Who or What is It For ?

The question could be asked about this blog. or any blog.  Is it so that I can have more information coming out of my head than is going into it?  When the year began with my first few posts here on WordPress, I had a lot to unload for posterity.  You never know when you will keel over – and what a shame it would be to have not imparted anecdotes about having wallowed in your own short films and volunteering and bad judgement.

Instead, the question is about cinema in general.  What if it were possible to demonstrate in court that exposure to an interrupted narrative (a prematurely cancelled TV series) caused real psychological damage to the viewer and this opened up the possibility of class action suits against networks who failed to commit to a complete run or studios who fail to make the appropriate number of sequels to complete a story? What if creatives were legally bound to honor their core audience, and prevented from simply exploiting a known brand for the appeasement of investors only to alienate the built-in audience it was expected to attract?  What if studios had the sense of self-preservation to have each of its employees – especially writers or directors and actors – accept not only a non-disclosure agreement but also an injunction against abusive engagement with the public. especially those who claim to be fans and who are potentially the paying public?

Is this movie or content intended to appease the movie buffs or the statistic buffs?  Is it for people who enjoy movies or comics or any given art-form or is it for busybodies who just want to torpedo intellectual property that is associated with a “bro” audience or a politically uncommitted audience as a volley of preemptive attack in the culture war?

People are calling the latest female Terminator the LBGT-1000.  No matter what Tiki or Kevin Feige calls Natalie Portman’s character (they prefer simply Mighty Thor) the audience will call her Female Thor.  Will people complain that her costume (which according to the mythology of the comic book materializes without choice or design from the wearer) has a suggestion of breasts built into it?  Will they whine that there is anything gender specific about it?  Of course some will.  Not fans, but those who rarely pay to see a movie, let alone a pre-determined blockbuster muscling onto 4,000 screens. Filmmakers can alienate the most loyal fanbase once their own loyalty has been betrayed.  If there is pre-emptive shade thrown on anyone indifferent or outright rejecting a pending project, only a brave segment of the ex-patriot fandom will risk being falsely branded misogynist, racist, or homophobic by simply agreeing with Brie Larsen’s comment about A Wrinkle in Time, “It wasn’t made for you.”

In fairness, the argument has been made over and over – especially in the past ten years – that most movie fare has been male power fantasies aimed at the young, usually white, male heterosexual.  My response to this is to carefully keep my collection of physical media – mostly DVDs – in good condition, because re-watching them just might be the sole entertainment resource for me going forward. I can keep up with Stranger Things on Netflix as long as that platform exists, but even that has a fair helping of memberry content. I just have to tune out the busybodies on the internet, like Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) complaining that David Harbour’s character Jim Hopper was a “toxic male” and women should not date a guy like that.  There is a great deal of humor and pathos in his character, as well as surprise.  Wood’s remark is typical of the out-of-touch and gun-jumping know-it-all volunteer den mother activist who feels compelled to put fictional characters and storytelling into a box that is either pretending to be a role model or twisting its collective mustache in service of the patriarchy. This disregards that the actor himself Harbour has been firmly anti-Trump and progressive in his appearances at award shows.

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a3e7/87c5162a1afca08227bdf27662b29fead8a8.pdf

The Philosophy of Composition by Poe is mentioned by Signourney Weaver’s character in the Walter Hill movie The Assignment.  She explains that it makes a case that art should exist independent of politics and for the sake of aesthetic or style itself.  Such an essay might be very relevant in today’s climate.  People will behave like lemmings and make their judgments.  Am I to be excited about a new agent 007 being a black woman, or do I accept that as a detail and reserve judgement until I have borrowed the DVD from the public library?  There is so much content bombarding us now, partly as a function of the digital revolution, that it is hard to keep up.  We can’t all be excited about the same things. If I like a director for his or her direction (as opposed to de facto co-direction of a cinematographer or a studio boss who throws out storyboards and says “just shoot this”), I will most likely rush out and see the lastest work of this person right away in the cinema and happily pay to do so.  Spielberg, Tarantino, and Zemeckis are among the few in that category now. Often Scorsese.

I did not pay to see Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call or Captain Marvel, but I did enjoy Wonder Woman and Alita: Battle Angel.  Frankly, The Assignment was quite good and unusual with Michelle Rodriguez as a hit man. Judge away as you may.  More than ever, I think we have shrug off ignorant leaps people make.  Some will be upset that The Assignment has a actress pay a male who then is involuntarily put through sex reassignment for killing the doctor’s brother.  By representation standards, the male scenes would have to be played by a male and the post transition played by a performer who is trans first and foremost and likely not a marquee value name.  Whereas, I have no problem picking up a DVD with Michelle Rodriguez holding a gun on the cover.  Ghostbusters was played up as a mission to portray women as scientists.  For that I say look no further than 1982’s Poltergeist where Beatrice Straight was a credible scientist with a couple of laughs and Zelda Rubenstien supplied the more otherworldly approach. Some activists grumbled that Gal Godot was too fit and pretty to play Wonder Woman, which begs the question of whether they have ever seen the comic book or the Lynda Carter series.  Wonder Woman should look like Wonder Woman.

Keyboard warriors are not the audience to appease.  Filmmakers definitely should be working on material they actually like and understand, and by extension they will be simpatico with its fanbase.  Otherwise an IP is just looked at as a delivery device for false messaging and something to subvert and kill off – taking what your presumed adversary seems to enjoy and adding an ingredient which will irritate and cause an allergic reaction.  Maybe they are okay with fans being more choosy and waiting for home video or a few weeks after an opening so any box office goes to the exhibitor and not to the studio. That might be a good way to support theater owners and not reward studios for their tone deafness.

 

On a lighter note, I am enthused about Jason Reitman redeeming Ghostbusters and the original iteration continuity with his 2020 installment.  That I will see right away.  I am posting this days before Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I will also see opening weekend.  I admit that even as a life-long (with a gap between 1999 and 2005) Star Wars fan, I am undecided about when I will see The Rise of Skywalker.  I still enjoy movies, but I think more than ever we have to seek out the shows that maybe don’t get so many screens and might actually introduce fresh voices and aesthetics from the independent end of the spectrum.  Not enough people under 25 have seen the kinds of character driven indie movies from which pretty much all of the Avengers cast came from.  It is time to till the soil and plant new seeds and not live entirely off of what South Park calls memberries.

 

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Trailers, Trolls and Avengers

Media studies courses might be in short supply, especially now as high schools lose budgets and colleges trip over themselves to appease the fringes. For that reason, there might be some value to the youtubers who make some sort of living keeping up with the algorithm of that site by constantly posting rants or live-streams rattling off opinions on trending topics of the moment in pop culture.  Some of them like Midnight’s Edge manage a reserved, sane-sounding analysis of what is being sold and the context behind it while exposing what might alarm some of the potential audience being played.

Some of what follows is insinuated by reports but these are the dots likely to connect:

In March, Alita: Battle Angel was off to a good start before being muscled out of premium priced venues by Disney’s Captain Marvel which reportedly did not actually fill those additional screenings but managed to prevent people who showed up expecting to find Alita (by director Robert Rodriguez and writer-producer James Cameron) on the marquee from seeing what they came for and knowing that most average people would settle for whatever else was available.  Since the Fox sale to Disney had not been settled yet, Disney had an incentive to keep the Fox stock lower by repressing what might have been a larger hit.  It is theorized that they also didn’t want anything else to steal the thunder of Captain Marvel as the supposedly only female led action movie.  Alita was the more entertaining option, but the absurdity of propaganda against it included a few loud voices who claimed the character (whose body is a robot) is objectified and sexual-ized, even though she initially is revived with the body intended for the mentor figure’s paralyzed daughter who did not live to utilize it. Well, if you want to secure bookings for Avengers: Endgame coming soon and stay in Disney’s good graces, you had best bump Alita for the more PC Captain Marvel. And fans – if you root for the success of Alita and you have no interest in the Brie Larson starred Captain Marvel then you must be trolls living in your mother’s basement and you must hate women. And hands are clamped over the ears if you reply with a list of names you like, Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, Ripley, Sarah Connor (returning with Linda Hamilton this year) Jamie Lee Curtis (returning last year as updated Laurie Strode)…. and on and on.

Back in 1977, the adaptation of a novel The Other Side of Midnight was a Fox movie that exhibitors wanted to book. They were eventually fined for block-booking because they told some theater owners they could only book The Other Side of Midnight if they would book the movie they had no interest in – a movie that only managed to get about 40 venues by its debut May 25, 1977 – a flick that was then simply titled Star Wars.

So the cycle goes on.  The studios and their marketing budgets have the megaphone of talk show hosts who don’t want to anger them, movies stars that are welcome guests everyone wants to appease, millionaires talking from a high place.  And yet they are worried about youtube pundits and random people in the comments sections and Facebook groups that have no power and no money other than what they spend watching movies, preferably as mindlessly as possible and without question.

I’ll be curious enough to question how a section of the death star which exploded in Return of the Jedi (1983) ended up on Endor (as opposed to the forest Moon of Endor) after it exploded so spectacularly.  But then there is the possibility (that I’ve seen nobody raise) that it might be a section that was missing in the first place from that movie’s variation which was under construction.  And so I will leave it at that until I am proven wrong in December. I’ll have measured enthusiasm for a new Star Wars and I was okay with Episode VIII The Last Jedi although I merely accepted it and liked some of it while still gradually understanding why so many once built-in audience members have left the fanbase.  Brand appropriation should be taken more seriously.  As should, frankly, communication between creatives and outlines for narratives than span a few films. The Lucasfilm story group that consulted on the new trilogy was revealed to not have quite the dramaturgical dream team expected or people well versed in Star Wars lore but people with identity politics as the first priority concern.   So instead of having a message emerge organically from well designed characters in a story well told, there is ham-fisted focus on what is least interesting and ultimately filmmakers trolling the audience on twitter.  And related novelists also stirring the pot.  So they can turn a license to print money into a gamble by splitting the core audience – the most passionate – in half.

Word is (at this moment) that Daniel Craig and the James Bond character will be retired from features after the next movie, but that the number 007 will continue as if that much of the brand is enough, and that a lady spy will have been introduced.  So the posters presumably will have 007 in big letters and maybe the title of the movie to fish people in, but maybe underplay the fact that James Bond is not in it.  Good luck with that.

Back to spending money and who spends it. Star Wars merch and Star Trek merch have something in common:  It is mostly consumed by older fans from their mid-thirties into their early fifties.  That may earn a few slings and arrows, now that the terms nerd and geek are now benign and have been replaced by such hostile terms as incel. But the difference is that Lucasfilm/Disney may still have a piece of Hasbro so they can still crank out unsold Rose Tico action figures but Star Trek has to have its merchandising licensed by outside companies.  Those toy companies and model kit companies have sales data a this point that tells them designs based on the Original Series and Next Generation will sell and anything from the Bad Robot era will not.  They reject deigns from Star Trek: Discovery and derivations presented for the pending Jean-Luc Picard series.  That has held up production on the latter.    Bad Robot took on Star Wars and Star Trek for the possible additional profit that derives from merchandising and their changes that allow them to have a piece of that are the reason the market and toy companies have no interest.

That is one example, a canary in the coal mine, that might make it worth taking seriously the tastes, preferences and concerns of old school fans that Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm has stated publicly she owes nothing to.  In a time where it is easy to get free market research from reading the concerns of those they call trolls, maybe there would be value in taking advantage of that instead of being blindly top-down in their decisions.

From what I have heard, the directors of Avengers: Endgame have listened to fans or are in synch with fans and have told their story accordingly.  I will see it ASAP.

Hopefully Bad Robot will relent in their concerns for merch, and it would be great if the two split halves of Viacom came to a settlement to allow Star Trek to exist in its own sort of embassy and not have to be caught in the middle and torn apart so that canon can be restored.

Personally, In can only absorb so much of the animus that gets thrown around over these kinds of things on-line.  Free wifi and free content on youtube can also be costly to the mind.  There is a lot of anger over these issues, as dispassionately as they are presented here.  It is not enough for people to have a dream job on a Tiffany IP, but they have to make sure they can get a chunk of merch or push a social agenda without earning it in the narrative.  Kennedy may not get around to allowing a Kenobi movie (old white guy in the desert) or a Knights of the Old Republic movie (too many old white guys want it) but expects to eventually bring back the characters introduced in VII, VIII and IX.  Well, it’s fine for Rey, Poe and Finn and BB8 to ride the coat tails of the Original Trilogy cast, but there will NOT be the nostalgia for them in a world where the is so much more content and so less attention span than in 1977-1983.