Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #656: Stupidity Doesn't Sell Anymore?

Welcome to the show folks...

A tip of my jaunty sombrero to reader Gary T. Burnaska for this piece by the New York Times about the apparent collapse of the middlebrow movie market.

"What's the middlebrow movie market?" you ask, furrowing your own brow in a desperate attempt to understand.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Middlebrow is: demanding, involving, or having only a moderate degree of intellectual application.

Translation of the translation:

Anything that doesn't make you think too much.

Basically it means that movies that don't make audiences think too much, like
Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black, were outperformed by more challenging and mind-bending films like Christopher Nolan's Inception, and the artsy but not quite fartsy version of Alice In Wonderland by Tim Burton.

Let's look at the reasons for this phenomenon:

1. Inconvenience/Convenience.

2. Low Bullshit Tolerance.

Now let me explain those reasons.

1. INCONVENIENCE/CONVENIENCE: Going to the movies these days are a hassle. You have to get to the theater, and to do that you have to either pay for a cab, public transit, or gas and parking for your car. Then you have to buy the ticket, and pay more if the studio decided to do the movie in 3D. (And if you have kids, just double everything and add 30.)

Meanwhile, these very same people can go to the neighborhood mall to buy a DVD, or get NetFlix, Pay Per View, downloads, or just plain better made television without getting off their ample backsides.

Going to a first run movie = Inconvenient.

Waiting a month or two and getting it at home for a cheaper price = Convenient.

That means that if someone is going to go
to the effort of seeing a movie in a theater, it better be worth their time. At first mindless spectacle over originality worked, look at Avatar. But the novelty wore off soon, especially after the same people bought the DVDs and suddenly realized they were watching Dances With Wolves in blue-face and stiff wooden dialogue.

If they're going to go for stupid to middlebrow, they'll do it at home. However, if the film promises something really original and challenging, they might be willing to part with their hard earned bucks.

2. Low Bullshit Tolerance: In the age of Facebook, twitter, blogs, and unprecedented interconnectedness Hollywood can't scam people into seeing something stupid. Word will get out, and people will set their keyboards aflame to, well, flame something that they think is dumb and not worth the inconvenience I just discussed. It doesn't matter how slick your commercial is, if someone's leaked the fact that your characters are annoying and your plot is insulting, folks are going to find out, and stay away.

This means that if word gets out that your movie doesn't deliver the goods, no amount of advertising will save you.

Will this mean a new wave of intelligent movies coming out of Hollywood?

Probably not. They have too much invested in stupid, and it will be tough to get them to let go, and let's not forget that middlebrow still sells pretty well overseas. That's Hollywood's golden excuse for avoiding doing any actual effort.


  1. I ask you this, when was the last time you saw a trailer to a new movie that had you going to spaztic fits because it looked so awesome?

    For me it was seeing Ace Combat Assault Horizon Debut Trailer on Youtobe, that is for a video game not a film. Movie LOTR Two Towers

    When was the last time there was a film that you just HAD TO SEE? For me Dark Knight, before that Two Towers

    I find for entertainment value the small screen is a better bet, there are more TV shows and video games coming out that are more worth my time and money. Even with my professional aspirations, I have abandoned writing movie spec scripts and moved to TV.

  2. A fundamental problem with this film business is that it has been niche marketed into a stupor. Middlebrow suggests a middle path, neither art house,such as it is today or the fantastic/cgi /video game action stuff,which a majority of critics, such as they are,hammer with ferocity.Just a reminder that middlebrow used to include performers like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra,Duke Ellington,Charlie Parker, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson,the Twilight Zone,Steinbeck,Du Maurier,William Wyler, Alfred Hitchcock,Sidney Pollack, Spielberg,the Beatles,Amadeus, L.A. Confidential,and etc; etc;. Middlebrow was great stuff, Terry Teachout wrote a good piece on this in the WSJ last year. This Hollywood wants to make ,"important films", on subjects like abortion, gay rights,the U.S. military and American domestic politics. Most of what they produce , by now ,is redundant and hardly objective.Not a lot of deep thinking going on. Objectivity will set you free.Middlebrow, good middlebrow doesn't try to hammer you with its point of view, it persuades and trusts its audience. This Hollywood wants to lecture and posture. Oy.There was a time when message movies were well received by the public, In the Heat of the Night is still powerful film making with a point as is The Insider.The Oscar blog sites are a good place to experience film snobbery.Right now the succes of True Grit might be problematic for them because it was directed by those auteurs du jour, zee Coens and OMG the damn movie is making money, how declasse can that be!!