Peak cinema: Are the movies fading out?

Lately I've been asking friends and acquaintances a simple question: What are you really looking forward to seeing in the movie theater?

Last year the answer I heard, again and again, was: Avatar. And this summer the answer was equally predictable: Inception

Each of these movies, though flawed in details and heavy-handed in execution at times, was undeniably a big, original, memorable experience. And both became huge hits.

But lately my friends and acquaintances are drawing a blank. I detect much greater excitement around the long-form television series such as Mad Men and The Big C.

And deservedly so. From President Obama (who sent a congratulatory letter to Mathew Weiner, of Mad Men fame, after the third season) to the critics, it's pretty much agreed that the long-form series has taken the dramatic crown away from the movies. (As David Denby of The New Yorker said this week: "But Hollywood, obsessed with gratifying a young audience, no longer has much use for drama—at least, not in big-budget movies.")

For spectacle, movies still can't be beat (outside of Las Vegas, maybe) but drama?

Forget about it. When it comes to drama –aka story — movies look more and more like zombies.

Walking, but dead. Not knowing it.

Hollywood itself, the biz, is sending the same message. Veteran Hollywood reporter Patrick Goldstein, of the Los Angeles Times, this week quoted a "top agent":

"You'd have to say that this summer we probably hit bottom, certainly
creatively, with so many studios relying on so much pre-sold branded
product," said one top agent. "It's really hard, because so much money
has left the business, there are fewer distributors than ever before and
many of the ones that are left have cash problems, so it's just
agonizingly difficult to get a movie up and running right now."

The New York Times today profiles the legendarily profligate Joel Silver, who with his fellow mega-producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Scott Rudin, and Brian Grazer, is being pressured to cut back by the studio…or get cut lose. 

As a movie producer friend told me a year or so ago, about his struggles to get movies made:

"Stars don't work. Concepts don't work. Nobody knows what works anymore."

Maybe not in the theater.

But on the big screen (at home) everyone knows what works…


Hell, we know these characters by name. What movie people can we say that about?

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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