Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Edward Jay Epstein ~ The Oscar Deception: Art Flicks Make Beautiful Decoys

From Slate.com

The 78th Academy Awards, with its scripted speeches by stars, tearful acceptances, eulogies, red-carpet celebrity fashion show, and gold-dipped statuettes, has the same mission that it did when Louis B. Mayer convinced the other studio moguls to create the event in 1927: "establish the industry in the public's mind as a respectable institution." Now, televised by ABC in dazzling high-definition color, the evening-long informational will further the long-standing myth that Hollywood is in the business of making great—and original—movies.

This illusion, like all successful deceptions, requires misdirecting the audience's attention from reality to a few brilliant aberrations. Take this year's Best Picture nominations: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Munich, and Good Night, and Good Luck. What all of these films have in common is that they have virtually nothing to do with the real business of the Hollywood studios. For Hollywood to choose them as a public display of its virtue is almost as absurd as international oil companies presenting awards to avant-garde artists who happen to paint in oil. Just as Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, and British Petroleum do not make their living from oil paint (which, after all, is typically not made from crude), Hollywood studios do not make money from producing (or distributing) the occasional art or social-commentary movie.

In fact, the movie business is no longer about making movies. It is about creating properties—including TV programs, cartoons, videos, and games—that can serve as licensing platforms for a multitude of markets. For the first 20 years of the Academy Awards, the movie business was entirely about movies. Two-thirds of Americans went to a movie in an average week, and all the studios' earnings came from the proceeds of the tickets sold at movie houses. But that was "BT," before the advent of television in the late 1940s. Once people could watch sports, game shows, and movies at home for free, most of the habitual audience disappeared. By the late 1970s, U.S. movie theaters, which had sold 4.8 billion tickets in 1948, sold only 1 billion. Hollywood, on the verge of financial ruin, had no choice but reinvent itself.

The studios simply followed their audiences home. To do this, they first repackaged the movies shown at theaters Pied Piper-style by making movies that visually appealed mainly to children and teenagers and then recycled them into home products, including DVDs, TV shows, games, and toys, which, in 2005, produced more than 86 percent of their revenues. In this business model, alas, art, literary, and social-commentary movies are marginalized, since they cannot be either turned into licensing franchises or used to lure huge opening-week audiences to theaters. (Even Steven Spielberg's Munich attracted only a trickle—less than 1 million people—in its opening week compared with the flood—17 million people—for the opening of George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode 3—Revenge of the Sith.) And, as satisfying as these art films may be to directors, writers, actors, and producers, they do not lend themselves to sequels, prequels, or other licensable properties. They do, however, perform one function very well: acting as decoys at Hollywood's annual celebration of itself.
Edward Jay Epstein

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2 comments:

aguy said...

And what percentage of the cinema going audience went to see the "art flicks" in the 1930s and 40s? Probably no more then watch them now. On the contrary, those "art flicks" have a big audience amongst cinema buffs and students, and far more distribution channels are available than ever before. Oh, sorry, I forgot that if you watch it on video/cable/web at home , then it doesn't count as cinema at all!...in short: quality is still very important to producers, directors actors and audiences

J.A.H said...

I agree with the article that the whole thing is a fiasco but in a fame and fortune obsessed society, a great big gala attracts a lot more attention then an article in an artsy mag. These hollywood movies, which would normally receive very little attention from the brainwashed masses are suddenly brought to the front of their conscious thought, in an effort that is vain enough to reach them and perhaps, should they feel any peer pressure, convince them to go and see these rarities.