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June 1998, Week 4


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Scott Hutchins <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 23 Jun 1998 11:53:56 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (228 lines)
Of course, there are two exceptions:  _Gone with the Wind_ and _The Wizard
of Oz_, the former coming out next month, the latter around Christmas;
they even showed the commercial for the theatrical reissue (notine its
remastering) of _Gone with the Wind_ (and since I've never seen but bits
and pieces of it, it might be the best time).
On Thu, 18 Jun 1998, Kino International Corporation wrote:
> Thought I would cross post this
> The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 12, 1998, page B8
> A Eulogy for Hollywood Cinema
> By Robert C. Allen
> Even though I've taught American film history for the past 20 years or
> so (or maybe because of that fact), I won't be among the tens of
> millions of people the American Film Institute hopes will be watching a
> three-hour CBS special on June 16, during which Brooke Shields,
> Sylvester Stallone, Ben Stiller, and other Hollywood legends will
> announce the institute's definitive list of America's 100 Greatest
> Movies (check your local listings for time and station).
> By the same token, I won't be joining many of my colleagues in academic
> cinema studies the following morning when they zip off e-mail screeds to
> the cinema-studies listservs denouncing the A.F.I. for producing a list
> that is transparently self-serving, excludes all documentaries and
> experimental films and almost all independent feature films, and just
> happens to coincide with the release of the winning 100 films on video
> by the Hollywood studios that collaborated with the A.F.I. to produce
> the list.
> There is so much to dislike about this whole enterprise that I'm sure my
> e-mail rant won't be missed. Maybe I could muster more of a sense of
> professional and moral outrage if the whole thing weren't so
> predictable, given the A.F.I.'s well-known (at least within film
> studies) and long-standing commitment to cheerleading for Hollywood.
> Even though you'll have to wait until next week for the institute's
> blue-ribbon panel of experts to tell you whether the films you most like
> are really good or not, you can already find out which films _won't_
> make the list. The institute's World-Wide Web site
> ( provides a list of the 400 American films
> from which the winners were chosen. That larger list was culled, we are
> assured, by A.F.I. historians, whose chief criterion was that all the
> films be feature-length (that is, more than 60 minutes) fictional
> narratives.
> The list therefore excludes all documentaries and non-narrative films,
> and- because the feature film did not become standard until the 1910s-
> virtually all of American film history before 1912. 1 guess calling the
> television special The A.F.I. Presents One Way You Might Choose What Are
> Arguably the Best 100 American Feature-Length, Fictional, Narrative
> Films Made Since 1912 wouldn't fit in the TV Guide listing.
> The criteria seem also to exclude all films not made in English, but
> they do not exclude films made outside the United States, as long as
> they involved significant creative elements and/or financial support
> from this country. This allows the A.F.I. to claim as American such
> films as A Clockwork Orange, Chariots of Fire, Tom Jones, and The
> English Patient. Those are not hypothetical examples; they are actually
> on the Top 400 list. I wonder: Will the Japanese Film Institute make
> Godzilla (the American Godzilla) eligible for its list of the best 100
> Japanese films of all time because Sony owns the studio that made the
> movie?
> Among the other A.F.I. criteria for selecting the Top 100 are a movie's
> popularity over time as measured by box-office receipts adjusted for
> inflation; revenue from television broadcasts and syndication, as well
> as from home-video sales and rentals; and awards from cinema
> organizations and major film festivals. I suppose those last two
> criteria explain why- according to the A.F.I's list- the first seven
> years of the 1990s produced more excellent American movies than were
> made between 1912 and 1930: Hollywood didn't get around to serious
> self-congratulation until 1927 (the first year of the Oscars), and video
> rentals were pretty slow in the silent-film period. This gives Pretty
> Woman a real edge.
> The actual selection of the 100 greatest films was made by a
> "blue-ribbon panel" made up of "more than 1,500 influential artists and
> executives in the film community," the A.F.I. says. The voters included
> actors, directors, screenwriters, producers, talent agents- it's a long
> list, with "film critics" and "film scholars" appearing near the bottom
> and, presumably, accounting for only a handful of the 1,500 voters. If
> this contest were a movie, film scholars would appear in the credits
> somewhere between "Animals trained by..." and "Any resemblance to any
> person living or dead...." To make sure that the judgments of film
> scholars didn't weigh too heavily on the outcome, "the public" is
> represented by randomly selected A.F.I. "national members"- that is,
> subscribers to the institute's magazine- one each from the 50 states and
> Washington. And President and Mrs. Clinton and Vice-President and Mrs.
> Gore have been invited to vote as well, which the A.F.I. explained was
> appropriate "given their roles as leaders of the nation that most
> influences the world with its movies."
> This is going to give Jay Leno fodder for his monologue on June 16:
> "Hey, did any of you catch the CBS special tonight on the Top 100
> American films of the last century? President Clinton was one of the
> voters, but, unfortunately, his ballot had to be thrown out: He was
> supposed to vote for 100 different films, but he voted for Fatal
> Attraction 100 times."
> No doubt, some of my younger cinema-studies colleagues, as well as
> academics in other disciplines with an interest in film, will be
> incensed by the list's equation of American cinema with mainstream,
> commercial, Hollywood film making. Others will understandably resent a
> selection process that is the equivalent of asking the Beef Council to
> compile a list of the 100 all-time best recipes and that credits film
> scholars and talent agents with equal critical acuity.
> What is especially galling to some of my colleagues in film studies who
> are old enough to have dealt with the A.F.I. for most of its 30 years is
> the prospect of anyone's thinking that the institute's proclamation of
> the 100 greatest American films means that it somehow must have earned
> the right to speak on behalf of academic film culture in the United
> States. Let's just say that most scholars of film would not list
> credibility on the Top 10 list of the A.F.I's strongest assets. Many of
> us think it wouldn't take a three-hour CBS special to showcase Thirty
> Years Of A.F.I. Contributions to Film Culture.
> But I gave up railing against the A.F.I. a decade or so ago. What I find
> fascinating about this whole process- the list, its announcement on a
> television special, its use as a marketing tool to sell videotapes, its
> elaboration as a TNT cable series, and its promotion on a Web site- is
> that it can be read as an unintended, but effective, eulogy for the very
> form of entertainment that it sets out to celebrate. In other words:
> Hollywood cinema is dead.
> Now, before you (and the A.F.I.) start whining that this is
> self-evidently not the case, let me explain what I mean. For 80 years-
> from roughly 1910 until the late 1980s- the principal business of the
> Hollywood film studios was making movies for movie theaters. But by
> 1987, non-theatrical, so-called "ancillary markets" provided fully
> one-half of studio revenues; by 1990, studios received $3.2-billion from
> video sales alone. As late as 1980, domestic box-office receipts
> represented 80 per cent of studio revenue; by 1992, the box office was
> good for no more than 25 per cent. By the early 1990s, Jack Valenti, the
> film industry's long-time chief cheerleader and lobbyist, had started
> speaking of theatrical exhibition not as the core business of the film
> industry, but rather as a "platform to other markets."
> Of those "other markets," video rentals and sales clearly have become-
> forgive the term- paramount, equaling all other sources of revenue
> (including that from movie theaters and broadcast, cable, and
> pay-per-view television) combined. In 1996, the U. S. box-office take
> for domestic films was approximately $5.9-billion. Yet that year, U.S.
> consumers spent $8.7-billion renting videos and an additional
> $7.6-billion buying recorded videotapes. Theatrical distribution of
> movies accounted for only 23 per cent of American movie studios'
> domestic revenue that year, while video sales accounted for more than 55
> per cent.
> Furthermore, with the value of licensed merchandise (those Titanic
> commemorative plates and Godzilla bedroom slippers) now dwarfing that of
> the theatrical-film business, George Lucas is in the product-licensing
> business as much as he is in the film-making business. The Star Wars(tm)
> films function as part of a complex corporate strategy, the goal of
> which is to keep the Star Wars(tm) license viable as a merchandising
> asset indefinitely. Each Star Wars(tm) film becomes the basis on which
> old licenses for related consumer items can be renewed and from which
> new licenses can be harvested. A pajama manufacturer once astutely
> assayed An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, an animated film produced by
> Steven Spielberg, by saying: "We think American Tail will be strong in
> sizes 2-7."
> Increasingly, what film companies (or the companies that operate them)
> own as assets are licenses or brands, and what they control, attempt to
> control, or leverage is access to the markets where those licenses and
> brands can be exploited. They are no longer in the film business or the
> television business or even, arguably, the entertainment business but,
> rather, in the business of "synergistic brand extension." As Disney's
> Michael Eisner put it: "If you don't have synergy, you have nothing but
> new products.... If you have synergy, it goes on and on."
> But, obviously, the movies aren't dead, and the first two weeks,
> especially, of a motion picture's release to movie theaters continue to
> exercise considerable economic and symbolic influence. To stand the
> words of the cultural theorist Walter Benjamin on their head, in a way,
> what the movies continue to possess as a lingering residue of their
> connection with old-fashioned cinema culture is the promise of creating
> an aura for products, people, and experience- that is, of elevating them
> above the level of the quotidian and the mere commodity.
> Hollywood and the A.F.I. still want to claim that the movies are the
> original, authentic experience, in relation to which licensed products
> and videotape copies are souvenirs. Or, to put it another way, the
> movies desperately try to retain the power to enchant, to transform
> human beings into celestial bodies, labor into dream work, agglomerated
> corporations into magic factories, the release of run-of-the-mill (if
> indictably expensive) movies into "events." This enchantment is the
> "value" that is added by the embodiment of a licensable asset in a film
> and that distinguishes the A.F.I.'s list of the greatest American films
> from a list of the 100 best interstate-highway rest stops.
> The delicious irony, of course, is that a movie theater is the one place
> you won't be able to see any of the A.F.I's 100 greatest American films
> of the past century. The hype about the list is in support of a tv
> special, a cable series, and, most of all, rerelease of these films for
> sale on videotape. If you want to catch Citizen Kane as a result of
> seeing the A.F.I. special on the 16th, rush to your nearest Wal-Mart,
> not your local multiplex. I'll be watching Godzilla in those Taco Bell
> commercials.
> Robert C. Allen is a professor of American studies, history, and
> communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
> Hill. He is the co-author, with Douglas Gomery, of Film History: Theory
> and Practice (McGraw-Hill, 1985).
>  1998 The Chronicle of Higher Education
> Kino International Corporation
> 333 W. 39th St. Suite 503
> New York, NY 10018
> (212)629-6880
> fax: (212)714-0871
> ----
> Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite
Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite