Is there a possible sea change in the offing for today’s cinematic culture? For far too long, the film industry has let itself be led by the nose into making too many silly, dumb, over the top and childish movies for teenaged tastes. And to the detriment of entertainment for adults with some discernment and intelligence.
It was a natural response to the changes in how and where movies are consumed as a result of the somewhat concurrent rise of multiplex theaters and the home entertainment market. Adults could now stay home and get their cinematic fare. We were further influenced to do so as the movie show palaces of the past became replaced by multi-screen complexes that were much like shopping malls (and often found in such places).
Teens became the prime audience for theatrical film releases as they were the main patrons of these new theaters. They catered to them with built in game arcades as Hollywood also did its best to siphon off this audience’s disposable entertainment dollars. Since the movie industry continues to follow the gambler’s model of rolling the dice on blockbusters to help finance the many more flops, what scores on the big screen on release and soon after is vital to the health of the business. So movies began to chase the prime audience dollars more than ever, and to the detriment of the art of great and even good films with depth, meaning and intelligent drama and comedy.
I tend to propound what I call pendular and/or circular theories of history and culture. As the zeitgeist swings one way it eventually reaches a point where those trends begin to slow and things start moving back in the other direction. Plus what goes around then away can come back around.
Simplistic? Yes. Yet it’s a tendency that still feels valid to me even if the forces that drive change are far more complex.
And I’m not alone in feeling like movies are starting to be driven less by the appeal of dumb and dumber (or flashier, more base, gross, violent and driven to spectacle and hyper-action to grab the natural ADD of the youthful mind. And should be.
Two recent articles at Salon.com ponder the trends above. One in 2010, “Why we need more ‘adult’ movies,” decried how “there was once more marketplace room afforded to [‘adult’] films” and cited a few movies that bucked the trend. Last year another essay asked “Does Hollywood hate adults?” and cited even more recent movies that appeal to mature sensibilities and a small yet still hearty segment of the industry that produces and distributes such fare.
I’ll also point to one of the most satisfying recent movies I’ve seen, The Descendents, as another example that such films still have an audience. It depicted a believably real situation (abetted by the appealing and somewhat exotic locale of Hawaii) where both the drama and humor were gently done yet still pungent and evocative.
The latter Salon story ended by identifying a marketplace shift that I’ve had a front row seat in witnessing here in Austin, Texas, where I live. In 1997, Alamo Drafthouse opened its first small multi-screen theater where food and drinks were served at moviegoers’ seats. It has since expanded all over this almost fanatical film-consuming community and progressed from art house, cult and second-run programming to hosting first-run new releases and spread its chain with ever-increasing growth nationally. Here they’ve been joined by the Flix, Violet Crown and iPic theaters in this market. All offer comfortable seating, full menus of quality food and drinks and an adult ambience. And they’re drawing us grown-ups out of the home and away from our TVs back to the sliver screen, which it almost goes without saying is the best way to see movies. Without having the stats I can still safely surmise that such theaters are the largest growth segment of that business.
Hence both creativity and commerce are driving a pendular swing. And the result that looks likely is more better movies. Can’t complain about that and I look forward to what it will yield.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2013
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