Thursday, June 03, 2004

and That's Why They Call it Show Business


Sherry Lansing, Jonathan Dolgen, Leslie Moonves, Tom Freston

There has been some shakin' going on. This week Mel Karmazin resigned not so quietly from Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickolodeon, Paramount, UPN, etc.) This cleared the way for the heads of the Networks (Tom Freston) and the Broadcast (Les Moonves) wings to share his duties moving up the corporate chain. Les Moonves now has more power (the guy who wouldn't air The Reagans mini). The next day Jonathan Dolgan (co chair of Paramount with Sherry Lansing)resigned because he didn't feel reporting to Freston (MTV head guy) would benefit him and the studio. Now, if that's not enough, some good might come of all of this. Mr. Eisner, the meniacal man managing Disney and former Pepsi Chair, might now have some very stiff competition. Eisner most likely will lose the Disney partnership with the uber profitable Pixar (Headed by Mr. Mac himself, Steve Jobs). Roy Disney is already leading a crusade to oust Eisner who isn't quite sitting pretty with stockholders. Eisner also was the major road block to the release of Fahrenheit 911 and The Passion of the Christ. ABC is declining and Disney's non Pixar animations aren't doing so well (Home on the Range). Eisner might just get his upcommin's yet. The sad part, WHAT THE F*CK do these people know about film... most of them anyway!

In a perfect world, films would be made by produces and executives that love film. Sounds strange and radical, I know, but stay with me. Long, long, ago in an orange grove far far away, a place called Hollywood was born. Here, people like Louis B. Mayer, Cecil B. DeMile, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplan, Jack Warner, and Walt Disney reigned. These super-producers ran the film industry as a loving dictatorship. There was no room to cross these lads, or your entertainment career was over. But, on the up turn, these men and women loved films... they LOVED film. The bargined for the best talent contracts in the business and everyone came to work, churned out a pic, and went home to there families. This was called The Studio System.

The problem... the studio system left very few people in control and no room for artistic deviation. In Europe and Japan, their was no studio system, there was simply an all powerful director or autuer. In France, it was called New Wave. Men like Goddard, Tati, Renior, and the like sprung up with cinematic experiments rooted in the countries rich history for fine art. Film became a canvass for the next generation. So, like always, the Hollywood directors-for-hire looked to Europe for culture guidelines. Men like Alfred Hitchcock who had been scorn by the studio system (check out the backstory on Rebecca sometime) longed to have the creative freedom of the French, Italian, German, and Japanese autuers. Actors and actresses no longer wished to be tied to one major studio and looked to compete for the best parts and the best scripts in town. And so, with revolting talent, the Studio System began to crumble.

The 60's and the 70's seemed great while the industry was in anarchy. Flms like The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, A Clockwork Orange, The Graduate, Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Coo Coo's Nest, and Manhattan came from this era of artistic freedom. Men on the streets of New York were telling gritty stories as focus racked from a crumbling Hollywood. Even big budget musicals like West Side Story had a more edgy New York setting. The American Independent was born. New York wasn't just for theater anymore.

and then... The studios, with their patriarchs gone, looked for saviors. Saddly, their cries were answered. Like weakened city states, they were each picked up by larger conglomerates (or empires) looking to make a quick buck by restoring the studios to their prior glory. But, what do business men know about film? Bring on the 80's.

Artists need businessmen yes, but this doesn't make businessmen artists. In fact, the two seem quite contray to the other, yet can, sometimes form a symbiotic relationship. The problem now more than ever, money rules. If a western makes money... every company in the country starts making westerns... or disaster films... or kitchy romantic comedies. The genre or gimmick then plays itself out. Hollywood had become a land of fad cookie cutter projects. Actors, looking for more of a challenge, started occassionly lending their talents to the NY scene which still hope for another 1970's type renaissance. While films like Pulp Fiction, Monster, and Dazed and Confused fight and claw their way out into mainstream consciousness, as a whole, the independent has never risen again to it's former power.

The modern era.. There has been some change. Well, not necessarily change as much as labling. Each studio now has it's "Independent" shingle to play to the arthouse crowd. Don't forget, each of these shingles is still owned by only a couple people from the buy outs of the passed decades. Columbia/Tri-Star is Sony, Warner Brothers and New Line/Fine Line is AOL Time Warner, Universal is General Electric, 20th Century Fox is owned by Ruppert Murdoch (global meglomaniac), Miramax and Buena Vista by Disney, and Paramount by Viacom. No one cares about the films anymore, just the money.

So, considering all of this, what hope is there? I see the film industry as very similar to the former soviet union. Yes Stalin and Lenin weren't the greatest men in the world, but on the upside, there was bread. When capitalism replaced socialism, the ring bells of freedom brought the walls down. You are free now! Be like us! But Russians soon found capitalism to be the enemy. Now they are starving and surround by gangsters and modern day pirates hording the money and the bread, blue jeans, and toilet paper. Many now long for the days of lesser freedom and more stability... the days when Russia was great. Now, I long for a studio system. Most of the studios don't ever have "studio" lots anymore. Universal City is more about theme parks then sets. Studios use independent sound stages or work in Canada. A world where films are made by those who love films.

What's this historical tirade all about. Well, I just wanted to say that I long for a world where Disney can finance great epics and use the procedes for Miramax to fund negative pick ups of independent gems. A world where there is home and community in entertainment once more. Where studio heads don't fear losing their jobs for taking a chance with originality and truely valuing talent. One day, I hope for a world where drama overshines cliche, story supercedes FX's, and work is stable. Hooray for Hollywood.

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