Last week, Mirror film critic Sasha Stone discussed the current movie box office slump and the reasons for it.
When we read it, we thought, as we do during any discussion of Hollywood, of its first rule, as famously stated by ace screenwriter William Goldman: “No one knows anything.”
In the 1930s, the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, 85 percent of everybody in America went to the movies every week – Great Depression notwithstanding. The studios made 500 pictures a year – musicals and comedies, melodramas and dramas, action and children’s movies — and an astonishing number of them appear routinely on best picture lists – even now.
The secret of their success? No one knew anything.
The industry had just lurched abruptly from silent films to talkies, an utterly new and mysterious medium, and neither the money men in New York nor the studio bosses knew enough about it to issue commandments to producers, directors and writers.
Since no one knew anything, filmmakers were free to make the pictures they wanted to make the way they wanted to make them. There were no rules. No standards. Like artists in older media, they created freely, experimented, gave full rein to their imaginations, and invented as they went — everything from camera angles to overlapping dialogue and cinematic attitudes. They made movies about everything, including the injustices and tragedies of the era, and people flocked into theaters, and the movies flourished and the studios prospered and everyone was happy.
But the studios grew and grew, and grew top heavy with executives who could only justify their existence by giving orders — to the creative people. It was oil and water time.
When a particular motion picture made a lot of money, every executive in town wanted one of those – whatever it was. In their view, imitation was the sincerest form of profit. In that way, they not only insulted audiences, but bollixed up the creative process, made lousy pictures and, often, lost money.
The rise of the executives was bad. The purchase of the studios by mega-corporations that knew nothing about movies was worse. Today, mega-corporation CEOs, who make $30 or $40 million a year, are under the delusion that because they make so much money, they know everything, and therefore know how to make mega-blockbusters.
Among their formulas for success are: remakes of old movies (The Longest Yard), movie versions of old TV sitcoms (Bewitched), bad imitations of good movies, sequels (Herbie Fully Loaded) and series (Matrix, etc.), pandering to teenage boys, and trumping up really big, really dumb movies. They also go wiggy, of course, over establishing franchises and spinning off cheesy products.
But, of course, if they really knew everything, Hollywood wouldn’t be suffering a box office slump.
Just as no one knows anything in Hollywood, the audience doesn’t know anything either. In particular, it doesn’t know what it wants until it sees it, but, like the people who make movies, move-goers love the real thing – whether it’s a great story or a great show.
There are plenty of talented filmmakers in Hollywood, people capable of making smart, original, genuinely new movies. As ever, they are Hollywood’s only real asset, and, if and when, the bosses turn them loose, audiences will flock to the movies again.
But can the mega-bosses, these boyos who are 99.44 percent pure hubris, admit – even for a minute –that they don’t know anything, in order to save Hollywood?Don’t bet on it.