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August 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Gene Stavis <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 2 Aug 1994 18:26:52 PDT
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Marlyn Robinson-
Your points re "dumbing down" are interesting, but they overlook some
historical facts.
1) In terms of audiences surveys and the changing of films: Traditionally,
studios held "sneak previews" (true "sneaks", not the promotional frauds of
today) to determine audience reaction to films. Many, many films were changed
drastically because of audience response. MGM was known as "Retake Valley"
because of its reshooting endings and adding material to films in response to
the comparatively crude audience surveys of the day. The Marx Bros. took film
scripts on the road and perfected them before live audiences before making
the films!
2) Yes, indeed star power is an old story. But, remember - stars were
developed in the old days in a very deliberate way so that the audience would
get used to certain people and then seek out their films. Also remember that
stars made many, many more films then than today. James Cagney made dozens of
films in his first two or three years at Warner Brothers. Today a star is
lucky to get a film every other year. And stars can be created almost out of
thin air today. No training, no B-pictures, no experience with a variety of
roles and directors. A star has one hit and becomes a corporation with a
virtual fiefdom of representatives and hangers-on - a creature who can
dictate script approval, director approval, advertising, etc. I certainly
don't want to defend the chattel slavery of the studio system, but name me a
star of those days who (sometimes ruefully, its true) did not lament the end
of the traditional studio system.
3) Certainly the past has a high turkey quotient, but the point is that there
was a sense of variety, even given the crippling censorship, even given the
factory atmosphere of the studios - an enormous range and variety of material
was produced that cannot be matched today. For all our freedoms, we have been
trapped into a deadening cycle of remakes, "hommages" and copies of better
films, rather than the originality and, yes, daring, of the past.
Gene Stavis, School of Visual Arts - NYC