Friday, October 26, 2007

Why are Hollywood movies so bad?

American film scholar Prof Ray Carney on the Hollywood system of filmmaking:

Why are Hollywood movies so bad? The best way to answer the question is simply to take you behind the scenes on a quick cook's tour of how movies are really made. I warn you. It's not a pretty picture.

The first thing you never want to forget about the movies in that–first , last and always–they are business deals put together to make a quick buck. To say the obvious, the goal is to take $7.50 out of as many pockets as possible. Everything is directed to that interest.

There was an interview in the last Saturday's Globe with Sydney Lumet that more or less sums up the current state of the art.

Lumet's comments are all the more telling in that they don't come from some wild-eyed radical, but from the ultimate Hollywood insider. Lumet has been making successful, money-making Hollywood movies for more than 40 years.

On the other hand, of course a Stalin movie would never really be made precisely because it would be controversial and would alienate blocks of viewers, and jeopardize profits.

What Hollywood is in favor of is not controversy, but pseudo-controversy. On the one hand, you want people to think that your movie is really new and different and controversial; but on the other, you don't want to actually create a disturbance. You don't want to force viewers really to have to think or to learn something. If you are dealing with politics in particular, the formula involves taking a topical issue–Watergate, Vietnam, the Holocaust–but making sure that it is situated at a certain distance from the average viewer's experience or knowledge.

Hollywood movies take our common-sense understandings and sell them back to us, with a slight change of clothes. It's a little like one of those MacDonald's Happy Meal promotions. You add a new spice or condiment or action figure to deep people's interest, but basically you give them the same fast food over and over again.

In terms of the production of these films, timidity is built into the system at every level. Movies originate as "deals"–business arrangements hashed out between producers, directors, writers, and a group of stars, in which the movie itself becomes an almost incidental after-thought: The real goal of each of the parties is to protect his or her financial interest, and to maximize the final product's "bankability."

In the service of doing that, the overriding goal is to secure a name star at any cost. When I talk to beginning directors, it's usually the first story they tell me: How they took their first script to a studio–sometimes a marvelous script–and were told the project could only get a green light if a particular "name" actor plays the lead–if Johnny Depp or Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise can be persuaded to do it–no matter how ludicrously inappropriate that particular choice might be for the role.

Then once a real "star" signs on to a production, the dynamics of the deal allow the star to demand as many rewrites as he or she wants until they are happy with the script.

If this interests you, you should read the entire article/talk script.

Bollywood, on the other hand, is not much different.

Bombay's hottest director Anurag Kashyap wrote this on Bollywood way back in 2004:

Things have changed for Indian cinema. Foreign funding is on its way here. Venture capitalists are squeezing in through the door. Everyone from Bandra to Jogeshwari is making the next 'crossover' film. (If that's not enough, now there's even a company called Crossover!) Everyone's speculating as to who's the tallest poppy in the field.

Do we really believe all of this? We certainly seem to. But then why are our films not working? Where is all the insane amount of money pumped into the industry going? Why is everybody adding mysterious alphabets to their names? When successful cinema is all about the beauty of the story being told, then why are Mr 'Numerology' Jumani and Sunita 'Tarot' Menon key decisive factors in the success of our films?

Furthermore, he adds something that instantly links up with the Hollywood scenario described above by Ray:

Every time I, as a filmmaker, go to a producer with my script, he asks me, before so much as laying a finger on the document, 'Who is the star?' Directors who don't have a single 'good' film (or a 'successful' one for that matter, as the two are not synonymous in this country) to their credit are heading corporates, taking decisions on how films should and shouldn't be made. They are so plum in their newfound job security that they don't take a decision until and unless it is everyone's decision. So that if they fail, everyone is responsible, not just them.

One head might roll. A bunch of heads generally gets a second chance!

Anurag's No Smoking is releasing today in India. Writes The Guardian: "While a slack pace, unsettled internal logic and a goofy subplot undo much of director Kashyap's hard work, the film has a slick look. If and when Bollywood does deliver a crossover hit, it's likely this film-maker will be behind it."

In a recent interview, the Black Friday and No smoking director also blames the Indian film journalists for the poor film appreciation culture in India:

No journalist in India watches cinema, unlike film journalists abroad. Go to a film festival, you see so many journalists there.

Indian journalists don't watch cinema, they only cover gossip. That is why nobody has a clue about cinema. They don't even know what questions to ask. They ask the same questions: 'What is John doing? What is Ayesha doing?'

The problem with this country is its media that covers cinema. Our cinema is immature. Our media is very immature. Our critics are worse than our filmmakers. Our film journalism is the worst in the world. Barring a few critics, nobody has a clue what they are talking about.

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