Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1165: Just Plain Rotten...

NBC/Universal/Comcast is airing the sequel to last year's Shartnado and giving it loads of hype based almost entirely on the fact that's it's an intentionally bad movie populated with has-beens and never-weres, crappy special effects and poorly written dialogue.

If there's one thing that makes me despair for civilization it's that.

Then, amidst all the Shartnado hype I saw this tweet by producer Keith Calder:
Testify brother!

Watching a deliberately bad movie doesn't do anyone any good. It causes a general lowering of the standards in an era where filmmakers and even networks has to pursue high standards if they're going to hold on to their dwindling audience share. I need more than just schadenfreude to make me invest my time in a movie where no effort was made to at least try for quality.

I will respect someone who at least tries to make a decent movie, and fails due to deficiencies in resources or talent, than someone who has the resources, but just lazily slaps together a deliberately inane story, tosses in some bad jokes, and declares it an ironic metatextual masterpiece.

That's bullshit.

However that bullshit seems to be spreading like a virus, the kind of virus you find in bullshit.

To escape the hype, and because I love classic Hollywood history I tuned into a TCM documentary on producer Val Lewton.

No, not Val Kilmer.

I'm talking about Val Lewton.

Val Lewton started out as a novelist, but chafed at being labelled a "pulp fiction" creator, and followed his mother and sister who were already working in Hollywood.

After time spent as David O. Selznick's right hand man he took an offer to produce his own films at RKO, one of the smallest of the major studios.

RKO was jealous of Universal's success with their monster movies. They wanted Lewton to make horror movies for RKO, but at a fraction of the budgets Universal was using on their movies.

Since Universal had just had a hit with The Wolf-Man the boss at RKO gave Lewton a title, Cat People, and the commission to get everything, from story to script to screen, done for less than $130,000.

That was between 1/2 to 1/4 the budget Universal was spending on their monster movies. While RKO wanted cheap imitations, that wasn't Lewton's style, so he created a philosophy that took horror into a more mature, literate, and philosophical direction.

You can break it down like this:

1. Shadows, and implied horror is your friend, use it. If you can't create a scary realistic monster, DON'T SHOW IT.

2. The film should still be scary even if the supernatural element turns out to be nothing but someone's delusion. He even went so far as to make a vampire movie that doesn't have a vampire.

3. What you lack in budget and spectacle you must make up for in quality of story and storytelling.

At first this philosophy scared RKO, but then the rentals for Cat People started flowing in, putting the struggling company in the black. So they decided to cut Lewton some slack as long as he stayed within his tiny budgets. 

Over the next few years Lewton promoted the careers of directors Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, and Mark Robson, and even passed on doing bigger "A" pictures for RKO when it meant giving up the team he created and the freedom he enjoyed. He made Jane Eyre into a hit zombie movie, something that's unimaginable in any other situation.

So why am I rambling on like this?

We live in the age of CGI where we can show everything and the sole reason for showing everything is because we can show everything. Too many horror and science fiction films, especially low budget ones, settle for crappy CGI and ironic posturing claiming they're being creative when they're just being lazy.

The audience is fractured and fragmented, and while you might be able to amuse the slow-witted and those who like to look down on the slow-witted with the occasional Shartnado type schlock-fest, the only way you can win a truly lasting audience, is if you offer them more than a really corny log-line composed of random things you pull from a hat.

In other words: Be like Lewton and put some effort into it.

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