Filmmaker Paul Schrader (writer of TAXI DRIVER, writer/director of AMERICAN GIGOLO) just released a new film (directed by him, written by Brett Easton Ellis of AMERICAN PSYCHO and LESS THAN ZERO fame) called THE CANYONS, starring candidate for a Day of the Locust remake Lindsay Lohan and porn actor James Deen; it’s about a Hollywood couple (a producer & an actress) who can’t stand the movies anymore (like they’re something you can grow out of) but their lives are stuck in the vicious and duplicitous Hollywood culture… This film is sort of a treatise on how the concept of “movie culture” as we know it is a shell of its former self (and is on its deathbed). The trailer opens with shots of vacant and abandoned multiplexes… which is coming faster than people realize… coupled with Lindsay Lohan’s character asserting that movies, in the theatre, are just dead.
What’s also being indicted in THE CANYONS is that the disproportionate number of fame-seekers who fill up the middle and lower social ranks and waste everyone’s time in the so-called Hollywood scene; people who don’t have a passionate desire to make films, to create the intellectual and emotional nexus that a film can be, but to use a successful movie as a platform for all sorts of other pop culture-related commercialized bullshit (book deal, clothing line, perfumes, shoes, energy drink, that kind of vapid conspicuous consumption consumerism shit).
Your personal brand is designed, defined and screamed through a megaphone through a successful movie. And once you’re brand is defined and you’ve bartered your soul for a house in the Hollywood Hills (or more specifically one of the canyons — Benedict, Laurel, Coldwater) intricately designed by that master architect Mulciber, the life you’ve yearned for is one constructed by cocaine and alcohol, but you don’t see it that way. You see it as, I’ve reached the pinnacle of what a decadent and rapidly declining culture can offer; might as well ride out the whirlwind in style.
NATHANIEL WEST’S GRIN TURNS INTO A RICTUS
Hollywood has always drawn people far and wide in search of stardom, but these days it seems that Pink of Your Ass Fame (as in bending over, pulling back your butt cheeks and unapologetically and unflinchingly showing the whole world the pink of your asshole) is the huge draw, and then hoping & praying & swallowing that a fortune comes with it — a reality TV star is only in it for the merchandising deal that they’re angling to strike if they win the “show’ lottery of being catapulted into the pop culture consciousness by showing the pink of their ass on TV, the internet and in tweets.
It’s sad that people strive for that type of raw and unsightly exhibitionist fame, but that’s how much our culture has pivoted in the last 15 or so years. Fame from TV, the internet and maybe the multiplex is the new Horatio Alger lottery ticket. When I was in high school there was a class that everyone wanted to take called “Film As Art”; it was just like taking a class on the Flemish Renaissance painters, and examination of how film combined all the other art forms to create its own art form. I doubt that class exists anymore and if it does, I’d bet it’s not dissecting films like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE or SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN or CITIZEN KANE… those “antiques” mean very little to today’s cinema-watching audience.
WHAT IS A MOVIE THESE DAYS?
Schrader also postulated in an recent interview about THE CANYONS on what’s the difference between a 5-minute video on Vimeo or the 13-hours of story during a season of “The Killing”? “Nothing,” he says, “They’re both movies…” in the sense that a “movie” these days is a catch-all phrase for any video-recored entertainment – live action or animation. Schrader goes on to say that the 2-hour film is under assault. I wholly agree with him.
Consider that a season of “The Killing” probably costs about $70m… and how much “cinema” can you buy with $70m? Not a lot if you go through the Hollywood production machine and want the production values and equivalent actors of a prime time TV show, and that movie probably won’t be that good, because the economic concerns (which are arguably the same, although the revenue streams are entirely different) for the “cinema” product would necessitate that the storyline has to super audience-friendly, appealing as many people as possible. Whereas “The Killing” (and we can substitute any critically-acclaimed cable drama) is aiming for a niche audience, that over the length of season would be about 2 million people watching watching, adding to about 30 million views. If 30 million people watch a film, it’s one of the biggest hits of year, if not landing a spot on the top box office champs of all time list.
The splurge of TV channels and YouTube channels and Instagram video channels has splintered (and continues to splinter) of the mass audience, so niche programming is where it’s at, because as long as you consistently deliver challenging “movies” — in 5-minute increments or 40-minute increments — then you’ll gain the loyal audience you want, which it turn brings the ad dollars — and apparently that is the ONLY thing that matters.
Ad dollars. Ad dollars… and more Ad dollars.
AD DOLLARS, NOT THE CLASH, ARE THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS
Nielsen recently did a poll on 18- 25 year olds viewing habits during Prime Time TV hours, in which 50% of those polled were using Facebook during that 3-hour block… more eyeballs where on Facebook than any of the 4 broadcast networks. Which has now given speculation that Facebook will run 15-seconds at a cost of $2.5m for a 24-hour bloc. How much do you want to bet that this becomes part of Facebook’s ToS — all users have to allow a certain amount of commercials to run on their feed during their peak usage hours (because Facebook most certainly knows when you engage with it the most).
NOSTALGIA? F*CK, NOSTALGIA
I mentioned in my last post that Lucas and Spielberg anticipated that “cinema” as we know it is going to be shunted into an exhibition spaces much like Broadway theatre… this is entirely possible. Sad, but entirely possible to see the church’s of the 20th century’s religion fall derelict and into disrepair. I was just in downtown Los Angeles taking art deco photos in the Historic Core, which is anchored by Broadway. On Broadway between 6th and 9th there are seven movie theatres — The Tower, The Orpheum, The Rialto, The Standard, The Globe, The Palace and The Los Angeles — all are defunct; shells of their former selves… is this the shape of things to come for the Cinemarama Dome? Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (which is now actually owned by a Chinese film exhibition company). The funny thing is that old movie palaces can be repurposed for other commercial uses (they’re usually in prime real estate locations), the same can’t be same for the 24-screen multiplex that has been abandoned and left to rot out off of Route 23, where there used to be a farmer’s field, now just a weed-infected parking lot.
A few months back on Kickstarter there was a really cool photo project that was going to document the last of the Drive-Ins… this was fascinating to me (and I missed donating, ‘cause I want a copy of that book; now I’ll probably go shoot my own photos and make my own book), because what is the value of a Drive-In these days? In the past 30 years? What did Drive-Ins say about communal viewing experiences? About social rites of passage? I mean the way some people tell it, the Drive-In was the place to get to Second Base with a chick during one’s teens and early twenties. Now that hooking up is some much easier, why even go? Just to get out of the house?
Although, what I don’t know (and I’m very much interested in learning about) is how the exhibition industry is faring in Europe, China and India? There’s been so much growth in theatre screens in China, it will probably eclipses the rest of the world combined by the time the decade is out (considering that the majority multiplexes will shut their doors during the coming decade) — not that it will mean anything to American filmmakers because of 12 film quota that China has on foreign films (which begs the point why do so many Hollywood studios bend over when the Chinese lodge complaints about how China and the Chinese are depicted).
And Europeans don’t view films as a crass commercial enterprise the way it is in the US (hence the reason why the governments provide financing for pretty much any kind of picture, as long as it has some cultural value… which is a dubious criteria in any event, so as long as its not a Eli Roth style bit of splatter/torture porn, you’re probably going to get your money).
We’re in the throes of Present Shock at the moment, so pining for nostalgia is a wasted effort on every level. There’s a Criterion Collection DVD called Things To Come, it’s a film from the late 30s/early 40s and its predictions of how the future will be aren’t too outre (the industrial design is off, but the concepts aren’t)… but it didn’t predict the collapse of narrative entertainment on mass communal level…