This is the first Roundup since the beginning of December, so just count this as covering anything posted during December – and yeah, there are a couple older than that, because I worked extra hard this week to clean out my article backlog completely. And I was successful! Let’s see how long this particular New Year’s Resolution can last, but I’m starting my feedreader with a clean slate as of January 1st and hopefully can manage not to get behind on reading.
The Birdcage: How Hollywood’s Toxic Addiction to Franchises Changed Movies Forever in 2014 by Mark Harris at Grantland
This is a great piece, though it starts off covering a lot of ground that we’ve heard before (franchises are about building expectation for the next thing, etc.). Harris has a lot of insight into film history and it’s very helpful. I’ve seen a lot of people trot out the “but Hollywood has always had series, like Andy Hardy or Ma and Pa Kettle” counterargument, and he debunks that quite well. Not really an answer to this, but something to think about as a counterpoint is the surprising number of thoughtful blockbusters we had in 2014. Maybe if we’re stuck with franchises, we can at least get smarter ones?
That’s not where we are anymore. In 2014, franchises are not a big part of the movie business. They are not the biggest part of the movie business. They are the movie business. Period. Twelve of the year’s 14 highest grossers are, or will spawn, sequels.2 (The sole exceptions — assuming they remain exceptions, which is iffy — are Big Hero 6 and Maleficent.) Almost everything else that comes out of Hollywood is either an accident, a penance (people who run the studios do like to have a reason to go to the Oscars), a modestly budgeted bone thrown to an audience perceived as niche (black people, women, adults), an appeasement (movie stars are still important and they must occasionally be placated with something interesting to do so they’ll be cooperative about doing the big stuff), or a necessity (sometimes, unfortunately, it is required that a studio take a chance on something new in order to initiate a franchise). A successful franchise is no longer used to finance the rest of a studio’s lineup; a studio’s lineup is brands and franchises, and that’s it.
How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA by Jason Bailey at Flavorwire
A byproduct of the kind of franchisization Mark Harris is talking about in the article above is the loss of the midbudget, not-quite-mainstream film and the auteurs known for them.
While we weren’t looking, the mid-budget adult-oriented motion picture has all but disappeared. And the gifted directors behind them are in danger of disappearing as well. Movie wonks and box-office watchers have written and talked about the death of mid-budget filmmaking, but mostly in business terms — as opposed to personal ones, contemplating the phenomenon’s effect on the individual artists it cripples. There’s an entire constellation of cult and indie stars, filmmakers who came of age in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, who have either vanished from the current scene or are struggling to maintain a place within it. How many of that generation’s auteurs have we lost? How many great movies — how many Blue Velvets and Hairsprays and Traffics and Do the Right Things and Godfathers — are they, thanks to the current myopic model, not making?