Archive for the ‘Down In Front’ Category
It’s a question that’s plagued me for a while now: whatever happened to big Hollywood movie musicals? Movie genres typically go through cycles of popularity and I think we’re due for another round of flashy, dance-filled musicals.
Musicals have been a long-enduring genre since the early days of film. In fact, the very first sound film was a musical—1927’s The Jazz Singer. When it became a runaway success, studios rushed to create more musicals, some of which became the beginnings of a series. Warner Brothers’ triumph with The Gold Diggers of Broadway led to The Gold Diggers of 1933, which became one of the most celebrated musicals of all time thanks in large part to Busby Berkeley’s intricate choreography. RKO Radio Pictures first paired dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers—who danced together in nine films—in 1933 in Flying Down to Rio, creating arguably the most famous dancing couple in film history. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released The Broadway Melody in 1929, which not only started a series but also won the Academy Award for Best Picture. As time went on, production companies made more and more musicals until the genre reached its greatest popularity in the 1940’s and ‘50s.
Though many studios made musicals during that time, MGM arguably became the company most associated with producing expensive, opulent and immensely successful musicals. They produced Easter Parade, Summer Stock, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Guys and Dolls, as well as numerous others. Those films were a mixture of song and dance and while they weren’t exactly realistic, they were always entertaining. MGM musicals have always been my favorites and when I think of the kind of musicals I’d love to see now, I imagine huge productions with the same glamour and spectacle as MGM’s greatest musicals. I’m talking musicals with big, expensive set pieces and extended dance sequences with dancers wearing costumes of every conceivable color. I’m talking great songs that not only convey exactly what the character feels, but are also catchy and make the audience want to sing along.
The 21st century has not been very kind to the field of film journalism thus far. Critics in particular have had to endure the brunt of the damage that has been dealt by the increased popularity of social media outlets like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and an innumerable array of blogs.
The CNN article by Todd Leopold that we recognized and commented on earlier this week which questioned whether film criticism was becoming passé is just the latest instance proving that concern for this issue is growing. The advent of the internet and its subsequent rush towards essentiality sparked fear in all fields of journalism that profited from the lure of exclusivity or privileged resources.
But while the entire journalism industry wont be killed off by the internet and its communicative capabilities, the future of the field of film journalism and criticism appears much less certain. Read the rest of this entry »
With the summer movie season nearly upon us (officially beginning with the release of Iron Man 2 on May 7th), I naturally got pulled into another conversation with a fellow moviegoer who felt the need to express his contempt for this time of year. According to him, and Iâ€™m sure many of you out there as well, the summer months are reserved for when Hollywood likes to flex its corporate muscles and make boat loads of cash by feeding the masses the intellectual equivalent of junk food. Basically, if itâ€™s loud and shiny, it sells. But the movie studios are not entirely to blame, as itâ€™s also the fault of the audiences who readily pay their hard earned money to sit stupefied at a screen while their senses get pushed to the limits (Michael Bayâ€™s Transformers movies were listed as examples several times during the conversation).
This is one way to look at it.
Every few months or so, I get into this strange mood where I think the film industry has become all hype and no substance and I feel nostalgic for the movies I used to love. Typically during these periods, every film I see only seems to confirm that sense and I grow increasingly disappointed until something finally snaps me out of it.
This time last year, I found myself in the midst of one of my film industry doldrums and I walked into Greg Mottola’s coming-of-age film Adventureland expecting yet another gross-out teen comedy like his previous film Superbad. However, what I encountered was a film that restored my faith in the medium.
I remember the moment exactly. Kristen Stewart’s character Em and Jesse Eisenberg’s character James are simply driving in a car as the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” plays on the radio. They have just left a bar after Em’s secret lover and his wife walk in and the couples share an awkward and loaded exchange. Em is clearly thrown by the encounter and the scene that follows basically shows her reaction to it. As she drives, Em’s face goes from sad to angry to disappointed to confused in a matter of seconds, displaying all of the complicated emotions she feels. And it was during that scene that I remembered how much I love film and how powerful film could be. It wasn’t just Stewart’s incredible performance or the music choice or the way Mottola filmed it, it was the combination of all those things. It was the realization that I was seeing a truly extraordinary moment of creation happening on the screen and I had suddenly regained that passion for movies I had experienced as a child.
I’ve recently felt myself moving toward another bout of movie despondency so I popped in my Adventureland DVD and prepared to have my faith restored. On a whim, I watched the previews before the film and one of them happened to be a roundup of Miramax films, the same company that distributed Adventureland.
As the preview rolled, I realized how many Miramax films I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. I mean, this is the production/distribution company that first sparked my love for movies all the way back in 1996 with the release of Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient. I may not have fully understood all the film’s themes at eight years old, but I certainly appreciated the beauty. The passionate yet tragic love story of the central characters and the gorgeous cinematography are the reasons the film remains one of my favorites even today. Miramax was the company that sparked my love of musicals too. Sitting in a half-empty theater in the middle of the day watching Chicago was a positively transformative experience. The sex appeal and the combination of stage performance and cinema that only film could supply was positively incredible. Miramax was even the company that taught me about post-modernist referencing: I delighted in the way Wes Craven’s Scream deconstructed the horror genre and was positively astounded by the endless layers of pop culture reference Quentin Tarantino used in the Kill Bill films. So I began to wonder, what happened to Miramax?
Miramax began some thirty years ago in New York as an independent production and distribution company founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The goal of the company—named for the Weinsteins’ parents Miriam and Max—was to produce and distribute independent films which were often more notable for their artistic value than their potential box office earnings. Between their opening in 1979 and 1993, Miramax distributed such films as Sex, Lies and Videotape and Reservoir Dogs. However, it really began to flourish after the Walt Disney Company bought it in 1993. After the sale, with more financial backing at their disposal, the Weinsteins were able to run the company fairly independently of the rest of the Disney family.
The Weinsteins had always been fairly aggressive in their business practices, from acquiring films to acquiring promising filmmaking talent, and that same style carried over in their Disney period. Nowhere was this aggressive business style more apparent than the company’s Oscar campaigns. Perhaps the best example of a successful Miramax campaign came in 1998 when Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for a Best Picture Oscar. According to a New York Magazine article from 1995, Miramax spent an estimated $5 million campaigning for the film and its arguable whether it would have been so fortunate without such significant backing. Miramax carried on in this manner with one successful Oscar-winning film after another. And then 2005 rolled around.
The Weinsteins had a tenuous relationship with former Disney CEO Michael Eisner over issues like financing and creative matters and when it came time to renew the brothers’ contracts in 2005, the negotiations went so poorly they ultimately decided to leave to create The Weinstein Company. Miramax continued relatively unchanged under the direction of Daniel Battsek until this past January when Disney closed the its New York and Los Angeles offices and made it a part of the larger Disney infrastructure, thereby reducing the production output to only a handful of films per year. Though companies like Summit Entertainment and even The Weinstein Company have showed interest in purchasing Miramax from Disney, it’s likely the $700 million asking price, as reported by The Deal Magazine, will mean the company will stay in Disney’s possession for years to come. However, the real question in all this madness is what company can audiences expect to take up the creative slack?
Miramax’s most obvious heir is The Weinstein Company. In it’s few short years, it has already made some impressive films like quite a few of this year’s Oscar nominees including Inglourious Basterds, Nine and A Single Man. And it has quite a few promising films in the pipeline including two Sundance Favorites, The Company Men starring Ben Affleck and Chris Cooper and Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. However, another independent company that might give the Weinsteins a run for their money is Summit Entertainment. Former Paramount Vice Chairman Robert G. Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger established Summit in April 2007, but it’s already shown some promise. It produced and distributed this year’s Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker and with the cash cow that is The Twilight Saga as one of its properties, Summit shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon.
Regardless of what the future may hold, I’m sure there will always be films to help remind me why I fell in love with the medium in the firs place. And if not, I can always pick something from the Miramax library for a little reminder.