this is heavy.' Of course it's heavy. It contains the shattered dreams of four other people."
- Conan O'Brien, on what not to say when you win an Emmy
"Thank you to every
American who has not sued me so far."
- Sasha Baren Cohen, accepting a Golden Globe for "Borat"
"To refuse awards is
another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal."
- Peter Ustinov
"That wasn’t an ending.
It was just a stopping point."
- Robert Altman, to a reporter confused by the ending of "Dr. T and the Women"
"Who better than an
Irishman can understand the Indians, while still being stirred by tales
of the US cavalry?"
- John Ford
"I'm sick of the old
cliches. Bring me some new cliches."
- Sam Goldwyn, legendary Movie Mogul
"It would have been
cheaper to lower the ocean."
- Lord Lew Grade, producer of "Raise The Titanic"
"This film cost $31
million. With that kind of money I could have invaded some country."
- Clint Eastwood
Dark, subtle, complex,
wicked — if only Hollywood movies were half as interesting as Hollywood
- Stephen Metcalf, "Slate Magazine"
All television ever
did was shrink the demand for ordinary movies. The demand for extraordinary
movies increased. If any one thing is wrong with the movie industry today,
it is the unrelenting effort to astonish.
- Clive James
"Drama is life with
the dull bits left out."
"There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."
"I believe in putting the horror in the minds of the audience, and not necessarily on the screen."
"The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."
- Alfred Hitchcock
"The job of the director
is to suggest two plus two. Let the viewer say four."
- Ernst Lubitsch
"Centuries from now
our great-great-great-grandchildren will look back at us with amazement
at how we could allow such a precious achievement of human culture as the
telling of a story to be shattered into smithereens by commercials, the
same amazement we feel today when we look at our ancestors for whom slavery,
capital punishment, burning of witches, and the inquisition were acceptable
- Werner Herzog, unhappy with commercials interrupting TV broadcasts of his films
"I can think of nothing
that an audience won't understand. The only problem is to interest them;
once they are interested, they understand anything in the world."
- Orson Welles
"He was like a lighthouse.
When you were caught in the beam it was utterly dazzling. When the beam
moved on, you were plunged into darkness."
- Geraldine Fitzgerla, describing Orson Welles
"Never judge a book
by its movie."
- J.W. Eagan
Superman is essentially
a god, but Batman is more like Hercules: he's a human being, very flawed
and bridges the divide.
- Christopher Nolan, director of "Batman Begins", viewing superheroes as modern Greek myths
Still, one never knows;
perhaps this might be the year that the Academy grows a spine and hands
out goodies based on merit rather than paraochial rewards for the local
boys. Or, at the very least, ferment some paranoia by giving the Best Documentary
Feautre award to Star Trek : Insurrection.
- Sam Healy,"The Irish Independent", looking forward to the 1999 Oscar Nominations
studio execs haven't just scraped the barrel. They've gouged it so hard
the bottom has fallen out, they've cut their hands on the exposed nails,
the infected blood has dripped into a bottle and they're now proposing
to sell us the rancid contents."
- Chris Lowry, on proposals to link up 'Nightmare on Elm Street' & 'Halloween', "Evening Herald"
"I'm fed up with the
idiots, the ever widening gap between people who know how to make movies
and the people who green light the movies."
- Sean Connery, explaining his decision to retire at 74
That Michael Caine,
you have to hand it to him. Not a man to apologise for his turkeys, more
a man to direct your criticisms to his smiling Swiss bank manager
- Sarah Caden, "The Irish Independent"
"I have never seen
it (Jaws 4) but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the
house that it built and it is terrific."
- Michael Caine, explaining his rationale for acting in Jaws 4
"I'm cheaper than Anthony
- Ian McKellan, explaining why he gets so many roles
"Once you've been really
bad in a movie, there's a certain kind of fearlessness you develop."
- Jack Nicholson
"Bad films gave me
the courage to try making a movie"
- Stanley Kubrick
"You can be good in
a good movie, you can be good in a bad movie, you can be bad in a bad movie,
but never, ever, be bad in a good movie."
- Sir John Gielgud offering some acting advice (to Guy Pearce)
"It's Sir Ben. I've
not been a Mister for two years."
- Sir Ben Kingsley's response to a German journalist who addressed him as "Mr Kingsley"
"Before Michael Caine
you had to have been in the RAF to be an actor."
- Bob Hoskins
"I sometimes wonder
if Americans aren't fooled by our accent into detecting a brilliance that
may not really be there. When American TV and movies call for a twist of
limey in their cocktail, it's usually a character they're after: supervillain,
emotionally constipated academic, effete eccentric, that kind of thing...
American actors are good at playing Ordinary Joes. But can you imagine
Tom Hanks playing Hannibal Lecter? Would they notice if Jeremy Irons or
Judi Dench gave a bad performance? Not that those two paragons ever would,
but it's worth considering. I've always believed Americans have one huge,
ready-made gift when it comes to acting in front of a camera: the ability
to relax. On the set of Bones I have been amazed and impressed by the naturalness
of the cast, and berate myself for sounding as if I'm speechifying instead
- Stephen Fry
isn’t what makes Americans weak at the knees: it’s the cruelty behind the
words. The British are breathtakingly callous when it comes to comedy,
as is all too obvious in this era of Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Try as we might, we can never quite match their flinty talent for trafficking
in boorishness and scalding embarrassment... Many American actors play
curmudgeons, but even the meanest tend to lose their nerve and go soft
and cuddly once the audience embraces them. The British are better at holding
a sneer. Nobody in this country likes to be disliked, and American actors
seem particularly scared of not being loved. On television at least its
not how British actors say it. It’s what they are willing to say to get
- Alessandra Stanley, "The New York Times"
One of the flourishes
of the British temperament that are most enchanting to Americans is the
alternation, among the brightest spirits, of seriousness and wit. The parliamentary
debates, as shaped by Steven Knight, leap from noble declamation to taunting
one-upmanship and back again. At such moments, the movie offers a dream
of perfect articulateness — superbly trained actors delivering expertly
phrased remarks with ease and force... In America, we have great actors,
but not these kind of great actors — men and women who can play historical
figures and hold to formal syntax without losing their sense of play. Our
founding crew of statesmen and intellectuals were no less gifted than Pitt
and Wilberforce, but, despite an endless number of best-selling books about
them, there isn't a single good movie devoted to their efforts. At this
point, no one can look at an American in a powdered wig without laughing.
Popular culture and the democratisation of taste and style have made our
history irredeemable as entertainment - which is a loss, though I don't
suppose anyone will do much about it.
- David Denby, reviewing "Amazing Grace" in "The New Yorker"
In 1958 Bridge on the
River Kwai won seven Oscars, including Best Actor (Alec Guiness), Best
Picture and Best Director (David Lean). It was a great achievement for
the Brits in Hollywood. That year saw another milestone in our celluloid
history, the release of Carry On Sergeant, the first of 31 feature films
in the series. Sir Alec Guiness did much great work, but can any of his
dialogue really compete with Kenneth Williams (as Julius Caesar) in Carry
On Cleo?: 'Infamy, infamy. They've all got it in for me!'
- Tim Ecott, on the phenomenon that is "Carry On", "The Guardian"
"Pose? I don't pose.
What am I? Paris Hilton or something?"
- Clint Eastwood, refusing requests from photographers
Fan is short for fanatic,
hype is short for hyperbole and Tom Crusie is short for a leading man.
- Duncan Campbell, "The Guardian"
The secret of Charlton
Heston's success is his capacity for appearing virile without being lecherous
in Olympian roles.
- from Time magazine (1966)
"Doing a picture with
Willie Wyler is like getting the works at a Turkish bath. You damn near
drown, but you come out smelling like a rose."
- Charlton Heston
Just think: Johnny
Depp could have had the career of, say, Richard Grieco. In 1988, they were
both break-out stars, young TV cops working undercover as high school students
in the fledgling Fox network's first hit show, "21 Jump Street."
- Jim Emerson, as Dead Man's Chest is released
"My first film was
Widow's Peak with Mia Farrow. I landed the impressive role of 'Rural Lout'.
I didn't have any lines but I did my very best to create an unforgettable
- Don Wyhcerley, recalling his early days in "The Irish Independent"
"I'd just like to thank
everybody who was involved in the film, especially Brendan Gleeson and
Ruaidhri Conroy. And Ruaidhri, I'm sorry that you couldn't be here tonight,
but I hope next time they let you into the country."
- Martin McDonagh, from his 2006 Oscar speech for "Six Shooter"
The movies have been
so rank the last couple of years that when I see people lining up to buy
tickets I sometimes think that the movies aren't drawing an audience —
they're inheriting an audience. People just want to go to a movie. They're
stung repeatedly, yet their desire for a good movie — for any movie — is
so strong that all over the country they keep lining up.
- Pauline Kael, from a 1980 "New Yorker" article "Why Are Movies So Bad?"
A decade or so ago,
all over the world, cinemas underwent one of those prince-into-frog mutations,
and became, instead popcorn-restaurants, which offered the option of visual
diversions for diners.
- Kevin Myers, "The Irish Independent" (2006)
The ranks of actors
who can slip into the skin of any premodern man are apparently thin enough
to guarantee Brendan Gleeson — who showed up in Kingdom of Heaven, Troy,
Gangs of New York, and Braveheart — a part in any film set before 1870.
But based on the evidence of the last few years, the rank of current actors
who can convincingly portray a premodern hero starts and ends with Russell
Crowe. Brad Pitt, as Achilles in Troy, got halfway there by sculpting his
body into something alien and awesome (though his eyes never quite lost
the vacant sheen of Malibu). But most of Hollywood's younger stars have
proved too adolescent for the job, leaving epic after epic with a void
where the hero is supposed to be. The past's otherness—in dress and mood,
belief and attitude—hasn't just created casting problems for epic-makers;
it's ruined plots as well. Gladiator, like Braveheart before it, succeeded
by keeping its story simple: a wronged man with a dead wife and a tyrant
to overthrow. But subsequent epics wandered from that formula, allowing
pixelated carnage or politically correct revisionism to overwhelm the human
drama, and lost their way in the thickets of the past. The Last Samurai
began as a critique of Western imperialism and ended by lionizing a warrior
caste one step up from the Taliban.
- Ross Douthat, "Slate Magazine"
The movies are now
so constrained by political correctness the very act of storytelling is
itself endangered. That's something slightly more ominous than the feeble
limousine liberalism many conservatives blame for the alleged box-office
slump. Say what you like about those Hollywood writers of the '30s and
'40s, but they were serious lefties. Their successors are mostly poseurs
loudly trumpeting their courageous 'dissent' while paralyzed into inanity.
This year's Sean Penn thriller, "The Interpreter", was originally about
Muslim terrorists blowing up a bus in New York. So, naturally, Hollywood
called rewrite. And instead the bus got blown up by African terrorists
from the little-known republic of Matobo. "We didn't want to encumber the
film in politics in any way", said Kevin Misher, the producer. But being
so perversely 'non-political' is itself a political act... No wonder it's
20th century Britlit — "Harry Potter", "Lord of the Rings", "Narnia" —
keeping those Monday morning numbers up.
- Mark Steyn, "Chicago Sun Times"
Discussing "Good Night,
and Good Luck" with Entertainment Weekly George Clooney said, "And there
was no reason to think it was going to get any easier. But people in Hollywood
do seem to be getting more comfortable with making these sorts of movies
now. People are becoming braver." Wow. He was brave enough to make a movie
about Islam's treatment of women? Oh, no, wait. That was the Dutch director
Theo van Gogh: He had his throat cut and half-a-dozen bullets pumped into
him by an enraged Muslim who left an explanatory note pinned to the dagger
he stuck in his chest. At last year's Oscars, the Hollywood crowd were
too busy championing the "right to dissent" in the Bushitler tyranny to
find room even to namecheck Mr. van Gogh in the montage of the deceased.
No, Mr. Clooney was the fellow "brave" enough to make a movie about — cue
drumroll as I open the envelope for Most Predictable Direction — the McCarthy
era! I only hope George Clooney isn't found dead in the street at the hands
of some crazed nonagenarian HUAC member...
- Mark Steyn, "National Review"
The fact is that Hollywood’s
belief in its own heroism derives from a moment of colossal Hollywood cowardice.
The blacklist 'victims' weren’t blacklisted by the government but by the
studios – Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney – the same folks who run Hollywood
today. In 1999, when Penn and Dreyfus were up in arms over Kazan’s Oscar,
old Lew Wasserman was still going to his office at Universal every day.
Fifty years ago, had he chosen to, Wasserman and his talent agency could
have broken the blacklist as decisively as he broke the studio system.
But Wasserman and the suits were absolved and their sins sub-contracted
to one elderly retired director: as former blacklisted screenwriter Norma
Barzman told CNN, "Elia Kazan’s lifetime achievement is great films and
destroyed lives, and even a third thing, which is a lasting climate of
fear over Hollywood and maybe over the country." Kazan became the crucible
(if he’ll forgive the expression) of the industry’s institutional guilt
over the McCarthy era.
- Mark Steyn, "The Atlantic"
"Popular culture" as
a whole is popular, but in today's fragmented market it's a jostle of competing
unpopular popular cultures. As the critic Stanley Crouch likes to say,
if you make a movie and 10 million people go see it, you'll gross $100
million — and 96 per cent of the population won't have to be involved.
alone should caution anyone about reading too much into individual examples
of "popular" culture.
- Mark Steyn
If you look at the
range of Hollywood movies playing in most cities in the developing world,
you’d hate the America they portray, too.
- Mark Steyn
Hollywood gave us far
more Muslim terrorists in the Eighties and Nineties than it has since 9/11.
- Mark Steyn
If movies reflect the
worldview of the artists, then there is little doubt where the sympathies
of most in Hollywood lie. There are countless movies about American presidents.
How many of these films feature positive portrayals of conservatives or
republicans? The Contender? No. The American President? No. The West Wing?
Definitely not. That many fictional heroic presidents are liberal Democrats
is proof of nothing; the fact that their conservative opponents are consistently
portrayed as cheap cardboard cut-out villains gives the game away.
- David Quinn, "The Irish Independent"
Poor Great Britain.
You'd think it would enjoy the presumption that its parliamentary institutions—having
survived roughly eight centuries, through civil war, world war, aerial
bombardment, nuclear cold war, imperial dominance and imperial decline,
decades of IRA terrorism, and the late unpleasantness between Oasis and
Blur—would have a strong immunity to autocratic takeover. But instead,
the favored dystopian setting for our best-known works of anti-totalitarian
art has been poor old stubbornly liberal Great Britain. There's Orwell's
1984, Patrick McGoohan's riotous 1960s TV series The Prisoner, and the
Sex Pistols and the Clash, with their apocalyptic rants against the U.K.'s
"fascist regime" and its ever-impending "clampdown." Now the Wachowski
brothers have taken "V for Vendetta", Allan Moore's mad-at-Margaret Thatcher
graphic novel, and updated it to express their present political rage.
The Wachowskis are very angry at George W. Bush, but still, for some reason,
it's Britain's Parliament that gets blown up.
- Matt Feeney, "Slate Magazine"
How we might yearn
for a British film which breaks out and genuinely explores a social ishoo
with wit and irony and drama — much as those idiots in Hollywood managed
to do recently with Crash. And how we should all yearn for a British actor
who could emulate the versatile and always compelling Matt Dillon by investing
a politically unlikeable character with depth and humanity. You get the
feeling instead that British films begin from a certain political standpoint
and will not deviate from that position for even the briefest, most perfunctory
line of dialogue; the message would instead be rammed home, over and over
again, in every gesture and inflection. In fact there would have been no
Crash, full stop. British cinema sees only one side of the argument; hence
there is no real drama.
- Rod Liddle, "The Spectator"
Why don't the movies
have plausible, real-world villains anymore? Consider, for example, Paramount's
2004 remake of the 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate. In the original,
directed by John Frankenheimer, the villain-behind-the-villain is the Soviet
Union, whose nefarious agents, with the help of the Chinese Communists,
abduct a U.S. soldier in Korea and turn him into a sleeper assassin. In
the new version, the military abduction is transposed from Korea in 1950
to Kuwait in 1991, and the defunct Soviet Union is replaced as the resident
evil. The new villain is—you guessed it—the Manchurian Global Corporation,
an American company loosely modeled on the Halliburton Corporation. As
the director, Jonathan Demme, explains in his DVD commentary, he avoided
making the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein (whom the United States was battling
in the time frame of the movie) the replacement villain, because he did
not want to "negatively stereotype" Muslims. Not only were neither Saddam
Hussein nor Iraq mentioned in a film about the Iraq-Kuwait war, but the
Manchurian corporation's technicians rewire the brains of the abducted
U.S. soldiers with false memories of al-Qaida-type jihadists so that they
will lay the blame for their terrorist acts on an innocent Muslim jihadist.
A plethora of stereotype-sensitive advocacy groups, representing everyone from hyphenated ethnic minorities and the physically handicapped to Army and CIA veterans, now maintain liaisons in Hollywood to protect their images. The studios themselves often have "outreach programs" in which executives review scripts and characters with representatives from these groups, evaluate their complaints, and attempt to avoid potential brouhahas. Finding evil villains is not as easy as it was in the days when a director could choose among Nazis, Communists, KGB, and Mafiosi. Unlike other stereotype-challenged groups, CEOs and financiers, lacking a connection with the studios' outreach programs, have become an essential part of Hollywood's new version of the axis of evil.
- Edward Jay Epstein, "Hollywood's New Axis of Evil"
The Indians, like the
British (and perhaps the Chinese), are one of the few nationalities at
which the US can still laugh. As for the real foreigners, the ones with
guns and headscarves, they are off-limits, largely due to the fear of provoking
World War III. Just the other day I was watching a trailer for a Hollywood
movie called Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Raj, in which the Indian lead character,
Taj Mahal Badalandabad, is assailed by a sword-wielding Brit who promises
to take care of him "the way my ancestors did." Replies Taj: "What, you're
going to exploit me economically?"
- Chris Ayres, "The Times"
"Why is virtually every
villain in every American film played by a British actor?"
- Jonathan Cavendish, producer of spoof "Churchill: The Hollywood Years", in "The Times"
For decades, Tinseltown
has engaged in a torrid love affair with the gangster. And like so many
love affairs, the allure was based as much in myth and fantasy as in truth
— meaning that many of cinema’s greatest scoundrels and criminals have
also been its greatest heroes. Murderers, drug dealers, thieves, corruptors
— the silver screen has welcomed and celebrated them all, provided they
supply the requisite style and gravitas. "American Gangster" takes this
notion to its logical extreme.
- Peter Suderman, "National Review"
In spite of its self-conscious
coldbloodedness, the "Godfather" movie is sentimental. Its picture of Don
Corleone judiciously administering the common law of gangsterdom is about
as accurate a portrayal of organized crime as Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe"
is an accurate portrayal of the unwashed brutes who made the Middle Ages
a good epoch not to have lived in. "American Gangster," like "The Godfather,"
invites viewers to admire business acumen for its own sake -- when Lucas
was brought down, the government seized assets worth $250 million.
- George Will, "The Washington Times"
It was beguiling to
live in a country, Scotland, that didn't look enough like itself to be
a location for its own movies... I remember consulting a film book and
discovering that Arthur Freed decided to shoot "Brigadoon" in Hollywood
because nowhere in Scotland looked Scottish enough.
- Andrew O'Hagan, recalling his time as film critic for "The Telegraph"
"I'm not in this business
to win a popularity contest, I just want to be a good actor."
"Well, you've failed at being a good actor. Why not try for the popularity contest?"
- Roger Moore's advice to an aggressive and unpopular co-star
"It was a sad thing.
I don't know how he learned that."
- Julian Sands, commenting on Dennis Hopper's dodgy accent in "24"
"Was it wise to select
the Irish as heroes, when in this tame new world after the demise of SMERSH
and SPECTRE they might be needed to play the evil empire?"
- The Times of London, when Irishman Pierce Brosnan landed the role of James Bond
"So, 'Alexander' then,
'The Great' doesn't feature in the title. Why is that?"
"Yeah, it didn't feature in any of the American reviews either..."
- Pat Kenny interviews Colin Farrell on Ireland's "Late Late Show"
"Her Majesty's Secret
Service wouldn't have me on the payroll."
- Colin Farrell, after Peirce Brosnan tips him for the role of James Bond
"There'll be a black
lesbian in the White House before I'm James Bond."
- Rupert Everett, in an interview on "Jonathon Ross"
"Two weeks ago we couldn't
pronounce your name, but you were in the lead in a film that made millions,
so we're sending you all these scripts."
- Cillian Murphy, on the effect with movie execs of "28 Days Later"
"If you do something
and it proves to be a success, then people go 'get him to do that type
of thing again, but only slightly different'. Either you do that or you
go 'No! I want to play a leprous, lesbian dwarf from Guatemala!' But those
parts just aren’t coming to me."
- Jack Davenport, interviewed for the "London Theatre Guide"
"If I don't do this
film. I'll be acting in corsets for the next 20 years."
- Keira Knightley, on why she wanted to act in contemporary film "The Jacket"
"I get all these screenplays
that start 'Tawnya is in the shower. The water streams down her naked,
perky breasts'. I don't think this is happening to Natalie Portman."
- Jessica Alba, who plays a stripper in "Sin City"
"Now that I am in my
30s I feel if I ever had any form of youthful sex appeal it is gone, and
now I need to be slim and in good shape because looking sexually attractive
does account for 80-100% of the work a woman gets in this business... At
15 it was at least another three years before men looked up from their
newspapers at me."
- Lorraine Pilkington, who started acting at 15 in "The Miracle"
"It was certainly a
good death scene. I'm endlessly perishing in roles but it's a wonderful
thing to be asked to do."
- Emilia Fox, recalling her role as the tragic Amy Dudley in "Virgin Queen"
"I'd taken it too far
inside myself and I was starting to imagine my own actual death."
- Tim Stern, breaking down after his character dies in "Abigail's Party"
"No-one gets beaten
to death quite like Hilary Swank"
- Jimmy Fallon, commenting on the "Boys Don't Cry" star at the MTV Movie Awards 2005
During filming of "Reds",
Warren Beatty lectured his Russian extras on the capitalist exploitation
of labour, attempting to inspire them. According to the magazine Total
Film in 2004, this was the 4th "dumbest decision in movie history": the
extras duly went on strike, demanding higher wages.
- from Wikipedia
"I felt as if I was
the brunt of some massive joke at my expense: "Can you believe this loser
can be connected to Marlon Brando and Katharine Hepburn?" But through the
years I have learned to tolerate and sometimes embrace the idea. People
have asked me if I consider it an honour. Well, all it indicates is that
I've been in a lot of movies with a lot of people. And besides that there
are plenty of other actors that would work."
- Kevin Bacon, centre of the 'Six Degrees' game, "The Guardian"
"The inspiration for
the film was, I was at a discotheque once and I noticed a pretty gal, but
it was during a period in my life where I could never talk to a girl that
I thought was smart or pretty or interesting in any way. I would just stare
at them. And I stared at her and at 11 p.m., she was having fun, she was
drinking a little. Three in the morning she was hammered. She was on the
floor and the guys in the room were sort of moving around her. They noticed
this sort of broken-winged bird or wounded animal. They were like hyena.
It was one of the ugliest things I've ever seen. I saw them eventually
leave with her. And it upset me conceptually. I felt the ugliness of mankind's
basic nature can be avoided. That's what 'The Brown Bunny' is about."
- Vincent Gallo, director and star of the notorious "The Brown Bunny"
They say that the world
is run by men, and to a certain extent that's true. But there's a kind
of man who faces extinction, and he's very sad. Edmond is such a man. A
white, middle-aged Protestant with a certain amount of status. I — and
I'm definitely one of those men — see these men as lonely and full of problems.
When my wife has a crisis she calls her friends and they talk until it
feels better. They take care of each other directly. There isn't such solidarity
among men. A couple of years back a women broke my heart into nineteen
little pieces and left me dying. And when anyone asked how I felt I just
said, "I'm fine." My father was the same. Us white Protestant guys — we
quietly implode and die a little every day. Or we explode, like Edmond.
- William H. Macy, on his role in "Edmond"
"I have been working
out for 30 years, staying in shape in the dream that someday I would get
to play a sex scene. Finally I get one, and they cut it."
- William H. Macy, on his unseen turn with Mario Bello in "The Cooler"
It’s much easier to
write a screenplay on a computer than on a typewriter. Years ago, when
you wrote a screenplay on a typewriter, you had to retype the entire page
just to make the smallest change; now, on the computer, you can make large
and small changes effortlessly, you can fiddle with dialogue, you can change
names and places with a keystroke. And yet movies are nowhere near as good
as they used to be. In 1939, when screenwriters were practically still
using quill pens, the following movies were among those nominated for best
picture: “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,”
“Wuthering Heights” and “Stagecoach,” and that’s not even the whole list.
So: is it possible that computers are responsible for the decline of movies?
- Nora Ephron, "The New York Times"
If happiness is the
underlying quest of our lives, it's only to be expected that it should
feature rather large in films, too. Perhaps the oldest approach has its
origins in Greek tragedy, where we follow characters who are privileged
and happy in an arrogant, unselfconscious way, and learn, because of some
disastrous event, to appreciate the fragility on which their wellbeing
A second line on happiness we often find in film might be termed the sentimental approach. We need go no further for an example of this than many of the films of Richard Curtis. Remember the scene in Notting Hill where Julia Roberts, pregnant, leans on Hugh Grant, reading "Captain Corelli's Mandolin"? Or an analogous one in "Love, Actually" where Colin Firth, after a long chase, falls into a kiss with his Portuguese housekeeper, Lucia Moniz? These scenes tend to be both intensely enjoyable and hugely irritating: enjoyable because they reflect our deep-seated wish for intense, conflict-free love, and irritating because we know these relationships to be untrue to genuine experience. In their lack of realism, the love scenes seem almost to deny us the chance of happiness in our own lives. They humiliate us with the gap they reveal between what we are likely to have tasted and the events on screen. They also leave us feeling sad. Our sadness won't be of the searing kind, more like a blend of joy and melancholy: joy at the happiness before us, melancholy at an awareness of how seldom we are sufficiently blessed to encounter anything of its kind. The flawless presentation of happiness on film can throw into perspective the mediocrity that surrounds it. We are reminded of how we would wish things always to be and of how incomplete our lives remains.
Then again, to be more generous to sentimental films, we should perhaps consider them as works of idealisation, the cinematographic equivalents of the idealised landscape paintings of Claude and Poussin. Films have often deceived us about what happiness might be like, but in their finest examples, they also provide us with models by which to guide our own confused quests. They have shown us what happiness might look like, so that we'd be more readily able to recognise it when it came our way.
- Alain de Botton, "Can Films Help Us Find Happiness?", "The Guardian"
# JAMES BOWMAN QUOTES
Nowadays there are very few adults who go to the pictures regularly and very few of the early-teen set who don’t. It’s one of the few opportunities they have to see other kids unchaperoned and to be seen by them. On a trip to the multiplex in America today you are even more likely to find an opportunity to study high-school mating rituals in the lobby than you are on screen, whereas if grown-ups see films at all, they do so only after waiting for them to come out on DVD. This means that the dollars of 12- to 16-year-olds, who frequently see their favourite movies more than once, are much more powerful in the marketplace than those of their parents, who are left to wonder at the difficulty of finding anything on Netflix worth watching — anything, that is, apart from car chases, explosions and computer-generated imagery, which make films look like video games.
But there is more to the decline of movie quality than the demands of a largely teenage marketplace. To understand why, we have to go back to the Copernican revolution in movie-making that took place in the 1970s. Then film-makers, led by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, managed to break free of their audience’s traditional expectation that movies would look like life. Partly because of the growing youthfulness of their audience, but partly too because of that audience’s media savvy — by the time of Jaws or Star Wars anyone under 30 would have been watching television all their life — the old tricks and conventions by which previous generations had been persuaded to regard the movies as looking real wouldn’t work anymore. Spielberg and Lucas responded by letting the audience in on the trick: that is by glorying in their artifice and indebtedness to other films rather than discreetly hiding these things. No more were movies expected to look like life; instead they were expected to look like other movies. When the Indiana Jones series began in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark, its tag-line, ‘The Hero is back’, was understood by everybody to mean the movie hero. That’s why it was set in the 1930s and its villains were Nazis. It was supposed to look like one of the Saturday morning serials of the age in which it was set, only with incomparably superior production values.
At first this kind
of allusive, post-modern movie-making resulted in a very entertaining product
and nobody noticed any very worrying side-effects of the breaking of the
link between reel and reality.
The trouble is that movieland is beginning to colonise even movies that are trying to be serious and grown-up, especially those dealing with politics, government, diplomacy and military life.
When Superman (Christopher Reeve) told Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) ‘I’m here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way,’ she replied with a laugh: ‘You’re going to end up fighting every elected official in this country!’ The joke made no sense unless the audience understood that, in movieland, all politicians were vicious and corrupt, especially those involved in any way with national security.
Mr Clooney could be
found in his recent outing, "Good Night, and Good Luck", banging the drum
on behalf of those who, absurdly, still think it daring to deplore McCarthyite
anti-communism. So charmed is he by the idea of himself as the lone dissenter,
daring to take up a contrarian view against a political and cultural monolith,
that Mr Clooney appears to believe that opposing the war and the Bush administration
in Hollywood is a dangerous thing to do, just as opposing McCarthy once
(very briefly) was.
- from "The Hollywood Turkey Farm" in "The Spectator" (Jan'06)
Those under 50 may
not know that "Military-Industrial Complex" is an expression coined by
President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address of 1961 to express
his sense that relations between Pentagon procurement officers and defense
contractors were too cozy — to the detriment not of the workers and peasants
of the world but of the American taxpayer. But within a few years, the
term took on a life of its own and became a favorite bugbear of the most
radical elements in the anti-Vietnam war movement. For them it served as
an emblem of their paranoid sense of the vastness and potency of the evil
war-making engine which they opposed and whose existence seemed to have
been confirmed by a Republican president. Thus, the U.S. war-machine took
on a mysterious agency of its own, to the point where it was thought to
dream up unnecessary and immoral wars only to justify its own existence...
Charles Lewis's contention here is that we, meaning the United States, "are an incredibly militant and militaristic nation." Without the theory to lend it some plausibility, this proposition is obviously, ludicrously untrue and an illustration of the only true thing that Gore Vidal says in the picture — perhaps that Gore Vidal has ever said — namely that we as a nation have a contempt for history. Those who don't may think of the Spartans, the Romans, the Prussians, the Napoleonic French, the Nazis, Fascists, Communists — even the European colonial empires of the 19th century. If we're "incredibly militaristic" what were they? In fact, we are the least militaristic great power that the world has ever known, and the question that this film raises, albeit inadvertently, is this: Is it possible for us to retain our position as a great world power and remain as unmilitaristic as we are?
- James Bowman, reviewing "Why We Fight", for "The American Spectator"
who shed their boyish illusions of honor and glory and heroism are now
even more routine in the movies than those illusions themselves were in
the patriotic pictures of the 1940s. We get it, all right? The American
movie audience lost its innocence so long ago it doesn't even remember
what innocence was like anymore. You might almost start to wonder if it
ever existed in the first place... I felt about it rather as I did about
Saving Private Ryan, that perhaps there's such a thing as being too respectful;
perhaps showing too much respect for the suffering is not to show enough
respect for the man. For if we suppose, as some of us still do, that these
men suffered for something — to wit, their duty, their honor, their country
— don't these thing deserve just a little bit of respect as well? Duty
and honor are never mentioned in Flags of Our Fathers, and the country
it shows us doesn't deserve the sufferers' sacrifices. If their suffering
is all they've got to show for it, I call that demeaning, not
- James Bowman, reviewing "Flags of our Fathers"
Both Hollywood and
the larger media culture of which it is a part are probably at least as
anti-war today as they were pro-war in 1946... the returning heroes today
are meant to be admired (like the heroes of the anachronistic Flags of
Our Fathers) not for their heroic deeds or their patriotism but for their
sufferings — and the more so when they can be portrayed as sufferings in
a bad cause.
- reviewing "Home of the Brave"
M. Carion’s movie is
an emotionally powerful glimpse of war’s horror’s being interrupted by
an outbreak of humanity, but it would be a lot more powerful if it had
more sympathy towards the reason that the warriors were there in the first
place. In fact, the film is guilty of the same fault it criticizes in the
combatant nations, which is seeing the world in black-and-white. Instead
of demonizing one side or the other, it demonizes the leaders of both sides,
making the ordinary soldiers on both sides into wholly innocent, if rather
pathetic, victims. I, for one, find AE Housman’s brand of sympathy, which
treats the men as fully-functioning moral agents, much more moving.
- reviewing "Joyeux Noel"
sums up the highest aspiration of much of today's popular culture. It is
to us what 'respectability' was to the Victorians: the tribute we pay to
the supreme importance of keeping up appearances. Indeed, attitude glories
in appearance even more than respectability does. You could lose respectability,
but attitude is forever... attitude movies don't have to make sense. Not
making sense is rather the point of them. The carelessness with which they
treat details of plot and characterization is typical of their cavalier
disdain for humdrum, everyday reality.
- reviewing "All the King's Men"
It is only to be expected
that Mel Gibson takes on and defeats the entire British army, virtually
single-handedly, in The Patriot, but you would have thought that at least
the film would have had something to say about what, from the point of
view of the historian, the Revolutionary War was actually fought about...
there is something rather scandalous about this film's ignoring all the
historical casus belli and concentrating on the fact that a fictional British
colonel committed fictional atrocities against the fictional family of
a fictional South Carolina farmer... The real enemy here is not so much
the British as it is history itself.
- James Bowman, from his caustic review of "The Patriot"
Too often these days
ambitious directors treat the art of the past as the survivors of the barbarian
invasions treated the great monuments of imperial Rome -- that is, as a
quarry for materials with which to construct their own miserable little
hovels... James Mangold takes a perfectly decent moralistic Western from
1957, 3:10 to Yuma, and turns it into something resembling an episode of
Deadwood. Why, I wonder, does he feel the need to put his mark on it, like
a dog on a fire hydrant?
- reviewing "Sleuth"
As usual in today’s
movies, there are no good guys, only bad guys, some of whom (like Wade)
are really kind of good, and their victims. It’s not often enough recognized
that this standard model severely limits what it is possible to say on
screen, which is why Mr Mangold’s Yuma is virtually indistinguishable from
every other movie about violent men made in the last 30 years. One critic
wrote: "The western, whose death has been announced so many times over
the past few decades, rides again in James Mangold's remake of 3:10 to
Yuma." He thought he was talking about the same kind of thing in the original
and the remake. But they are completely different. One was a serious attempt
to come to terms with the proper and improper uses of violence; the other
merely takes a prurient interest in it.
- reviewing "310 To Yuma"
Any time the movies
try to represent evil, it must be as a grotesque caricature, deliberately
exaggerated in order to make what would otherwise be something scary into
something funny. Or something both scary and funny. In other words, evil
has become post-modernized. Thirty or forty years ago, the vogue for psychoanalysis
required that you give some explanation, some accounting for a movie villain’s
behavior. The great example was Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) which appealed
to its era’s suspicion of "momism" by accounting for the evil of personable
young Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) with the mother of all mother-fixations.
It may not have been all that persuasive as psychoanalysis, but it played
a necessary role in the making of that movie: the provision of "motivation."
The public demanded at least that much in the way of a rational accounting
for what they saw... But the elevation of the outlandish and unimaginable
to a starring role ultimately ended in the death of motivation itself.
Today’s evil icon is not Norman Bates but Hannibal Lecter: the psycho who
is not a psycho for any reason, except for the reason that he just loves
being a psycho. As a result, evil becomes a sort of fashion statement.
It doesn’t really count as evil if there is a motive or an explanation
for it. It must be evil for evil’s sake.
- reviewing "Dark Knight"
Lawn Dogs... is the
worst movie I have seen since Fried Green Tomatoes. It touches reality
at no point. Next to this piece of cinematic offal, Godzilla or Deep Impact
look like kitchen sink realism. I don't mind the mindlessness of such popcorn
movies. They are usually good for a laugh or two, at least, and they tell
us a lot about the mind of Hollywood, so influential in the forming of
America's youthful consciousness. But I really resent the time I have to
spend watching pretentious rubbish like Lawn Dogs.
- reviewing "Lawn Dogs"
When selling sex to teenagers is your business, a movie that has no respect for the euphemisms and hypocrisies and false pieties by which you manage to live with yourself is bound to seem tasteless in ways that the mere trash you deal in every day never manages to approach. Thus it happens that the same people who thought the lush photography and puppyish sexuality of Titanic made it the best movie of 1997 think Lolita is not fit to grace the screens of the nation's multiplexes. Adrian Lyne has given Hollywood a mirror in which to see itself, and it should not be surprising that Hollywood does not like what it sees. The American moviegoing public, so long accustomed to and by now quite comfortable with seeing the boundaries of adolescence pushed outward at both ends may be as little pleased by the image in the glass as was the industry. Lyne shows us what our culture has for so long been in the process of becoming by focusing on the moment at which it all began to change in the immediate postwar period, with its fan magazines and suggestive popular songs, when we as a nation invented the 'teenager'.
# THE BIG PICTURE
The studios had much
to celebrate in 1948. Their movies, the most democratic of all art forms,
had become the principal mode of paid entertainment for the vast majority
of Americans. In an average week in 1947, 90 million Americans, out of
a total population of only 151 million, went to a movie, paying on the
average forty cents for a ticket. Nor was this massive outpouring, about
two thirds of the ambulatory population, the product of expensive national
marketing campaigns. It was simply the result of regular moviegoers going
to see whatever was playing at their neighborhood theaters. Most of these
moviegoers didn’t go to the theater to see a particular film. They went
to see a program that included a newsreel; a short comedy film, such as
the Three Stooges; a serial, such as Flash Gordon; animated cartoons, such
as Bugs Bunny; a B feature, such as a western; and finally, the main attraction.
In 1947 in America, movie houses were more ubiquitous than banks. There
were more than eighteen thousand neighborhood theaters. Each had only one
auditorium, one screen, one speaker (located behind the screen), one projection
booth, and one marquee.
Virtually all of these movies and shorts came from regional exchanges owned and operated by seven distribution companies that were, in turn, owned by seven Hollywood studios: Paramount, Universal, MGM, Twentieth Century-Fox, Warner Bros., Columbia, and RKO. In little over a generation, these studios had perfected a nearly omnipotent mechanism for controlling what the American public saw and heard. It was known, collectively, as the studio system.
The deus ex machina that transformed the movie business was not the selection of better movies-as studio chiefs would later claim-but the prodigious expansion in home viewing that came as a result of the video player, cable networks, pay TV, and the DVD. By 2003 the studios were taking in almost five times as much revenue from home entertainment as from theaters. Though they lost more than $11 billion in 2003 on movies shown in theaters, the studios more than made up that deficit from licensing products from those movies to the global home-entertainment market. They have now all come to realize-as Disney did a half century earlier-that the value they create lies not in the tickets they sell at the box office but in the licensable products they create for future generations of consumers. Theatrical releases now serve essentially as launching platforms for licensing rights, much like the runways at haute couture fashion shows.
The six television networks — CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, UPN, and WB — are the cash cows for the movie studios today. They pay the studios a licensing fee for the right to show studio-produced movies, cartoons, and television programs over a limited time period. Last year, these network fees totaled $5.1 billion, which was $1.2 billion more than the studios received from the entire American box office. What makes this a real windfall for the studios is that they do not have to pay any advertising or marketing costs out of the proceeds, as they do in their movie business. So the licensing fees flow directly into the studios’ coffers as almost pure profit... This bonanza explains why studio executives are not unhappy that the percentage of Americans who go to the movies every week nowadays is only a fraction of what it was 50 years ago. The audience that is staying home in droves is now their main source of profits.
The digital revolution has a dark side — zone-free DVD players, DVD piracy, and Internet file sharing — that deeply alters the scenario for foreign distribution. Because movies can now be illegally circulated around the world the instant they open in the United States, the studios have begun to abandon their practice of staggering foreign openings. As a Fox vice president told Variety in 2005, "Waiting three or four months after domestic [release] to release our bigger pictures [overseas] is not something we can do anymore." The latest episode of Star Wars opened on the same weekend in the United States and in 59 other countries. With these simultaneous openings, the U.S. box office obviously came too late to help get better foreign play dates.
>> Read the prolog to the book at its official site
[From MSN Slate Magazine]
In 1948, with studios
earning all their revenues from the box office, the audience was moviegoers.
Even as late as 1980, when the audience had television sets and video players,
studios still earned 55 percent of their money from people who actually
went to movie theaters. In 2005, however, those moviegoers provided the
studios with less than 15 percent of their worldwide revenues, while couch
potatoes provided it with 85.8 percent. Through this reversal of fortunes,
the stage has been set for what a top studio executive warned could be
"Hollywood's death spiral." The spiral begins with a shortening of the
delay, or "window," that separates a movie's theatrical release from its
video release. In the early 1980s, in order to avoid having new movies
in theaters compete against themselves in video, pay-per-view, pay TV,
or free television, the studios set up a series of insulated windows for
each format. The video window opened six months after the theatrical release
and four months before the pay-per-view window. With Warner Bros. leading
the charge, DVD cracked the video window. Since Warner Bros.' strategy
involved selling massive amounts of DVDs on the first day of its release,
by 2001 they had effectively shortened the window to five months so they
could market the DVDs of summer blockbusters at Christmas time...
Even if only a small percentage of moviegoers decide to wait for the announced DVD, it leads multiplex chains, which need to maximize their popcorn sales to stay in business, to cut the run of the movie in their premium theaters. The shorter the run, the less money the title takes in at the box office. As this spiral accelerates and studios earn a larger and larger share of their money from home entertainment, it adds to the pressure on studios to further reduce the video window. How far can this cycle go? After Hong Kong collapsed its video window in 2002, there was a 70 percent reduction in theater attendance. And, as a top studio executive pointed out after studying the problem, "A 6% reduction in attendance in 2000-2001 led to half the movie theaters in the world going bankrupt."
When I asked Sir Howard Stringer, chairman of Sony, if there was concern that the Blu-Ray DVD would result in a further eroding of the world moviegoing audience, he answered that it was "a chicken-and-egg problem." The "chicken" was theatrical movies; the "egg" the DVD (plus television and licensing rights). Sir Howard, who is also chairman of the American Film Institute, pointed out that it would be difficult to conceive of great movies, such as Lawrence of Arabia, being made without a movie theater audience to establish them; the dilemma is that it's the "egg" not the "chicken" upon which the studios increasingly depend for their money. So, even while trying to avoid fatally injuring the chicken—movies—Sir Howard said that studios are under increasing pressure to "optimize" their profits from the proverbial golden egg, the home audience.
Theaters are in the fast-food business, selling popcorn, soda, and other snacks. This is an extremely profitable operation in which the theaters do not split the proceeds with the studios (as they do with ticket sales). Popcorn, for example, because of the immense amount of popped bulk produced from a relatively small amount of kernels—the ratio is as high as 60:1—yields more than 90 cents of profit on every dollar of popcorn sold. It also serves to make customers thirsty for sodas, another high-margin product (supplied to most theater chains by Coca-Cola, which makes lucrative deals with theater owners in return for their exclusive "pouring" of its products). One theater chain executive went so far as to describe the cup holder mounted on each seat, which allows customers to park their soda while returning to the concession stand for more popcorn, as "the most important technological innovation since sound." He also credited the extra salt added into the buttery topping on popcorn as the "secret" to extending the popcorn-soda-popcorn cycle throughout the movie. For this type of business, theater owners don't benefit from movies with gripping or complex plots, since that would keep potential popcorn customers in their seats. "We are really in the business of people moving," Thomas W. Stephenson Jr., who then headed Hollywood Theaters, told me. "The more people we move past the popcorn, the more money we make."
[From an article for
MSN Slate called "Send in the Aliens: The Last Hope for Foreign Box Office"]
A persistent media myth is that Hollywood earns most of its money in foreign lands and that this is what accounts for dumbed-down movies. It is America. The Hollywood studios make — and have always made — most of their money in the domestic market, a fact that such stories almost always omit. As far as most of Hollywood's foreign revenue is concerned, it's a very small world after all. In the first quarter of 2005, just eight countries provided nearly 75 percent of the studios' total foreign revenue. Britain alone accounted for 20.7 percent of it; Germany, 12.8 percent; France, 9.6 percent; Canada, 8.1 percent; Japan, 7.2 percent; Italy, 6.1 percent; Australia, 5.1 percent; and Spain, 4.8 percent. The other hundred or so countries furnished only a few scraps. For example, in China, where government regulations severely limit distribution and piracy is common, Hollywood studios took in a grand total of $1.5 million (slightly more than one-tenth of a penny per capita) from theaters in the first quarter of 2005.
Whether or not the quest for gold abroad "dumbs down" movies depends on what one considers "dumb." Before giving a movie a green light, studio executives take into account its foreign prospects. The elements considered likely to kill them are "U.S.-centric stories," which include ones about high-school proms, American sports, fraternity parties, and ghetto violence. Horror movies and gross-out comedies also tend to do poorly abroad. On the other hand, movies that contain epic heroes — either historical like Alexander the Great or fictional like the Terminator — tend to do well at the foreign box office. But the jackpot element with which studios can really clean up on abroad is aliens from other universes or time periods. Hollywood has found that fantastic aliens — even ones intent on destroying the Earth as in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds — are more palatable to foreigners than high-school teenagers coming of age or playing baseball.
[From "The Starlet's
Dilemma", "Slate Magazine" Jan'06]
Anti-aging camouflage, such as plastic surgery, Botox, collagen injections, and other elixirs may provide a brief respite, but eventually every actress comes up against the age stereotyping in Hollywood. Goldie Hawn famously described the prevailing attitude this way in The First Wives Club: "There are only three ages for women: Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy."
When studios found that they could no longer count on habitual moviegoers to fill theaters, they went into the very risky business of creating tailor-made audiences for each and every movie. Like in an election campaign, the studios had to get people to turn out at the multiplexes on a specific date: the opening weekend. The principal means of generating this audience was and still is to buy ads on national television. For this strategy to work efficiently, the studios must find a target audience that predictably clusters around programs on which they can afford to buy time. They then bombard this audience—usually seven times in the preceding week to an opening—with 30-second eye-catching ads. The studios zero in on teens not because they necessarily like them or because they buy buckets of popcorn, but because they are the only demographic group that can be efficiently motivated to leave their homes in large numbers. Even though lassoing this teen herd is enormously expensive—more than $30 million a film—the studios profit from the fact that this young audience is also the coin of the realm for merchandisers such as McDonald, Domino's Pizza, and Pepsi. The studios depend upon these companies for tie-in deals that can supply $100 million or more in advertising to a single film and can expand the primary audience for DVDs, video games, and other licensable properties on which the studios now rely on for their economic survival. Studios therefore place the lion's share of their TV advertising—more than 80 percent in 2005—on cable and network programs watched primarily by people under 25. The studios also incorporate music that teenagers listen to into their soundtracks and try to cast the sort of babe-actresses that this crucial audience can relate to, if not fantasize about.
The silver lining for ex-babe actresses who are no longer able or willing to play this Hollywood game is that there is now an indie game. Independent movies, as I have previously written, often finance their productions by arranging presales abroad. Since foreign distributors usually require a recognizable American star (if only to increase the chance of DVD and TV sales in their countries), actresses who have earned name recognition as babes in Hollywood's horror, coming-of-age, and amusement-park entertainments are often needed to lock up these deals. But while roles in adult-oriented indie movies may be more artistically rewarding than roles as fantasy bait in teen movies, they are rarely, if ever, as high-paying. Such is the starlet's dilemma in babeland.
# THE WHOLE EQUATION
Hollywood, a cluster
of metal sheds in the shabbier suburbs of Los Angeles, itself a suburb
of nowhere, has created what is virtually the first religion devoted solely
to entertaining its congregation. Hollywood has taught us how to behave
when falling in love, standing up for our beliefs, defending our families
and seeking a better life. Most of us, mysteriously, have accepted its
guiding hand, in countless ways of which we're largely unaware... Film
is a rapture, Thomson writes, not an art, and he wonders what form art
can take in a mass society dedicated to doing without elitism. His wonderful
and provocative book ends with a piercing question: 'What have movies done
- JG Ballard reviews "The Whole Equation" by David Thomson for "The Observer"
Nothing matched the burnished day outside where, in an urban sprawl far beyond Nathanael West's worst nightmares, some people seemed to be having a good time, or as good a time as people have had in human history; that is not to flatter L.A. or the U.S.A. ...free people took their leisure - on the beaches, playing fields, in the shops and open-air restaurants, at the movie theaters even. Some read books, or wrote them. Some must have married, or been in love... A megalopolis stands on deadly tectonic faults, with desert on its three land flanks, with traffic congestion and smog gradually corroding its synapses. Yet it feels like heaven some Saturdays, and still serves as a place many people want to come to. The way Los Angeles was and may turn out in crucial to the whole equation of movies, and what they have done for us.
Nothing saps real work, good ambition and art in Hollywood as much as success - and its money habit. For this reason: Earn more than you are used to, and your personal needs begin to rise in a way that no medication can tame. Make a success and you are no longer simply in the art of making films but in the business of making successes. Here, by the way, is a profound contradiction in much of Americana: If, in the pursuit of happiness, you can do something grand enough to transform your circumstances, your future chance of happiness may be shot, for you have replaced it with the material of success, with money.
In America we treasure shared things, as if we had a constant fear of being helplessly divided or scattered. There is the constitution and the presidents; the one great highway that goes everywhere; the eternal filling station; the songs on the radio, the sky, the fast-food franchises. The movies? Lines of dialogue 50 years old are current still. But in an age when the movies actually begin to supply our presidents (as well as educate their style), and bother less with lines, is the sharing what it was? So when I talk about the 'whole equation' I mean not just the history of American movies, but the history of American in the time of movies.
Once upon a time in the long winters and humid summers of the severe and testing East, out of an historical experience of man's meager virtues and many shortcomings, the founding fathers had emerged with a grim, spartan, superb code that culminated in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Whereupon, in only a little over 20 years, a band of foreigners, the majority of them Jewish, uneasy with the English language, had arrived and found a trick of light with which, they said, they could provide the thing itself.
"This is history written
- Woodrow Wilson, after seeing "The Birth of a Nation"
Louis B. Mayer is one of those with a claim to posessing the equation... he began to buy up nickelodeon arcades in the years before the First World War in and around Boston. He had noticed that people liked going into the dark to see the light... the appeal of the movies is beyond the sensible, rational or the hard-working. Going into the dark, afte centuries of progress in which mankind has staggered toward artificial light, smacks of delicious perversity.
What guided Chaplin was the proper protection of self-interest (or craziness). So Chapling, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mark Pickford, with DW Griffith and William S Hart, made an alliance, called United Artists, whereby they would own a distribution company that would market their pictures, allowing them a greater return than if they leased the movies to some outside distributor.
Charlie Chaplin was very human, a good deal more so than his ethereal screen character. He liked fund, and he was crazy about sex. I cannot fund a subtler way of introducing one more part of our equation, which only needs your humanity to understand it. For as the movies as so often about desire, so the world of picturemakers is absorbed in sex... the movies have always been a system dedicated to the transporting (across state lines, let me add) of the image of female loveliness... Just as fecundity abounds in California, because the growing conditions are so opportune, it is a state that had regularly produced many females developed beyond their actual years, and cute to boot. It's not a thing the girls or their parents can restrain, and who would urge that? Nor does warm weather lend itself to body concealment. So the idea occurs that these pretty young things might get into pictures.
In 1972 Charlie Chaplin
was allowed back to America to receive an honorary Oscar, 'for the incalculable
he had on making motion pictures the art form of this century'.
That's what the Academy was always for - to blur the equation enough so that profit and fame could be called art.
The capacity for loving strangers, whether one thinks of them as fictional beings or stars one will never meet, is a profound reflection on the new consciousness whereby every individual leads his or life while aware of all the billions of other people on Earth. Perhaps it is a fantasy or a fallacy that we can feel for so many strangers. Perhaps it is a mask for selfishness. But no matter the modern stress on special effects, there isn't a sight in movies as momentous as shots of a face as its mind is being changed. And only movies have allowed that.
There were Surrealists in France in the 1920s who made it their habit to wander from one theater to another, emerging in the dark and waiting until the lovely randomness began to make sense. Then they left for another theater and the same brief miracle of the irrational. Kids sitting on today's sofa with a 100 or more cable channels and the remote control trigger in their hands have mastered that surreal haphazard without the exercise. And if you ask them why they are channel surfing they may reply, "Because there's nothing to watch on TV". So have they reinvented the frenzy for themselves by other means? Instead of watching, are they editing?
Technicolor is the
medium in which we have "Gone with the Wind", "The Red Shoes", "Duel in
the Sun", "Leave Her to Heaven", "An American in Paris", "She Wore a Yellow
Ribbon", "Samson and Delilah", "Henry V", "Black Narcissus", "The Pirate"
and "Meet Me in St. Louis". I could go on. I love Technicolor for its expressiveness,
its moist aliveness, its damson and creme brulee mix as lipstick meets
cheek, and its passion - because it is, often, better than life. Art is
meant to be.
There is another viture to Technicolor , one with large fiscal consequences. Technicolor lasts. Prints from the late thirties have not yet begun to deteriorate.
"Bonnie and Clyde" became not just a big hit, but a movie that went through young audiences like a first slug of Scotch. It affected clothes, talk, manners. Though set in the thirties it had the feeling of 1966, the most dangerous moment in American young people remembered.
"Right before our eyes
Spielberg is inventing the almost aggressive purposelessness of his Indiana
Jones mode. 'Jaws' is perhaps the most tonally comprehensive thriller ever
made - sheer exhilaration at lacking an agenda or a subject in any classical
dramatic sense. The film is sometimes nothing more than a dance to music.
Spielberg never meant anything really. But neither did Fred Astaire."
- Antonia Quirke, commenting on 'Jaws' for the British Film Institute
I dislike "The Exorcist", and I found it a warning sign of the dangers in a furious cinematic talent "putting the audience through it" (a Hitchcock phrase) without purpose, or without the nagging moral anxiety that activated Hitch. You see, I don't think William Friedkin believes in the Devil, or cares about him. I think he found exorcism a pretext for a gross-out and he calculated there was an audience for it, or a crowd ready to be challenged. Maybe I'm too much of an atheist to stand religion being so thrashed.
"The Deer Hunter" is securely on my list of American movie events, by which I mean those films that aspired to the whole equation, to be show business and art at the same time.
The larger perspective on moviegoing, the principle that fewer than 10% of Americans go, supports the common attitude that moviegoing is for teenagers now, the social group that is most eager to get out of the house, and the one that exerts and increasing influence on the nature and subject of our big pictures. In truth, I think many of the parental generation share that urge to get out sometimes, just as many older people still cherish memories of the communal experience of moviegoing. One reason for the success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was the understanding that different generations could enjoy those films with comfort and pleasure.
I understand the feelings of critics asked to come up with the ten best films of any year, who say, Ten? Ten's a lot! - and those more generous spirits whose thumbs grow as long as Pinocchio's nose from overrating a lot of pictures, because they want the medium to do well, and because they'd like to feel good about it.
In the first week of the showings of the "The Matrix Revolutions", "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" played on cable television. I started watching, and I was held; I wanted to go through the process again. Can anyone credit that 30 years from now there will be an audience for the three parts of "The Matrix", anywhere? Even if Keanu Reeves is our president by then?
Who can now deny the loss of natural light, of skin tones, of real place, and common but precious things in our movies, to be replaced by the gorgeous imagery of things that have never been and never will be? The most special effect in movies is always the human face when its mind is being changed.
We have a thriving subculture of 'independent' American movies that makes an impact on America as a whole roughly equivalent to that of a the modern literary novel. These are the films sincere viewers marry, whereas, once upon a time, movies were a lifetime of one night stands.
There is a moment in
the life of the American artist (or most of them) when he learns economics
and realty values. Whereas Griffith and Welles and many others did it for
the thing itself and knew that they had already used up all their luck
already inasmuch as someone had put up $200k, $650k or $1million for them
to take their shot. And if you don't have that money yourself (Chaplin
had it, Coppola could borrow it, Spielberg and Lucas have it now), you
are, more or less, saying to the world, Well, I would like to be an artist,
but I would like to take that risk on someone else's money. That is unfair,
it is un-American, and in the end it is deeply pernicious, ofr it encourages
the notion that you can make art without taking total responsibility. You
can't. And in movies, truly, it doesn't work that way.
But do movies have to be an art form? Aren't they good enough already? Weren't they at their nest and sometimes just miraculous before we though of saying 'art'? Isn't there something specially important in the way they are close to art but not quite there? It may even be that movies, in their proximity to art and their redefinition of success, have corrupted the essential ingredients of art - its solitariness, its insignificance, its detachment from response or reward. Art is an elitist concept - it has to be - and the cheerful but dogged egalitarianism of American has confused its nature and its austerity. The movies, with their Monday numbers, have aided the fallacy that only expensive art is valuable.
I regret the way that America has elected to make films for its bluntest section of society and in ways that flatter them, and we have to recognize how much that is being done for money. We have to find another way of measuring ourselves. And film is one of the few ways that might be done.
Film is one of the few media still able to bind us all together. In a world where 'art' (whether it is Henry James or Darren Aronofsky) is too demanding or austere for 'everyone', here is a medium that could move or reach anyone, Henry James or Homer Simpson. It's the convicts in "Sullivan's Travels" laughing at Mickey Mouse in what may be the only community or freedom left to them. It's the hush at the close of "The Godfather" as we begin to realize how far Michael Corleone has invaded us. It's wanting to be there that early morning in Texas, wanting to be one of the circle of cowboys in that great panning shot in "Red River" before Wayne tells Clift to take them to Missouri.
What has availability
done? It has killed a lot of the passion and the fun. If you doubt that,
talk to a few people who recall the 60s and 70s and who sometimes passed
years of their lives waiting for the chance to see some rare movie. The
cinema is founded in desire - and desire does not do well when granted
immediate and multiple satisfaction. Now that people can see nearly anything,
their eagerness relaxes... Let there be some films we are denied.
Let desire build. And it is in the same spirit that I urge a moratorium
on festivals, a Cromwellian meanness about them. In 1974 there was
really no such thing as video yet, let alone the profusion of outlets that
now prevail, along with the chance to see movies on the internet. Every
kid is his own film festival, and so festivals begin to be antiquated events,
a focus and a forum where no such needs are felt.
- David Thomson, comparing film festivals past and present, "The Guardian"
# DANSE MACABRE
The thing under my
bed waiting to grab my ankle isn't real. I know that, and I also know that
if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able
to grab my ankle."
- from the foreword to "Night Shift"
[Ch1: An Invitation
If there is any truth or worth to the danse macabre, it is simply that novels, movies, TV and radio programs - even the comic books - dealing with horror always do their work on two levels. On top is the 'gross out' level which can be done with varying degrees of artistic finesse, but it's always there. But on another, more potent level, the work of horror really is a dance - a moving, rhythmic search. And what it's looking for is the place where you, the viewer or the reader, live at your most primitive level. It is in search of another place, a room which may sometimes resemble the torture chamber of the Spanish Inquisition, but perhaps most frequently and most successfully, the simple and brutally plain hole of a Stone Age cave-dweller.
Is horror art? On this second level, the work of horror can be nothing else, it achieves the level of art simple because it is looking for something beyond art, some that predates art: it is looking for what I would call phobic pressure points. The good horror tale will dance its way to the center of your life and find the secret door to the room you believed no one but you knew of.
I suspect the real danse macabre is those remarkable moments when the creator of a horror story is able to unite the conscious and subconscious mind with one potent idea.
Almost everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news of the Kennedy assassination... that moment of knowledge and the three day spasm of stunned grief which followed it is perhaps the closest any people in history has ever come to a total period of mass consciousness and mass empathy and - in retrospect - mass memory: 200 million people in a living frieze. Love cannot achieve that sort of across-the-board hammerstroke of emotion, apparently. More's the pity.
[Ch2: Tales of the
The dividing line between fantasy and science fiction (for properly speaking, fantasy is what it is; the horror genre is only a subset of a larger genre) is a subject that comes up at some point at almost every fantasy or science fiction convention held... it's a trap, this matter of definition and not really interesting unless those involved are drunk or graduate students - two states of roughly similar incompetence. I'll content myself with stating the obvious inarguables: both are works of the imagination, and both try to create worlds which do not exist, cannot exist, or do not yet exist. There is a difference of course, but you can draw your own borderline. 'Alien' is a horror movie even though it is more firmly grounded in scientific projection than 'Star Wars'. Somewhere in between these two, in a buffer zone that has been litle used by the movies, are works that seem to combine science fiction and fantasy in a nonthreatening way, 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', for instance.
I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I cannot terrify him, I will try to horrify; and if I find I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.
Horror appeals to us because it says, in a symbolic way, things we would be afraid to say right out straight, with the bark still on; it offers us a chance to exercise (that's right, not exorcise but exercise) emotions which society demands we keep closely in hand. The horror film is an invitation to indluge in deviant, antisocial behavior by proxy, to commit gratuitous acts of violence, indulge our puerile dreams of power, to give in to our most craven fears. Perhaps more than anything else, the horror story says it's okay to join the mob, to become the total tribal being, to destroy the outsider.
[Ch3: Tales of the
My seven-year-old son Joe quite rightly sees the Hulk not as a frightening agent of chaos but as a blind force of nature fated only to do good. Oddly enough, the comforting lesson that many horror movies seem to teach the young is that fate is kind. Not a bad lesson at all for the little people, who so rightly themselves as hostages to forces larger than themselves.
How did it happen that this modest gothic tale, Frankenstein, became caught in a kind of cultural echo chamber, amplifying through the years until we even have a cereal called 'Frankenberry'? The most obvious answer is the movies and this is the true answer - the movies have been very good at providing that cultural echo chamber.
We see the horror of being a monster in the eyes of Boris Karloff and later, in those of Christopher Lee; in 'King Kong' it is spread across the ape's entire face. It is one of the great fusions of love and horror, innocence and terror.
The business of creating horror is much the same as the business of paralyzing an opponent with the martial arts - it is the business of finding vulnerable points and then applying pressure there.
There has always been a tendency to see the popular stories of yesterday as social documents, moral tracts, history lessons, or the precursors of more interesting fictions which follow, as anything in fact, but novels standing on their own feet, each with its own tale to tell.
[Ch4: An Autobiographical
To be successful, the artist in any field has to be in the right place at the right time. The right time is in the lap of the gods, but any mother's son or daughter can work his or her way to the right place and wait.
Most parents quite rightly recognize the fact that children are mad in the classic sense of that word. But I'm not altogether sure that killing Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy is the same thing as 'rationality'. For children, the rationality of madness seems to work remarkably well. For one thing, it keeps the thing in the closet at bay.
Disbelief isn't light, it's heavy. It takes a sophisticated and muscular intellectual act to believe, even for a little while, in the Blind Faceless One, the Howler in the Night. And whenever I run into someone who expresses a feeling along the lines of "I don't read fantasy or go to any of those movies; none of it's real", I feel a kind of sympathy. They simply can't lift the weight of fantasy. The muscles of the imagination have grown too weak. In this sense, kids are the perfect audience for horror, they lift the weight of unbelief with ease. Children deftly manipulate the logistics of Santa Claus's entry on Christmas Eve, the Easter Bunny, God, Jesus, the devil and a thousand more.
To surrender control runs contrary to the survival instinct. Conversely, while a thinking, informed person may understand intellectually that travel by car is much more dangerous than flying, he or she is still apt to feel much more comfortabkle behind the wheel, because he/she has control, or at least an illusion of it.
The child realizes his or her essential lack of control, and I suspect it is this very realization which makes the child uneasy.
[Ch5: Radio & The
Set of Reality]
I am of the last quarter of the last generation that remembers radio drama as an active force - a dramatic art form with its own set of reality. I was in attendance, during my younger years, at the deathbed of radio as a strong fictional medium.
Nothing is so frightening
as what's behind the closed door. The audience holds its breath along with
the protagonist as she/he (more often she) approaches that door. The protagonist
throws it open, and there is a ten-foot-tall bug. The audience screams,
but this particular scream has an oddly relieved sound to it. 'A bug ten
feet tall is pretty horrible', the audience thinks, 'but I can deal with
a ten-foot-tall bug. I was afraid it might be a hundred feet tall'.
The artistic work of horror is almost always a disappointment. It is the classic no-win situation. You can scare people with the unknown for a long, long time but sooner or later, as in poker, you have to turn your cards up. You have to open the door and show the audience what's behind it.
The thing is, with such things as Dachau, Hiroshima, the Children's Crusade, mass starvation in Cambodia - the human consciousness can deal with almost anything... which leaves the writer or director of the horror tale with a problem with is the psychological equivalent of inventing a faster-than-light space drive in the face of E=MC2.
There is and always has been a school of horror writers (I am not among them - it is playing to tie rather than to win) who believe that the way to beat this rap is never to open the door at all.
The exciting thing about radio at its best was that it bypassed the whole question of whether to open the door or leave ir closed. Radio, by the very nature of the medium, was exempt. For the listeners during the years 1930 to 1950 or so, there were no visual expectations to fulfill in their set of reality.
The thing I have called the 'set of reality' has something to do with what film technicians call 'state of the art'. The set of reality changes, and the boundaries of that mental country where the imagination may be fruitfully employed (Rod Serling's apt phrase for it, now a part of the American idiom, was the Twilight Zone) are in near-constant flux. In 1942 Val Lewton could not shoot in Central Park by night, but in 'Barry Lyndon' Stanley Kubrick shot several scenes by candlelight. This is a quantum technical leap which has this paradoxical effect: it robs the bank of imagination.
Radio avoided the open/closed-door question, I think, because radio deposited to that bank of imagination rather than making withdrawals in the name of 'state of the art', Radio made it real. When you made the monster in your mind, there was no zipper running down its back; it was a perfect monster.
[Ch6: The Modern American
Horror Movie: Text and Subtext]
If horror movies have redeeming social merit, it is because of that ability to form liaisons between the rel and unreal - to provide subtexts. And because of their mass appeal, these subtexts are often culture-wide.
All movies, after all, are pure fiction, even the true ones. The very medium fictionalizes, and there is no way to stop this from happening. Movies produce fiction as a byproduct the same way that boiling water produces steam.
The fan of movies in general and horror movies in particular may find it easy, too easy, to overlook the crude charms of a film like 'The Amityville Horror', after he or she has experienced films such as 'Repulsion', 'The Haunting', 'Fahrenheit 451', or 'Phase IV'. In a real appreciation of horror films, a taste for junk food applies.
If movies are the dreams of the mass culture - one film critic, in fact, has called watching a movie "dreaming with one's eyes open" - and if horror movies are the nightmares of the mass culture, then many of these 1950s horrors express America's coming to terms with the possibility of nuclear annihilation over political differences.
Don Siegel's 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is political; that was a film where you could see the political enemy of your choice around every corner, symbolized in those ominous pods from space.
'The Thing' is the first movie of the 1950s to offer us the scientist in the role of Appeaser, that creature who for reasons either craven or misguided, would open the gates to the Garden of Eden and let all the evils fly in (as opposed to those Mad Lab proprietors of the 1930s, who were more than willing to open Pandora's Box and let all the evils fly out - a major distinction, although the end results are the same).
A perfectly good case could be made for classifying Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" as a political horror film without monsters; for "A Clockwork Orange" as a political horror film with human monsters; and for "2001" as a political horror film with an inhuman monster.
William Goldman's 'A Princess Bride' is a wonderful send-up of fantasy and fairy tales. I can think of no other satire, with the possible exception of 'Alice in Wonderland', which is so clearly an expression of love and humor and good temper.
Brian de Palma's social stance in 'Carrie' is more original (than mine). He see this suburban white kids' high school as a kind of matriarchy. No matter where you look, there are girls behind the scenes, pulling invisible wires, rigging elections, using their boyfriends as stalking horses... in Carrie's destruction of the gym we see a dream revolution of the socially downtrodden.
The best horror films, like the best fairy tales, manage to be reactionary, anarchistic, and revolutionary at the same time.
I tell people who say that horror films don't scare them to make this simple experiment. Go to see a film like 'Night of the Living Dead' all alone. Afterwards, get in your car, drive to an old, deserted, crumbling houses - every town a at least one. Let yourself in. Mount to the attic. Sit down up there. Listen to the house groan and creak around you, notice how much those creaks sound like someone - or something - mounting the stairs. Think about the film you have just seen. Consider it as you sit there in the dark, unable to see what might be creeping up...
Fear of the dark is
the most childlike fear... what is laughable in the sunshine is often tougher
to smile at by starlight. This is a fact that every maker of horror films
and writer or horror tales recognizes and uses - it is one of those unfailing
pressure points where the grip of horror fiction is surest.
In 'Alien', that constant motif of the dark barely needs mentioning. "In space, no one can hear you scream", the ad copy read; it could also have said, "In space, it is always one minute after midnight". Dawn never comes in that Lovecraftian gulf between the stars.
If there had been no such thing as darkness, the makers of horror movies would have needed to invent it.
Horror movies are not sophisticated and because they are not, they allow us to regain our childish perspective on death... children see more intensely. The greens of laws are, to the child's eye, the color of lost emeralds in H. Rider Haggard's conception of King Solomon's Mines, the blue of the winter sky is as sharp as an icepick, the white of new snow is a dream blast of energy. And black is blacker... much blacker indeed.
We fans of horror movies have seen people clubbed, burned at the stake, shot, crucified, stabbed through the eyes with needles, eaten alive by grasshoppers, by ants, by dinosaurs and even by cockroaches; we have seen people beheaded, sucked dry of their blood, gobbled up by sharks and piranha fish; we have seen bad guys go down screaming in pools of quicksand and pools of acid. We have seen our fellow humans squashed, stretched, and bloated to death and literally explode.
The ultimate subtext that underlies all good horror films is, 'But not yet. Not this time'. Because in the final sense, the horror movie os the celebration of those who feel they can examine death because it does not yet live in their own hearts.
[Ch7: The Horror Movie
as Junk Food]
Real fans of the genre look back on a film like 'The Brain from Planet Arous' (It Came From Another World WITH AN INSATIABLE LUST FOR EARTH WOMEN!) with something like real love. It is the love one spares for an idiot child, true, but love is love.
"Among the finest terrible
movies ever made, this ridiculous gem presents as economical a space invasion
as ever committed to film."
- Movieguide from 'The Castle of Frankstein' previews 'Robot Monster'
For the writer, the
most galling thing about TV must be that he or she is forbidden from bringing
all of his or her powers to bear; the predicament of the TV writer is strikingly
similar to the predicament of the human race as envisioned in Kurt Vonnegut's
short story 'Harrison Bergeron', where bright people are fitted with electric
shock caps to disrupt their thinking periodically and agile people are
fitted with weights. As a result, a perfect state of equality has been
achieved... but at what a price.
TV is in almost every American home , and the financial stakes are enormous. As a result, television has become more and more cautious over the years. It has become like a fat old tomcat dedicated to the preservation of the status quo and to the concept of LOP - Least Objectionable Programming.
One turned in to 'Dark Shadows' every day, convinced that things could become no more luanatic... and yet somehow they did. At one point the entire cast of characters was transported back into the 17th century for a six-week turn in fancy dress.
"I am coming Marie,
but I have to come slowly... because little pieces of me keep falling off."
- One of Stephen's favourite lines
[Ch9: Horror Fiction]
My own belief about fiction is that story must be paramount over all other considerations - theme, mood,tone, symbol, style, even characterization - are expendable. There are critics who take the strongest possible exception to this view of fiction, and I really believe that they are the critics who would feel vastly more comfortable if 'Moby Dick' were a doctoral thesis on cetology rather than an account of what happened on the Pequod's final voyage.
The horror story is in many ways an optimistic, upbeat experience; that it is often the tough mind's way of coping with terrible problems which may not be supernatural at all but perfectly real. Paranoia may be the last and strongest bastion of such an optimistic view, it is the mind crying out, "Something rational and understandable is going on here! These things do not just happen!"
People who read horror fiction are warped, but if you don't have a few warps in your record, you're going to find it impossible to cope with life in the last quarter of the 20th century.
All fantasy fiction is essentially about the concept of power; great fantasy fiction is about people who find it at great cost or lose it tragically; mediocre fantasy fiction is about people who have it and never lose it but simply wield it.
Those who love books and love the language know that the printed word really is a kind of telepathy.
[Ch10: The Last Waltz]
The danse macabre is a waltz with death. The tale of horror is a chance to examine what's going on behind doors we usually keep double locked. Yet the human imagination is not content with locked doors... perhaps we go to the forbidden door or window willingly because we understand that a time comes when we must go whether we want to or not... and not just to look, but to be pushed through.
I do not now and never have doubted that the youths who burned the lady in Roxbury got the idea from the telecast of 'Fuzz' one Sunday night on ABC; if it had not been shown, stupidity and lack of imagination might well have reduced them to murdering her in some more mundane way.
Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile. Modern horror stories are not much different from the morality plays of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The horror story most generally not only stands foursquare for the Ten Commandments, it blows them up to tabloid size.
Children see everything, consider everything; the typical expression of the baby which is full, dry and awake is a wide-eyed goggle at everything. Hello, pleased to meet you, freaked to be here.
The gods of childhood (Santa, The Tooth Fairy) are immortal; the big kids don't really sacrifice them; they just pass them on to their bratty kid brothers and kid sisters. It's childhood itself that's mortal: man is in love, and loves what passes.
# MONSTERS AND MAYHEM
Occasional observers of horror movies have a nasty habit of asking why it is that there is always some poor misguided soul who opens the door to the cellar or to the attic or to the crypt when it's quite clear that no sane person would even consider it.
Like the panic stricken populace of 'The War of the Worlds' and countless other 1950s invasion movies, the victims are there to provide the human ground over which monster and expert, threat and defender, disordering and ordering impulses can battle it out. Second-class citizens of the genre, they are narratively indispensable because physically entirely disposable. We are only really involved with them in the momentary tension of their capture or demise.
Typical horror movies of the 1930s were often given a period setting in what looked like a kind of stylized 19th century... the sense of 'elsewhen', of distance, lent to many of these movies by their settings. They exist, as it were, in a 19th century of the mind.
Contemporary audiences, other than those making a deliberate historical leap, would find, say, the 1931 'Dracula' impossibly slow.
In a Western or a thriller there is often room for reflection upon the coercive necessities; even, occasionally, some attempt to pose other possibilities. In the horror movies there is finally a Hobbesian state of nature: 'continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'.
Along with supernature and science, there is one other major source of horror movies disorder: the human psyche, most commonly homicidal psychosis. Unlike 'mad' scientists, horror-movies madmen are not visionary obsessives, glorifying in scientific reason as they single-mindedly purse their researches. They are, rather, victims of overpowering impulses that well up from within; monsters brought forth by the sleep of reason, not by its attractions.
In 'Play Misty For Me', its inexplicably assertive knife-woman nearly manages the impossible task of slaughtering Clint Eastwood.
# THE WORST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
Most bad movies, even those at the bottom of the barrel, have some sort of entertainment value. Even if you have to laugh at them instead of with them. Even if sitting through them amounts to an exercise in perverse curiosity, even if to enjoy them, you have to give in to your basest instincts... the experience is frequently vivid and memorable, something you think and talk about afterward, much more than you would a merely mediocre film — or even a pretty good one. There are all kinds of ways to appreciate bad movies because there are so many kinds. There are probably more kinds of bad movies than there are kinds of good ones. This book is about all of them: the numbingly bad, the annoyingly bad, the insipidly bad, the insidiously bad, the revoltingly bad, the ridiculously bad, the historically, hysterically bad, ambitiously bad, the amateurishly bad, the amazingly bad, the abysmally bad.
Cecil B. De Mille didn't invent the biblical epic. It only seems that way. That's party because he made to many of them, but also because he made them so big... to be truly De Millean, an epic must be more than big. It must be over the top. Seas must part. Cities must topple. Casts of thousands must perish in massive battles. Sex and sin must be punished — but only after being allowed to flourish in all ther divine decadence. According to the C.B. credo, you could wallow in all the drepravity you wanted as long as decency triumphed in the end. God would always win the final reel. That, of course, was how he sneaked so much risque business past the censors. "You can't show triumph over sin unless you show the temptation," he argued.
The original "One Million B.C." is the granddaddy of all caveman movies: the one that set the tone for all future distortions of our distant past. Here, for the first time, we learn that cavemen coexisted with dinosaurs, that woolly mammoths were just elephants draped in ratty shag rugs, and that some Neanderthals were clean shaven. No doubt about it, this is prehistory — Hollywood style.
The most famous thing about "The Outlaw", then and now, was Howard Hughes's hyped-up ad campaign, specifically, the striking poster of teenage discovery Jane Russell languishing come-hither style in a haystack, her legendary breasts barely concealed, but still dominating the shot. No wonder the poster is what endures from the film. It's the only lucid aspect of the whole endeavor... Miss Russell's Rio is a hot tamale whose taste in blouses matches her taste in men: low-down.
The movies have come a long way since Sam Goldwyn nade "The Adventure of Marco Polo". But you couldn't prove it by Ilya Salkinds' "Christopher Columbus". In most respects, these two movies are equally, inherently silly, but at least "Marco Polo", the product of a less ambivalent age, has the courage of its preposterous convictions. "Christopher Columbus", on the other hand, doesn't even know what its convictions are.
# PAUL A. CANTOR
Popular culture can
be a sort of radar screen for the future, the cultural equivalent of a
distance early warning system. Back in the 1890s, Great Britain seemed
to be sitting on top of the world, presiding over the greatest empire ever
seen. If you looked at most aspects of British culture at the time, you
would have seen all sorts of signs of self-confidence and even complacency.
But there were some disturbing signs in the popular culture of the day,
and here I'm talking mostly about popular fiction. The great age of Victorian
self-confidence was also the great age of British horror stories. Bram
Stoker's Dracula came out in the 1890s, and it showed a Britain being invaded
by a strange foreign force that could barely be resisted. H. G. Wells brought
out War of the Worlds in 1898—at a time when the British military, and
especially the navy, seemed invincible, Wells created a story in which
a technologically superior force from Mars invades Britain and brings the
British military to its knees. I could go on and on like this—Doyle's Sherlock
Holmes stories, for example, reflect all sorts of anxieties about Britain's
vulnerability to foreign forces. But my basic point is simple—at a time
when the British appeared to be on top of the world, British popular culture
was beginning to register doubts and to suggest that perhaps British mastery
of the world would not last forever.
- Paul A. Cantor, interviewed in "Americana"
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