Thursday, 3 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #19: Your 15 Minutes are up.

The movie star is dead.

No, I
'm not talking about any particular movie star, but more about the concept of the movie star. It died of exposure on the high icy slopes of fame, and will probably never be revived.

Allow me to explain, as usual, with a little history lesson.
(Don't worry, I'll break it up with movie star pictures to keep you interested)

Before movies there was the theatre.

Theatre is almost as old as civilization itself and can be traced back to Ooog & Mog's dramatic presentation of "Mammoth Hunt."

It was also the first instance of 'improv' since the idea
of the 'script' didn't arrive several millennia later.

One thing that always defined theatre were its stars.

Stars were actors that possessed talent, charisma, sex appeal, or a combination thereof that could attract audiences and inspire them to buy tickets to watch their shows.

When the film industry first started the first cinematic pioneers initially didn't even credit most actors unless they were already famous in the theatre, for fear of having to pay the sort of large theatre star salaries.

That system changed when the filmmakers realized that due to film's ability to play in dozens, if not hundreds, of theatres simultaneously they could pay star salaries and still reap enormous profits.

Thus the star system was born. I explained how it worked in another post so I won't completely repeat myself here.

Now the star system worked because the stars were aspirational figures. People in the audience wanted to be as sweet as Mary Pickford, as sexy as Sophia Loren, as tough as Lee Marvin, as charming as Cary Grant, as daring as Rita Hayworth, or as heroic as John Wayne.

Then came the 60s and 70s. The Baby Boom generation wanted stars that were grittier, more 'true to life,' (at least as they saw it) and reflected a sense of what they considered greater realism devoid of the glamour or heroics of their parent's generation of stars.

Thus the aspirational aspect of the movie star began to fade.

There was an attempt to artificially create a new star system in the 80s but it still carried some of the cultural nihilism of the 70s. So heroic stoicism became swaggering machismo, sexy became slutty, rebellious and daring became obnoxious and rude, and everything was carefully filtered by an army of publicists and image consultants.

Most of these image experiments failed, because they were too contrived, and often to cartoonishly outlandish to make that crucial emotional connection with the audience. It was fake, but without fantasy.

This time also witnessed the transformation of celebrity tabloid culture from a
few perpetually borderline bankrupt 'scandal sheets' to a 24/7 multi-billion dollar industry all to itself.

Fame suddenly went from a gift granted to the talented few
to a commodity sold like widgets at Wal-Mart. And the key to making something cheap is volume.

This industry needed more and more famous people. It didn't care what they did, where they came from, or why they did anything, as long as it could put a pretty face and some cleavage in front of a camera.

People could become famous, not for having any particular talent or charisma, but for showing up at the right p
lace in the right clothes, or for making a sex-tape with the wrong people.

So now we're stuck with a culture based on what the media consider 'celebrities.'

Yet what are these people being celebrated for?

Certainly not for their achievements. Most don't have any, and it definitely not for talent, or even charisma. The aspirational factor was gone,
because outside of genetically (and surgically) gifted looks and mostly undeserved wealth and fame, what qualities do these people have to aspire too?

So that leaves us with flat box-office, sky-rocketing production costs, and a culture that celebrates bad behaviour to the point of dementia.

What can be done to stop this decline?

I honestly don't know.

But it will have to be drastic.

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