Ideally I’d be ranting about the Huffington Post sale or Apple’s greedy 30% charge on subscriptions from publications (which I may still do) but for now, I was bowled over by two articles. The first one was a GQ article by Mark Harris called The Day The Movies Died, a sobering examination of the sequel and adaptation mania that’s swept Hollywood. An impressive follow-up on this came with Jason Bailey’s Flavorwire article Mourning for Hollywood: 10 Days the Movies Died which includes Citizen Kane getting black-balled, sequels, 3-D movies and other low points.
From that, I was inspired to come up with a list of 10 more dates that meant bad news for the film business. Some of them are actually what you’d call mixed blessings and there’s a lot more villains to be found. I was tempted to add the lawsuits about pirating The Hurt Locker but it doesn’t seem (so far at least) that the movie industry is going to make the same mistake as the music industry in overplaying lawsuits about unauthorized downloads.
What do you think? Are there any other dates you can pinpoint that fouled up the movie industry?
1. Heaven’s Gate is released—November 18, 1980
This film is usually used as a poster child for director excess but it is indeed the resting place for the career of Michael Cimino (who had previously scored with The Deer Hunter) as well as United Artists, which took such a major hit thanks to this major flop that the studio crashed and burned.
2. Motion Picture Production Code is created—February 1930
Also known as the Hays Code and the precursor to the rating system we know now (G/PG/R/NC-17), which came into effect in 1968. The MPPC was developed as a result of hysteria by religious groups about the deprived morals being flaunted onscreen and put a damper on more daring material appearing there for a while.
3. Ted Turner buys MGM—August 5, 1986
Not terrible in and of itself except that it led to his decision to colorize their back catalog. The original directors involved (especially John Huston) had an uproar over this as did many film buffs, especially because the technique caused some bizarre color bleeding on some old classics that made them look terrible.
4. Movies on cell phones—December 2005
Sprint announced then at they were offering a service to watch movies on their phones for about $7 a month. Of course, writers and film nuts scoffed at this but the idea didn’t go away and any smart phone out there now has this kind of service (for a fee of course). Among the numerous problems- squinting to see the film itself, running of juice on your phone after an hour, trying to find a comfortable position or place to watch it. The main problem though is that, as with pre-flat screen TVs, our phones weren’t really meant to properly replicate the experience of seeing the film in all its large, rectangle-shaped glory. Movies like Lawrence of Arabia, a film where the landscape is part of the action, or any decent Westerns are diminished enough on a TV set but on a cell phone, it’s a bad joke. The real worry is that the next generation of movie goers might not mind and get used to this diminished landscape, never really experiencing films as they’re supposed to be. Some enterprising film makers are creating movies specifically for hand held devices and more power to ‘em but for films NOT made for that medium, it ain’t a good thing.
5. YouTube—launched February 2005
Granted, YT is a place to see some long out-of-print movies in multi-part serials (faves being Death by Hanging and Godard’s British Sounds) but this site also trained web surfers to lower their attention span to 10 minutes or less.
6. Jennifer Aniston’s sitcom career on Friends ends on May 6, 2004
When she had time to concentrate on her film career, she was able to crank out one steaming pile of crap after another. If you think that it’s harsh to pick on her in particular, consider her track record over the last seven years that have cluttered up cinemas across the country: Just Go With It, The Bounty Hunter, Love Happens, Marley & Me, The Break-Up, Rumor Has It and Along Comes Polly would be a trail of embarrassments for most any other actor (other than Owen Wilson). Unfortunately, since there’s actually an audience for these unfunny romantic comedies, we’ll have to suffer through years more of this until Hollywood institutes age discrimination on her and decides that she’s too old to be doing these kind of flicks.
7. Commercials screened before films—starting circa 2005?
I still remember when I first saw commercials being show in theaters before the film started and hearing the audience booing. Unfortunately over the years, we’ve been so pummeled by these stupid things that we’re used to it by now and mostly try to tune them out, or use the time after we save our seat to get some junk food or visit the bathroom. Don’t you feel insulted that you have to sit through these commercials after paying to see the film? Do you actually buy any of the products that they show because you see them there? I know that I don’t. Too bad this has become big revenue for the theaters, hence why they’re not going to disappearing from screens any time soon.
8. ‘First Look’
Alongside the commercials, this ‘program’ before the film shows you TV and movie previews that are always boring and only basically serves as advertising disguised as some kind of reporting.
9. Rotten Tomatoes—August 19, 1999 launch
This aggregation site is a handy-dandy place to see what the critical consensus is and to be fair, they do link to all the reviewers’ works and probably give these writers a higher profile. But you can’t help but think that RT’s success also makes some film goers lazy enough just to skim around there and see what the consensus is rather than clicking through to see the individual reviews on the sites (publications) where the columns originate.
10. Siskel & Ebert show launches—September 4, 1975
First called Sneak Previews and then At the Movies, these two Chicago writers started out modestly on PBS stations but became a hit and went into major syndication and spawned spin-offs and imitators while making S&E the most noted film critics around. I always preferred E’s taste and writing and enjoyed his books and it was nice to see a lively discussion of movies but when they reduced their recommendations to ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ (which some called ‘the gladiator rating system’), it also dumped down the reviewing process for a simple yeah or neh vote on movies (granted, star ratings do the same thing but in a less blunt manner).
// Notes from the Road
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