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August 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 2 Aug 1994 19:33:00 PDT
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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In response to the recent discussion about a "dumbing down" of recent films
(one recent  post  is included below), I wonder if we can go a little
further with analyzing in what this "dumbing down" consists.  Is it changes
in genres--i.e. the birth in the '80's of the action-adventure genre?  Is
it a rise in budgets?  An increasing reliance on special effects?
  I think the intuition is worth exploring, but I would like to avoid
a the-world's-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket handwringing which is far
too easy and far too general.  What precisely are the changes that
people find irksome?  (I find recent cinema irksome, too, although
I place the fundamental change somewhere at the end of the '80's,
after all the brilliant and nihilistic '70's films from Altman and
the likes.
Edward R. O'Neill, UCLA
> In response to Patrick Bjork's questions, are movies pandering more to
> audiences today and has there been a progressive dumbing down since the era
> of Dr. Strangelove:  I don't have an absolute answer , but there are a few
> things to consider.
> I believe the strongest point in defense of a yes would be the market
> surveys taken of test audiences.  They have definitely affected retooling of
> a film to a point where the director's control has really come into
> question.  I'm sure listmembers can think of more examples but the first one
> that comes to mind is Fatal Attraction and its changed ending.  People were
> not satisfied by Glenn Close's suicide in the first version, so she was
> instead drowned and stabbed to death by an avenging Michael Douglas and Ann
> Archer.  I would bet the companies that do these surveys have a "cultural
> composite of today's viewer" down to the color of their shoes.
> The story of star power is an old one, but lately it has become even more
> difficult to get a movie made unless a "name" is attached to a production -
> this is hardly news to anyone. But until recently no one tested this
> theorem.  Last week's Variety reported the results of  a Gallup Poll, which
> surveyed how movies goers chose the movies they see in relation to stars.
> There is a direct correlation between an actor and how many people will
> always, often, sometimes or never see a movie in which that actor appears .
> Naturally, this won't always work, but  because movies are so expensive
> nowadays, they get made with actors audiences "want" to see, but the actors
> get huge fees which makes movies more expensive to make, etc., so movie
> prices go up, so audiences want to be sure of what they're getting, etc.
> etc.
> I don't think there has been a dumbing down over time.  We remember the good
> movies but not the turkeys.  Speaking of which, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,
> Valley of the Dolls and Steve Reeves had their moments of glory in the same
> decade as Dr. Strangelove, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Cat Ballou.
> Marlyn Robinson
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