Movies postsThursday March 27, 2008
Two interesting and contrasting articles on movie studios in today's New York Times. First, Dave Kehr's piece on the history of United Artists: starting out as the baby of Fairbanks, Griffith, Chaplin and Pickford in 1919, being salvaged by producers Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin in the 1950s, and then reaching its artistic heyday in the 1960s and '70s, backing and distributing such films as Midnight Cowboy, Last Tango in Paris, Manhattan and Raging Bull. In the '90s, in Kehr's apt term, UA became a financial football, "kicked around by various bankers, promoters and avaricious studios." Now it's owned by Sony and MGM (who can keep track?) and headed by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, Film Forum in Manhattan is running a five-week tribute starting Friday night. Another reason to live in New York.
The second article is about a potential split between acrimonious partners DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures. What's depressing isn't the split, nor the title subject ("Who keeps the movies?"), but the hints the article lays out about movies-in-the-planning. Transformers 2 is inevitable. But in the lead graf they mention "a comedy about a couple who have to live Valentine’s Day over and over again until they finally get it right."
It's kind of like studio heads who have to produce the same idea over and over again until they get it so wrong it doesn't make any money. And then they abandon it for the next thing. United artists, indeed.
"There's always a kid, isn't there?"
Even though I couldn't play a hand of poker to save my life (or yours), I wrote a piece for MSNBC on the five top card movies, to coincide with the opening of the card counting flick, "21." My friend Brett, who's got a pretty good poker face even when he's not playing poker, helped me. Also a dude I met at the 5 Spot on the top of Queen Anne. Interestingly, both he and Brett liked the same film, "Rounders," for the reasons I state in the article. I had problems with it, which I also state, but I like how anti-Hollywood, even anti-American the movie is in this sense: Its tagline went something something like, "You play the hand you're dealt." That's the film. You are who you are. You can't overcome it. Forget Nietzsche or self-help books. "Would you make a different choice?" one character says, to which another replies, "What choice?" There's something truly freeing in this notion.
It's a short piece, but enjoy. Martin Scorsese's next.
Coupla white guys sitting around talking about movies
The latest MSNBC piece is up. On Tyler Perry.
Also check out my friend Adam's article on John Hughes.
Gore Vidal once wrote a piece — in 1973 — on “The Top 10 Best Sellers According to The Sunday New York Times as of January 7, 1973,” and in the March issue of The Believer magazine I do something similar with movies, but from an historical perspective: the top 10 box office hits according to Variety as of March 19, 1958. What the movies we watched say about what we were; what they say about where we are. You can read an excerpt here.
Also check out the interview between Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.
"New Indiana Jones trailer is smash hit"
I live in Seattle and I used to live in Minneapolis and I edit magazines in different states around the country so I visit a lot of newspaper Web sites. It's part of my job and part of my interest. And yesterday I saw the same headline in almost all of them.
About Iraq? Pakistan? About the March 4 showdown between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? No. It was about the trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie.
Apparently it's a smash hit. That's what they all said. In fact, if you Google the entire headline in quotes, "New Indiana Jones trailer is smash hit," you'll get (as of this morning) over 58,000 hits. Smash or otherwise.
They all pulled the same AP story by Regina Robertson. About the viral spread of the trailer. About how it's doing well online. About how kids might not know from Indiana but that's the challenge because that's the demographic. The usual quotes from Paramount marketing execs and the Aintitcool.com dude. It was probably the biggest news story of the day.
I understand why it was big. It was about entertainment so it might appeal to kids but it was about an older dude so it might appeal to the newspaper's actual demographics. Classic analog hero in digital age clash. Who will win?
Here's what bugs me. Paramount estimates that the trailer was seen 200 million times in its first week? When are they going to get the actual figures? Paramount says the 4.1 million hits on the Yahoo movie site was a record? What does Yahoo say? Do they have a say? Do they want one? Or are they just waiting to be bought? Now that's a feeling we can all get behind.
It's not even PR journalism, it's TV Guide journalism, because the brunt of the story is less about what's been (the release of the trailer) than what's about to be (the release of the movie in May). It's all about anticipation and more and more that's what we focus on. Culturally we're a myopic country peering into the middle distance for any kind of good (or cool) news. Because the past is so five minutes ago and the present is unknown and uncomfortable. But that thing that's about to happen? That we can anticipate in this way? Hell, maybe that can pull us along a little bit and get us out of where we are. Maybe it's the old dude in the leather jacket who can finally save us. At least for two hours. In May.
Once he gets here, though, he's done. Because his not being here is exactly the point. Then we'll need a whole new headline.