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August 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Patrick B Bjork <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 4 Aug 1994 23:09:34 -0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 4 Aug 1994 14:15:57 -0500
From: Steven Mintz, U. Houston <[log in to unmask]>
To: Multiple recipients of list H-FILM <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Audience manipulation in recent film
From: [log in to unmask] (Michael Lewis)
Re: Audience sophistication in the Good Ol' Days.
The recent thread of discussion which reminisces about how
more literate movie-goers were in the pre-WWII era is a bit
difficult for me to believe. It seems to be the scholarly
equivalent of, "In the old days, we didn't have..." I'll
toss out what's going through my mind when I read how much
better this-or-that was before the Age of the Blockbuster for
all of you to chew on. I'll be interested to see what comment
they bring since, I admit, they are only general observations
made from some film study during my undergraduate years and a
little continued reading since caving in to the demands of the
world outside the ivy halls. (Of course, years as a moviegoer
might account for something.)
We should probably remove technology from the discussion.
It's obvious that technology and special effects are better now,
and, as was observed in a previous posting, new technology will
be used (or even overused) to tell the stories of its day. What
is left is the basic story or visceral thrill which is being
given to the public. And that thrill, whether it be meant to
tweak the brain or the glands, will be delivered with all the
technology or artistic license a producer can afford.
Are movies today designed to tug at the heart and manipulate
the audience? I would say no more so than _Casablanca_, _Mildred
Pierce_, or _It Happened One Night_ were when they were released.
_Casablanca_ had numerous directors and writers, and its script
was rewritten during filming. This was done less, to my knowledge,
from a drive toward artistic vision than for a need to produce a
successful movie to touch the hearts and minds of romantics and
a war-conscious public.
Are the films of today less literate? When films as slow and
deliberate as _The Piano_, _Four Weddings and a Funeral_, and
many others, can become top grossing films despite limited openings,
I am inclined to answer, "No." There were many films in the good
ol' days which pandered to the lowest denominator, if I am to use
terms which have been alluded to in the ongoing discussion.
For every _True Lies_ there is a corresponding gangster flick, complete
with ethnic villians, screeching cars, and flying bullets. For
every _When Harry Met Sally_ there is a screwball comedy complete
with mismatached couples who don't see love will soon change their
lives. And just as _Citizen Kane_ was in its day, there are films today
which are passed over by the public at large (or outright censored)
only to be noticed for their achievements years later. Some day,
perhaps, _Germinal_ or _Blue_ and others will become part of the Canon.
Shallowness is not the creation of today's films. Cheap thrills
and pure escapist fun could be had every weekend in film's early
days with western and science fiction serials. James Cameron
doesn't have a patent on awe-inspiring special effects, spectacle and
set design. Cecil B. DeMille knew the value of that in the days of the
silent film and, despite decline as a directorial force, could still
pull out all the stops and rivet the audience with _The Ten
Commandments_ and 1950s gee-whiz.
To use a famous cliche: The more things change, the more they
stay the same.
--Michael Lewis
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