erik lundegaard

We interrupt this vacation to bring you a Slate piece

I’ve got a piece on Slate about movie box office and critical acclaim. If you’ve arrived here from there, apologies. It’s no fun to travel and find the same shit you saw in the last place.

The argument in the article is basically two-fold: 1) Quality films — as judged by critics’ rankings on Rotten Tomatoes — do better at the box office than people realize, and 2), as a result, critics, who are perceived as elitist, and moviegoers, who are, by their numbers, populist, are actually closer in taste than people realize. I’ve made this argument before. It’s the numbers-crunching that’s new.

While on vacation in Minneapolis, I’ve been re-reading David Mamet’s Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. Mamet isn’t much of an essayist. He tends to wander within the confines of even a short essay — exploring four themes in four pages — but he packs a wallop, and the world, in a paragraph. It’s worth reading, or re-reading, for the paragraphs.

Mamet is an outsider who went inside; he knows how Hollywood works better than I ever will, and so it’s nice that some of my assumptions, about how audience-testing squelches innovation, and thus possible cash cows, are borne out by his experience.

Hollywood outsiders can never be sure. There’s that tendency to think, “Well, they’re professionals; surely they know what they’re doing.” Pushing against this is that great lesson from All the President’s Men: “The truth is, these aren’t very smart guys, and things got out of hand.”

We’re all involved in our self-fulfilling prophecies and maybe the numbers-crunching is mine, and maybe opening schlock in 3,000 theaters is Warner Brothers’. Who knows? But I’ll keep watching the numbers.

OK, back to vacation. 

Posted at 08:24 AM on Wed. Jul 02, 2008 in category Movies, Movies - Box Office  
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tony wrote:

regarding "Why We Need Movie Reviewers" is interesting. the difficulty in statistically measuring whether a movie review actually affects a movies grosses is still debateable. it could be that movie reviewers just happen to like movies that are reflective of what the average movie goer likes. regardless of whether the movie goer actually read a review.

it could be that many movies do well because there is a relationship between money spent on advertising (and allure of ad) and how much they gross. only with some minor exceptions.
Comment posted on Wed. Jul 02, 2008 at 09:22 AM

Laurie McGuinness wrote:

good piece in Slate. One quibble: it may be that reviewers have a positive impact on ticket sales. But it could also be the reverse; people go to good movies, due to word of mouth, and the critics are merely voicing what everyone else is telling their friends; this is a good movie.
Comment posted on Wed. Jul 02, 2008 at 12:00 PM

Heather McCoy wrote:

Hello! I saw your piece of Huff Post and wanted to say 'hey'--do you remember the McCoy family? Your dad and my dad (Bob) were great friends. Greetings!
Comment posted on Mon. Jul 07, 2008 at 05:06 PM

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