Dec 21, 2009

Marketing is the Death of Movies

Today I had an epiphany.
I realize that I keep expecting Hollywood to give us better movies. This is like expecting McDonald's to serve filet mignon with truffles. It ain't gonna happen. So why not go with the flow. Why not accept, finally, that what Hollywood does is roll out product, in the same way as Procter & Gamble rolls out a new and improved detergent or Hasbro a new toy. With marketing and focus groups and certain approved ingredients. Same thing rehashed over and over, not much deviation, just a brutal hunger for dominance of shelf space.
This was brought about by this maddening article in the NY Times Magazine by Daphne Merkin (behaving like a wide eyed innocent in LaLa Land) about Nancy Meyers and the movies she makes for women.
Merkin is amazed that Nancy Meyers, who is a reliable hack, is about the only woman that gets final cut for her films. The reason is simple: her bland, unrealistic, embarrassing, formulaic movies about "empowered" middle aged women, come with studio pre-approval already factored in. There is nothing creative to fight about.
The only movie of hers I like (and was surprised to find it was by her and her ex, Charles Shyer) is Private Benjamin. That is a great comedy (or so I remember it). But why should there be movies for women? I am a woman. I watch movies. Period. I don't watch movies that are expressly designed for me, like sanitary pads. Same goes for chick lit. It's offensive. Yes, there are film genres that women like better, but on the whole I think women are far more amenable than men to watch a variety of experience, from romantic comedies, to dramas to gangster films to whatever.
However, the industry itself has conditioned the audience to behave like this, to box themselves into marketing categories. This is understandable for detergent (are you a scent seeker, or a clean freak?), but it's tragic for filmmaking. It debases the art form. I saw The Bicycle Thief yesterday. I'm still recovering from the devastation to my heart (for the third time). Made in 1947, it is as true and real and timeless and miraculous today as it was then. I bet Vittorio De Sica did not run around like a headless chicken wondering if his movie was going to appeal to women and the 15-24 demographic.
He made a movie about poverty, desperation and human dignity, about the loss of innocence, about a society without compassion. Who is the demographic for that? Everybody, that's who.
But here in the US, people are obsessed with genre and demographics. Every time there is a Q&A with a foreign filmmaker, invariably somebody asks in puzzled bewilderment "Who is the audience for this movie? Is this a comedy? Is this a thriller?"
Does it really matter that much? We should all be able to enjoy good stories well told, regardless of their genre or the sex and age of their protagonists. I understand the film industry is a business. It should be a successful business. But it looks like in Hollywood the business side has run out of control.
Somehow, Pedro Almodovar makes kitschy gay movies for everybody. He is wildly successful. Lucrecia Martel, one of the most interesting filmmakers in the world today, makes great movies, not movies for women. Here, Judd Apatow smartly invented the bromantic comedy (we need to classify it somehow), only to find it quickly cheapened by endless repetition and bad imitations. Hollywood raids other people's stories and steamrolls them until they are inhuman and unrecognizable (sort of like processed foods). Most of the time, you see a Hollywood extravaganza of marketing-induced fakeness, and you may be entertained for a little while but you always get a funky aftertaste, a hole in the pit of your brain, the opposite of satiety, a dreadful feeling of wasted time and of being patronized, disrespected.
There is no escaping the fucking marketing.
The only way out is to ignore it. To continue watching deeply nourishing and satisfying films that are not made like detergent.

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