07 April 2007

Updated: North American Moviegoers Want SHORTER Insipid Crap?

To quote an often-cited but anonymous source: "Every society gets the culture it deserves". And then there's that movie mogul's famous axiom: "The audience, individually, is an idiot. Collectively, they're a genius". I think it's actually the other way around, Louis B. Individually, members of the audience can be discerning, experimental, and willing to partake in those secret, unprestigious (non-PBS approved) pleasures that art and entertainment can safely explore, and what keeps the creative fields exciting and progressive. Art thrives on the forbidden--just ask Igor Stravinsky, John Coltrane, Henry Miller, or Sam Peckinpah (who probably had more fans than they thought in their days when the critics cried foul and they were dismissed as heretics and/or pornographers).

But collectively, it's like Jim Jones spiked the kool-aid with Jethro Bodine's Idiot Juice and served it up with a free Roots discount coupon.

This past weekend, "Grindhouse" opened to mucho fanfare, offering a gloriously inventive and entertaining riff through the glory, gory days of 1970s "B" cinema. For a single admission price, it offered a complete feature film each from an A-list director at the top of his respective form, and fake trailers from some of the most inventive minds in current horror cinema, which, last time I checked, had made something of a comeback. It's the best film school someone could take in without having to fork out tens of thousands of dollars tuition and four years of one's life (as I did). It was predicted to take in at least $25 M--instead, it barely grossed a fifth of that.

And it opened in fourth place. Behind the latest infantile family comedy. Starring Ice Cube. Which is a sequel.

Now, I thought audiences didn't want sequels. Or remakes. Or revamps of TV shows. Or films in which musicians try to act. That's why--to hear the bicoastal wail of the vox populi--theatre attendance is down and downloads are up. It's the movies' fault. 'Cause, we all know--of course--that the films bit-heads are torrenting in copious quantities are the sophisticated likes of Orson Welles' "The Magnificient Ambersons" and Yasujiro Ozu's "Floating Weeds" because that's not what Hollywood is offering today...

Well, what people say and what people do have a funny way of never really lining up, in life, in anything really, and especially in the stuff they read, listen to, and watch. Granted, this isn't a movie for everyone. It's long--three plus hours. It's got a hard "R" rating, which most theatres probably don't enforce anyway, but why drop off the kiddies if there's a risk you'll have to drive right back to pick them up and take them to Blockbuster? And it's a long weekend--a religious holiday, no less--and we all know that the population's priorities by and large side with spiritual nobility and taking in anything offering Rose McGowan as a stripper and Bruce Willis oozing pulsating pustules is akin to writing "Heil Hitler" on a Joseph Ratzinger commemorative plate.

As a guy who really, really loves this kind of material in a sincere and totally non-ironic way (the best "art", IMHO, has always been found in the margins), I suppose I'm being more than a little shrill and Cassandraesque in my lament. Filmgoers crave the shared experience (as do music mavens, book club devotees, Elizabethan poetry grads)--that's why they meet in anything that calls itself a festival or a forum and harp on about minutia that in the grand scope of life, don't mean a damn thing--and I think it'd be a great thing indeed of more people took chances and "got" this stuff, instead of hiding behind the safe, antiseptic facade of middlebrow, critic-approved fare that ultimately, denies them of the visceral jolt lacking in what passes for sophistication these days.

Tell you what: if "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film" outgrosses "The Reaping" next weekend, all is forgiven and I'll publicly recant my statement.

Updated: A reader brought to my attention that the running time of "Grindhouse" is a major inhibiting factor in its box-office grosses--the simple fact is, shorter films like "Are We Done Yet?" can be played more times during the course of a day and thus generate more dollars per screen. I'll wait to see some more of the math on its opening then--but it's still distressing that those who bemoan the current state of cinema failed to show...