Saturday, 31 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #105: Sex & The Cinemagoer

Well, it looks like the Sex & The City movie had a gang-buster Friday, and might just come out to win the weekend over Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Broken Hip.

Now while I could go about the cruel irony of New Line Cinema finally having a hit after it had been snuffed out by its corporate parent, but that really wouldn't fit the seductively misleading title for this post.

Nor will I be discussing the Sex & The City movie, or the TV show that spawned it all. Since I am a man, and a manly man at that, I'm not the film or the show's target demographic.

Nope, today I'm going to be talking about gender in the movie business, specifically how Hollywood has come, until just this weekend, to ignore women, specifically mature women, at the box office.

Once upon a time Hollywood enjoyed a thriving business in "women's pictures." These were movies specifically aimed at adult women, and were a mix of witty romantic comedies of manners, musicals, thrillers, and melodramatic tragedies. These films even had their own stars, like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Katherine Hepburn.

These films, many considered classics of Hollywood's Golden Age, featured smart, witty, and strong willed women who, for good or ill, knew what they wanted, and how to get it, often to the chagrin of the often hapless leading man. They weren't going to be held down by anyone, and if they found love, it was usually on their terms.

Then things began to change.

The Hayes Code, which had dictated decency in Hollywood films since the 1920s, was phased out, replaced by a new ratings system. Suddenly all movies didn't have to be for all ages, and at the same time Western Culture was in the thr
oes of a sexual revolution.

Suddenly the taboo subject of sex and the language about it was permitted on the big screen. Writers didn't have to be clever when it came to writing about women and sexuality anymore, they could be blunt and direct.
Who needs their femme fatale to seduce a man with snappy, sexy, banter, when all she has to do is take off her top, and the man is transformed into a drooling moron. So the greatest irony, was that while feminism dominated the cultural dialogue of the 60s and 70s, the women as cinematic character became less of a character, with thoughts, feelings, and motives of her own, and more and more of a sex object.

The 60s also marked the great Baby Boomer youth-quake, where Hollywood started showing the first symptoms of its juvenile dementia. Everything had to be young, young, young, and to hell with the over-35s with their disposable income, they had television to entertain them.

And this obsession with anyone under the age of 35 grew stronger in the 70s and 80s with the rise of SF/Fantasy blockbuster, and the geek culture built around it. In the 80s and 90s there was an semi-conscious attempt to make up for the dearth of female heroes in popular cinema. However these new heroines were basically butt-kicking action heroes with breasts, like Ripley in Aliens, or exaggerated breasts like the pubescent fantasizing behind Tomb Raider.

The traditional women's picture declined in quantity, and quality, degenerating into nearly diabetic romantic comedies, angled more to appeal to young girls than adult women, disease of the week melodramas, and repetitive "women in peril" pictures that either aired on cable TV or cluttered up DVD discount bins.

Now Hollywood is faced with something they really didn't expect. A film that is being taken to #1 at the Box Office by women over 35. None of the experts predicted such a opening, expecting the film to do modestly well, but not better than Indiana Jones and the Social Security Check.

So expect a flood of cheap S&TC knock-offs, complete with expensive clothes, sexual sit-comedy, and catty and often raunchy dialogue. Hell, I'm predicting a Desperate Housewives movie for next summer, whose willing to bet on that?

But they're forgetting what made the film a success. It wasn't the show, which, although profitable for HBO and beloved by the media, wasn't a ratings juggernaut, it was because S&TC was a movie for women, about women, and their lives seen through a somewhat fantastical lens. It promised to give adult women adult entertainment, and not the kind enjoyed by men in dirty raincoats, I'm talking about maturity here you pervs.

So I guess the lesson of this little fable is that Hollywood has to realize that while not every film can, or even should, be for everyone, that doesn't mean you should give up on any facet of the audience, just because you have to do a little work to win them over.

1 comment:

  1. prisoner1051/6/08 11:53 pm

    I don't think the success of SaTC movie was based on the fans of the original show, rather it was the new fans, mostly young girls and young women, who saw the edited versions on TBS and loved the fashions and materialism.

    If you examine criticisms of the movie, you'll see that the materialism, consumerism, fashion show status mongering that men hated, the young female fans loved. It was about the fashions, the fabulous apartments, the feeling sorry for themselves, the idealized friendships, and general status-conscious materialism that the audience, which was more women 20 and girls mid teens and older.

    WSJ reported that the marketers advertised heavily on Shot of Love with Tia Tequila, My Super Sweet Sixteen (both MTV, 40% female under 18), and CW's Gossip Girl (23% under 18 female). They seem to have known what they were doing.