MovieBob - Intermission
Why Movies Suck Now Part Two: The Reality

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 23 Jul 2010 16:00
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Reason #4: Theaters Get Screwed

Here's how the movie theater business model works, in theory: Theaters pay to rent the prints of movies from studios to draw an audience who'll buy tickets (the profits of which they'll split with the studios) and maybe also snacks (the profits of which they'll keep). Both entities need the other to survive, creating a sustainable symbiotic relationship.

Here's how it works in practice: Since there's basically no truly independent distributorship left (thanks, deregulation!), studios have an insanely greater level of power in this relationship - they can set all the terms, because there's nowhere for theaters to turn for product. As such, they've been able to negotiate plum deals like keeping more and more of the ticket sales and sketchy package deals whereby theaters have to agree to book certain iffy releases if they want to also book a big one from the same studio: "You want our eagerly-awaited Leonardo DiCaprio action movie? You've gotta take our crummy undead cowboy movie first!" (That's a theoretical example, by the way; I have no evidence that that's how Jonah Hex got a release, but it wouldn't shock me.)

So if you want to know why the projection sucks, why the floors are sticky, why the sound is lousy and why the ushers can't seem to do anything about crowd control, it's because they can't afford to. They need butts in seats, bottom line, and even then they're barely surviving at this point.

Reason #5: Nature Abhors a Vacuum

If you were to ask me what the three most intellectually-toxic movie franchises are right now, you'd be unsurprised to learn my answers were Twilight, Sex & The City and Tyler Perry. You know what they all have in common? They exist because mainstream Hollywood did a piss-poor job of paying proper attention to niche audiences - niche in Hollywood meaning any audience that is not white, male and aged 15-35.

We've been through this before, but suffice it to say that if black, female, teen-girl and other niche audiences were better served to begin with, these three abominations would hold no appeal. It's an abusive relationship dynamic reconstituted as a business model: If no one is paying attention to you, you'll more readily settle for bad attention.

Reason #6: Because They've Always Sucked

Yeah, I know, ending on this one is kind of a wishy-washy cop-out. But it also happens to be true. Theodore Sturgeon said it best: "90% of everything is crud." Always has been, always will be.

But time, healing as it does all wounds, tends to erase memories of all but the absolute worst from cinema history's memory, giving the illusion that things used to be better. No, they didn't. Not really. There were always bad movies and good movies that could've been better, and entirely different sets of reasons behind them.

In the early 20th Century, movies sucked because technology limited the realization of vision and social inequality kept some of the best people from being properly employed because of their race, gender, orientation or what-have-you.

In the years following WWII, Western culture (and American culture in particular) became exponentially more conservative, and thus movies sucked because the heavy doses of sex, violence and debauchery that characterized popular cinema in prewar Hollywood were now being censored out of existence by the Hays Production Code. Don't believe me? Watch this Roman Collosseum scene from 1932's Sign of The Cross. Yes, that is a naked woman being offered to a gorilla you're seeing at 7:07. The same movie also has a Roman soldier corrupting his Christian would-be girlfriend by buying her a lesbian lap-dance. Most of those scenes, and scenes like them from other films, were actually retroactively cut when the film was re-screened in the 50s - even Fay Wray's brief nudity from the original King Kong!

In the 60s, movies sucked because Hollywood was slow catching up to a rapidly-evolving American culture, and in the 70s movies sucked because the studio system collapsed and low-rent producers were able to pack the market with exploitative junk, but then in the 80s movies sucked because the studio system came back and packed the market with soulless mass-market commercialism. And in the 90s ... you get the idea.

The point is, there's always going to be bad things, and there's always going to be a reason. But unless you want to go insane trying to constantly plug the leak, it helps to accept that nothing ever works 100% of the time. Usually, we're lucky to get about 20.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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