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August 1994


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Patrick B Bjork <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 4 Aug 1994 23:11:09 -0500
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 4 Aug 1994 14:30:31 -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:    Julie Jenkins                        <[log in to unmask]>
I have been following this exchange w/interest but it seems to me that people
want to have the studio period both ways.  All of the accomplishments that you
laud from the 30s are the direct result of a factory system that produces a
model for every taste.  I don't think it's fair to praise the message & still
beat the messenger.  And I think the economics of the studio system can never
be repeated too often.  Of course, a clever script can be cobbled together
fairly often, if a company can afford to keep on staff a stable of writers each
w/their own fairly well defined fields of expertise.  And a company can afford
this stable if there is a locked in outlet for its product that guarantees
a profit base sufficient to keep the machine rolling over, year after year.
As long as there is a guaranteed source of income, everything else is possible.
It is possible to keep everyone on contract, which makes tailoring possible.
It was the production-distribution-exhibition combine that made everything else
possible.  And the most interesting aspect of today is that people are still
trying to accomplish this.
It's interesting but not coincidental that under Reagan production companies
tried pushing the edge of the envelope-very quietly trying to buy theater
chains, in a modest way, and waiting to see if anyone would object.  And this
vertical integration was the point behind the entire Paramount fracas as well
as Sony etc. buying production facilities.  The irony in Paramount was that in
all the discussion of Viacom and egos etc. no one mentioned that Paramount was
the original US company that showed everyone how it was done.  Wherever Zukor
is, he must have been in hysterics.
When you ask where are the Lives of Emil Zola today, I think you're really
talking about the star/genre nexus that was so carefully husbanded by the stu-
dios because they could afford to.  They could afford to keep Muni on payroll
for just those prestiege, Oscar worthy "films" that made everyone seem serious
& worthy, not picture makers.  Because we still  get bio pics, we call them
GAndhi, or the Last Emperor and they win Oscars by the bushel basket.  We just
don't have a system that can keep Ben Kingsley on contract specializing in
those roles.  (It's interesting that he can play gangsters too, just like Muni.
What do Gandhi & Meyer Lansky have in common?)  But when a movie is made like
a studio film, w/3 writers each doing his specialty it sometimes works, just
like SOME old films worked and it's called Clear & Present Danger & everyone
praises the script, the star/genre fit, the professionalism, the overall
panache of a class A Hollywood product.
Clear & Pres. Dang. also starts from solid middle brow popular literary sources
just like so much of the "classic" studio product.  The old family reading mag-
gazines are gone--the Saturday Evening Posts, etc. so Hollywood turns to their
late 20th cent. equivalent--pot boiling, door stopper reads and gets good movie
movies from them.  But Hollywood also tries to make movies out of real books
that are unfilmable like Billy Bathgate.  In the old days, wouldn't a studio
dragon--Jack W. for instance, since Hoffman would have been at Warners--have
said, no Dustin, there isn't a movie here, and you're definitely NOT Dutch?
(But I don't mean to say that all real books are unfilmable--Age of Innocence
was a SUCCESS in my minority opinion.)