Movies - Studios posts
Saturday May 28, 2022
I'm reading Scott Eyman's book about 20th Century Fox, subtitled “Daryl Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio,” but before Eyman gets to Zanuck he gives us the studio's founder, William Fox, born Wilhelm Fox in Tolcsva, Hungary in 1879, who was 9 months old when his family immigrated to America. Like Louis B. Mayer, Fox loved his mother and despised his ineffectual father. Fox was a real SOB who was an early innovator with sound and 70mm, and was set to become the most powerful man in Hollywood but overleveraged himself and his studio at the wrong time—just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Here's the timeline of his downfall:
- 1930: loses control of his studio
- 1936: declares bankruptcy
- 1936-38: bribes judge during his five bankruptcy trials
- 1941: sentenced to a year and a day in the federal pen for obstruction of justice, etc.
- 1942: serves time
- 1947: pardoned by Pres. Truman
Did he ever learn his lesson? Or a lesson? Nah.
He spent the years until his death in 1952 issuing bromidic plans for resuming film production interspersed with jeremiads against the men he insisted had euchred him out of the company that bore his name. Fox went to his grave believing that the only thing he was guilty of was being a bad judge of other people's character. William Fox never made another movie.
But his name lives on: Fox Studios, Fox TV, Fox News. Which makes me think Fox News should really be called Fuchs News. It's news by fuchs and for fuchs. Your spelling may vary.
Wednesday March 23, 2022
A Steve McQueen Vibe
That's what I got from Franchot Tone in this scene from MGM's “Three Comrades,” which was released in 1938:
He's between two Bobs: Robert Taylor on the left and future “Father Knows Best” Robert Young on the right. It's not a good film. I watched it because “Three Comrades” was one of those 1930s Hollywood movies denuded of any anti-Nazi themes. It's based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque about three friends in the post-WWI Weimar Republic, and a romance for one of them, and, according to Louis B. Mayer biographer Scott Eyman, its production was watched closely by George Gyssling, the Nazi consul in Los Angeles. Yes, Germany had a consul there who pressured studios to do right by the Nazis. Eyman writes:
Gyssling had been emboldened by MGM's canceling of a film based on Sinclair Lewis's controversial novel It Can't Happen Here a few months earlier. The studio had been no more than a week away from going into production when the film was suddenly shelved. The studio blamed a high budget, but Lewis claimed that Will Hays, worried about a threatened boycott from Germany and Italy, had told MGM to cease and desist.
Then Gysslling set to work on this one. Apparently the novel was also vague as to who those early 1920s mobs were. Communists? Fascists? Whigs? The movie doubles down on the vagueness but it's vague on everything. MGM was good at sanding off any rough edges. Here's a quote from “Three Comrades” producer Joe Mankiewicz:
“Warner Bros. had guts. They hated the Nazis more than they cared for the German grosses. MGM did not. It kept on releasing its films in Nazi Germany until Hitler finally threw them out.”
“Three Comrades” is also of note because it's the only official screenplay credit for F. Scott Fitzgerald. In it, the two Roberts are dull boys—though Young gives us a little something something—but Tone seems like a real person, and interesting, as the photos above indicate. Poor Robert Taylor is the dude saddled with a dull romance, with the dull Margaret Sullvan (nominated for an Oscar), whose character suffers from a dull, nondescript illness that eventually kills her. Taylor was big back then but his movies haven't aged well, have they? Or they've just never crossed my path. Beyond this, what have I seen of his? “Quo Vadis,” I guess, once upon a time.
Wednesday February 23, 2022
When Warners Sank
“By the time Flamingo Road was released [iin 1949], Warner Bros. was a different studio from the one that had produced Casablanca. There had been a mass exodus of talent. After John Huston wrapped Key Largo in early 1948, he left to make films with the producer Sam Spiegel. Publicly branded by Warner as disloyal, the Epstein twins departed to write a play and freelance. Barbara Stanwyck became upset at being aced out by Patricia Neal to star in The Fountainhead (1949). She opted out of her contract in June 1948. Zachary Scott would star in the appropriately titled One Last Fling before moving on. Sydney Greenstreet made one more picture (1949’s Malaya, at MGM) and then retired because of ill health. Known as the studio’s “Suspension Queen,” Ann Sheridan felt trapped in roles of repetitive mediocrity. After costarring with Errol Flynn in the desultory Silver River (1948), she forked over $35,000 to buy herself out of her contract. Bette Davis would have a final battle royal with Jack Warner, this time over the mogul’s forcing her to star in Beyond the Forest. She finally agreed to do the film, then asked for and received a release from her contract in July 1949.
”The Warner Bros. dynamism that had pioneered sound and the populist style of the studio’s pictures had become increasingly ossified. Jack Warner had become less willing to keep anyone around who didn’t always agree with him. Robert Buckner, the epitome of the company man, remarked on the decline of the studio he loved: 'It began to go downhill. Jack was a fine studio boss as far as the overall picture was concerned, but he was not a good selector of material.… Jack wasn’t buying material that we wanted to make, and he wasn’t listening to suggestions.' Rather than reenlist aboard what he viewed was a sinking ship, Buckner accepted an offer from Universal-International.“
-- from Alan K. Rode's “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film.” Interestingly, his opening time frame—Casablanca to Flamingo Road, or 1942 to 1949—is basically the time period when James Cagney was gone. Cagney left Warners after ”Yankee Doodle“ in '42, returned for ”White Heat" in '49. He returned to a crumbling empire. He must've felt it.
Friday September 20, 2019
‘Only in America’
“You have an industry that was run by Jews, censored by Catholics, with an audience of Protestants. ... Only in America.”
Steven Ross, USC history professor, in the 2007 documentary “The Brothers Warner,” on the early days of Hollywood. Unfortunately, “Brothers” is a tiresome doc, since it's written-directed by Cass Warner, Harry's granddaughter, and is too much about burnishing the family rep. I could only watch about a third of it. But Ross is good as a talking head.
Sunday August 14, 2016
That Open Letter to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara
Have you read it yet? It's supposedly from a former Warners employee, one of those who got laid off because Tsujihara's slate of movies hasn't been good, and because Tsujihara keeps rewarding the same people who keep making the same mistakes—chiefly, I would argue, Zack Snyder. But even if it's not from an ex-Warners employee, even if it's just from a disgruntled fan, it's spot-on.
Zack Snyder is not delivering. Is he being punished? Assistants who were doing fantastic work certainly were. People in finance and in marketing and in IT. They had no say in a movie called Batman v Superman only having 8 minutes of Batman fighting Superman in it, that ends because their moms have the same name. Snyder is a producer on every DC movie. He is still directing Justice League. He is being rewarded with more opportunity to get more people laid off. I'm assuming you yourself haven't been financially affected in any real way. You and your studio are the biggest lesson about life one can learn: The top screws up and the bottom suffers. Peter Jackson phones it in and a marketing supervisor has to figure out a plan B for house payments.
I wish to God you were forced to live out of a car until you made a #1 movie of the year. Maybe Wonder Woman wouldn't be such a mess. Don't try to hide behind the great trailer. People inside are already confirming it's another mess. It is almost impressive how you keep rewarding the same producers and executives for making the same mistakes, over and over.
I saw the trailer for “Wonder Woman” yesterday, and it reminded me of “Sucker Punch,” Zack Snyder's idiot homage to hot girls in teddies impervious to the mud and slaughter of World War I. I think it's one of the worst movies of the century. Does Kim Morgan still think you‘re “feminist”? God, I’m getting mad all over again just thinking about it.
The writer makes it clear it's not just the DC movies but Warners' entire slate of movies that suck; then he/she lists them off: Jupiter Ascending. Get Hard. Hot Pursuit. Max. Vacation. Pan. Point Break. “Fucking PAN, you jerk. People lost their jobs and you decided Pan was a good idea.”
So has Warners made any good movies recently? Well, they distributed “Nice Guys” (which should‘ve been better) and “Midnight Special” (liked, but) and “Creed” (good). Was it Warners that screwed up “Black Mass” and “In the Heart of the Sea”? And I can’t believe this letter-writer didn't tag Tsujihara for “Magic Mike XXL” and “Entourage.”
The movie I saw after the “Wonder Woman” trailer was the movie that supposedly instigated this letter, “Suicide Squad,” which begins with the Warner Bros. logo in crazy, Harley Quinn pastels; then it flickers and goes out. Not a bad metaphor.
Sunday June 13, 2010
Open Letter to Patrick Goldstein
Please stop writing about right-wing culture critics. Please. They're idiots. They think the product of Hollywood is liberal when it's blisteringly conservative. They study each film looking for some liberal thing that liberal Hollywood "snuck" into a film without asking themselves why liberal Hollywood would need to sneak some liberal thing into a film. You bend over backwards for these guys, you try to figure out where they're coming from, you think they can be appeased, but they can't be appeased. The first sentence of your post last Wednesday was about as laughable as any first sentence can be: "If we could wave a magic wand and do just one thing that would bring true happiness to the right-wing blogosphere, what would it be?" The answer? Nothing. There's nothing we can do. Right-wing culture critics are in a permanent state of dissatisfaction. That's their raison d'etre. That's their super power. They're like Mr. Furious from "Mystery Men." They have the power to get really, really angry... and that's it. Take away that power and they have nothing.
As for the space you're giving them? Please use it to cover the studios. Please. The day after your worthless post about the right-wing blogosphere, you wrote about Fox Studios and the way it handles its screenwriters—including 11 screenwriters for "The A-Team"—and that's exactly what the rest of us, who don't live in Los Angeles, and don't know from studio bosses, need.
We know a little about the studios. In one of the countless "Downfall" mashups last year, there was a line complaining about how Fox dumbs down its superhero movies, about how they'd give goddamn Wolverine webshooters and a bat cape if they could. So people know. Last year I wrote a post—"Dumb Like a Fox"—ranking each studios' super-saturated films over the last five years by their average box office. The studio with the lowest average box office? Fox. The studio with the fewest fresh films according to top critics at Rotten Tomatoes? Fox again. There's a correlation there that, for whatever reason, people keep missing. Particularly people at Fox.
So we know Fox sux; we just don't know why Fox sux. Your recent column helps. We even have a possible name to attach to all of these lousy films: Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman. Nikki Finke, in her column, absolves Rothman, but you imply that this is because he is her source, or someone close to him is her source. Either way, you make clear, his Finkeish absolution is a farce. You write:
As anyone who's ever worked at Fox can attest, the brilliant, hard-working and, well, often overbearing Rothman is at the center of every key decision -- and some not-so-key decisions -- made at the studio. When Brett Ratner was making "X-Men: The Last Stand" at the studio, he once complained that the studio couldn't even send out publicity material for the film until Rothman had approved the photo stills.
Then you write about the process at Fox:
At Fox, the real art form isn't the movie, but picking the right release date and creating the right poster and trailer. Fox is a packaging studio, where the most creative person isn't any of the screenwriters, but Tony Sella, the marketing wizard who has become something of a genius at crafting irresistible trailers, TV spots and poster art for less-than-irresistible movies.
So now we have a name and a process to back up the numbers. We're that much closer to accountability.
Please keep doing this. This is what you're good at. This is what makes your column worth reading. Find out for us what we can't find out. Let us know what we don't know. Right-wing culture critics? Not only can we find that out for ourselves, we already know what they're saying. And we know it's not worth knowing.
Your sometime reader,
Sunday March 07, 2010
The Ghost Release
...to 147 theaters. That's still 1/16th the number of theaters Summit gave to "Sex Drive" (which made $8 million total), or 1/18th the number of theaters Summit gave to "Sorority Row" (which made $11 million total). So: wide like Calista Flockhart.
Last Sunday I wrote:
Quality film, in other words, isn't just treated as its own genre. It's treated as a genre 50 times less important than the others.
It's actually worse than that. "The Ghost Writer" is a genre film. It's a thriller, and feels like a thriller, and is perfectly accessible as a thriller. Normally such a film would open in over 2,000 theaters. If it included cheap thrills and young bodies and blood. Moviegoers still might not go see it, as they didn't go see "Sex Drive" or "Sorority Row," but at least the movie would fit within the parameters that allow studios to open movies in 2,000+ theaters.
Unfortunately, Polanski made a good movie. So if you're in a part of the country that isn't showing "The Ghost Writer," this is why Summit isn't letting you to see it. Because Polanski made a good movie.
Sunday February 28, 2010
"The Ghost Writer": Summit Entertainment's Latest Delicate Flower
Last Friday I went to the opening-night showing of Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” at the Egyptian Theater about a mile from my home. It’s a fun movie, smart and adult, and so of course it’s only playing in 42 other theaters around the country. Not even one per state.
Will it go wider? It’s being distributed by Summit Entertainment L.L.C. (as opposed to L.P. (R.I.P.)), the minor studio responsible for both the “Twilight” movies and “The Hurt Locker.” Last November Summit opened the “Twilight” sequel in over 4,000 theaters and who knows how many screens. Last July it opened “The Hurt Locker” in four theaters and probably that many screens. During its entire, six-month run, “Locker” wound up making $12 million domestically, which the “Twilight” sequel most likely made by the first showing of the first day.
This isn’t an argument against “Twilight.” I’m not arguing against making money. I’m arguing against losing money.
Here’s the history of Summit since it became an L.L.C. in 2006. Sorted by U.S. gross:
||U.S. Gross / Theaters||Opening / Theaters||Open|
|1||Twilight: New Moon||37%||$296,023,000||4,124||$142,839,137||4,024||11/20/09|
|5||Never Back Down||16%||$24,850,922||2,729||$8,603,195||2,729||3/14/08|
|7||Fly Me to the Moon||22%||$13,816,982||713||$1,900,523||452||8/15/08|
|8||The Hurt Locker||97%||$12,671,105||535||$145,352||4||6/26/09|
|10||Next Day Air||22%||$10,027,047||1,139||$4,111,043||1,138||5/8/09|
|15||The Brothers Bloom||48%||$3,531,756||209||$90,400||4||5/15/09|
|16||The Ghost Writer||75%||$1,129,000||43||$183,009||4||2/19/10|
* Rotten Tomatoes rating from top critics only
Look at those theater totals at places 9 through 14—compared with "The Hurt Locker" at no. 8 and with "The Ghost Writer," which just opened. I’ve been railing against this kind of thing for years. A.O. Scott railed better last August when he critiqued the general direction of movies:
Middle-aged actors and critically lauded directors look like extravagances rather than sound investments. Forty is the new dead. Auteur is French for unemployed. “The Hurt Locker” — the kind of fierce and fiery action movie that might have been a blockbuster once upon a time — is treated like a delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses and sold on its prestige rather than on its visceral power.
“The Hurt Locker” was Summit’s delicate flower last summer, and, because they released it delicately, they made money from it delicately. Now they’re treating “The Ghost Writer” the same way.
Again, the problem isn't that “The Ghost Writer” is released into 1/100th the number of theaters of “Twilight." It’s that it’s released into 1/50th the number of theaters of “Push” or “Never Back Down” or “Sorority Row” or “Sex Drive": Crap that nobody wants, nobody goes to, and which lose money. But at least these movies are given the chance to lose money. "The Hurt Locker" and "The Ghost Writer" aren't even given that chance.
Quality film, in other words, isn't just treated as its own genre. It's treated as a genre 50 times less important than the others.When the others lose money.
It's a greater mystery than the one the ghost writer solves.
All previous entries