Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Stupid Movies and Smart Football

Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback is an odd smorgasboard. A smart look at a dumb game (aren't they all?). Economists love baseball, and I guess political types like football. Anyway. TMQ delivers an odd mix of insightful football analysis (rightly decrying "Fraidy Cat Coaches for punting on 4th and short when down later in the game), cheesecake cheerleader pics (with occassional beefcake shots for "female and non-traditional male readers) and tangential pop-culture discussions.

This week, Gregg takes on Hollywood. It's good stuff, with a curious blind spot:
What Hollywood Could Learn from the NFL: Film types are bemoaning a bad year at the box office. They blame DVDs, Internet piracy, El Nino: Everything but Hollywood itself. Tuesday Morning Quarterback suggests the box-office slump is a rational market response to a string of lousy movies. Major studios now assume that if you take a couple of brand-name stars, put them in a plot that makes no sense, have them read listlessly from a terrible script -- then add cleavage and explosions -- millions will pay $8 to sit through the result. The governing Hollywood premise is that typical ticket buyers are so incredibly stupid as to lack any ability to tell a good movie from a bad one. Actually, movie patrons are getting more sophisticated about flicks all the time, exactly as Hollywood dumbs down. Should we be surprised that steadily fewer people want to watch? Anyone selling a discretionary item, entertainment and sports among them, must never lose sight of the fact that quality is the essence of the product. Food and clothing are necessities; people don't have to have movie or sports tickets, so buyers line up only if they get their money's worth. In an era of 500 channels, the NFL continues to set records for gate attendance and ratings because product quality, namely the games themselves, remains the league's focus. Product quality seems last on the list of Hollywood's concerns. Which leads us to ...
Right on. I like movies. I can't remember the last studio movie I saw in a theatre which I really liked. I'm sure there was one, I just can't recollect. Actually, come to think of it, Easterbrook talks about the likely candidates, sort of.
Angelina Jolie can be a 'killer' at the box office. Shoot to Kill the Hitman Characters: Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Garner, Samuel Jackson, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman and John Travolta have played hit men or women who will murder anyone, even the helpless, for money. The number of current box-office stars who have portrayed hired killers in major-studio films probably exceeds the number of paid professional assassins in the real world. You don't have to be Dr. Freud to speculate that cinema stars, steeped in a Hollywood culture obsessed with personal power, subconsciously fantasize about actually being able to kill whomever they please. But doesn't it strike you as strange that so many big-name stars are willing portray characters who commit murder without compunctions? Can it be coincidence the public is becoming turned off to the movies at the very time so many stars revel in morally vacant roles? And if Hollywood won't show smoking because viewers are impressionable, how come the movie industry eagerly glamorizes murder after murder after murder after murder? Which leads us to ...
Some of the better studio movie of the past few years have had just such a premise. "Collateral" (my favorite movie of last year), "Kill Bill", "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", "Grosse Pointe Blank", and lest we forget, the mind bending "Pulp Fiction" all were based on that premise to some degree. And let's not talk about "Gladiator", "Man on Fire" or the upcoming "Rocky 6" (seriously, let's never mention R6 again. Since R5 never happened, how can they be on to part 6 in any event?). Isn't part of the point of movies escapism: things that objectively can't happen, but make for good drama. Does the violence of "Lord of the Rings" make them bad movies? How about "Star Wars?" (no, the lack of decent scripts made those pieces of digitally rendered crap bad movies...) I'm getting a little worked up here, I feel very strongly about this...

Maybe Someone Can Invent an Electronic Device That Stops USA Today From Saying Murder Is "Fun": Recently, George Bush signed the Family Movie Act, legalizing electronic gizmos that delete violent scenes from privately owned movie DVDs. These devices will be busy! Sin City, a recent big-studio movie shown in suburban shopping malls, was praised by USA Today as "genuine fun." Sin City begins with a beautiful woman being murdered by a man she just met. The movie continues to dozens of graphic depictions of people being murdered, tortured or decapitated, and ends with the man of the opening scene capturing another beautiful woman and grinning as he prepares to murder her. Genuine fun! Of course, sometimes movie violence is justified; for instance, The Pianist was sickeningly violent and rightly so, as its subject was the Holocaust. Usually movie violence is just cheap exploitation and injurious to young viewers. Studies show the more cinematic depictions of violence to which a child is exposed, the more likely the child is to commit violent acts in adulthood: See this statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, summarizing research on the relationship between film violence and actual violence.
First of all, "Sin City" is meant to be a live action comic book, which, oh by the way, contains comic book violence. Second, I find it very difficult to stomach a football writer decrying on screen violence. Especially a football writer who regularly expounds upon the virtues of the "pound, pound, pound" running game where very big people moving very fast collide violently several times, and then get up and do it again.

The First Amendment protects moviemakers' rights to produce almost anything they wish. But just because it is legal to make films that glorify violence doesn't mean studios should do so; lots of things are legal and also irresponsible. If Hollywood doesn't want people buying gizmos to zap gratuitous bloodshed out of movies, there is a simple solution -- don't glamorize violence to begin with. Meanwhile, though there is far too much brutality in the movies,
Once again, you are making a living off of glorified actual violence, as opposed to Hollywood making money off of glorified simulated violence. Are you really suggesting that people are too stupid to tell the difference. Wait, don't answer that...
I don't think there is too much sex. In the last decade, Hollywood has almost completely abandoned sensuality to make room for more stabbing and screaming. I'd favor an electronic box that deletes the violent scenes from movies and replaces them with sex scenes
Ah. We again reach a meeting of the minds. Fair play, Mr. Easterbrook.


Jake said...

Last time Easterbrook talked about Hollywood, he got fired.

At any rate, I am a big fan of TMQ but simply don't have time to read it anymore. How a guy can write so much ever week for what is basically a hobby blows my mind. Of course, I write a fair amount, too, and I definitely don't get paid for it.

Pooh said...

Wow, thanks for the link. Somehow, I missed the whole story of how Greggy got fired...

Icepick said...

I've got an unpleasant writing assignment, so I'm procrastinating by trolling your archives. Sorry for the commenting an an ancient post, but I can't let this slide.

I always thought the TMQ stuff waqs over-rated, and don't particularly care for Gregg Easterbrook. (For one thing, why the double 'g' at the end fo Gregg?)

Two of Easterbrook's comments really annoy me, though.

First, Sin City was not a big studio film. Rodriguez has set up a small production company down in Houston to make high quality (in production terms) films at low rates. The non-studio nature of Sin City actually caused certain headaches around the film industry.

Second, I really have to question this comment:

Studies show the more cinematic depictions of violence to which a child is exposed, the more likely the child is to commit violent acts in adulthood: See this statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, summarizing research on the relationship between film violence and actual violence.

Okay, I know this is what everyone says. But does it make sense? Over the last 40 years, entertainment in he USA has gotten steadily more violent. At the same time, there have been fewer and fewer 'traditional' families, leaving children with less overall adult supervision. Also over this time frame, children have spent more and more time in front of their TVs and computers, watching more and more violence. (And this includes video games, of course.) And yet, violent crime rates have been falling in the USA for several decades now. This would seem to be evidence of flaws in the studies. I smell a rat.

I guess I'm going to have to go follow the links now to see how they caveated themselves out of this one.