Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bonzo Goes To Film School

Apparently Jason Apuzzo, self-styled arbiter and tireless declaimer of stereotypical "Hollywood values", has sufficiently recovered from the mauling administered by Kung Fu Monkey's John Rogers last month to show his face in public again. Saints be praised, here comes the weekly affirmation for the National Peggy Noonan Quilting Bee:

So here’s the bad news: Hollywood doesn’t need the Heartland anymore.
There’s basically no pressure for Hollywood to change what it’s doing, because there are plenty of Blue State audiences and DVD sales out there to make even something like the gender-bending “Transamerica” a hit, so long as the film doesn’t cost too much.

I’ve heard conservatives tell me for years that ‘market forces’ will eventually force Hollywood to change, become more mainstream. The argument goes something like this: Hollywood’s product will eventually become so toxic, so nakedly political, that there will eventually be a backlash’ from the public - at which point things in Tinseltown will magically change for the better.

Guess what? It ain’t happening. Hollywood simply doesn’t need the Red States any more. Hollywood’s more interested in how a film plays in Mexico or France these days than in Kansas. After all, Charles Krauthammer may hate “Syriana” - but the Germans and the Brits love it! So do the Spanish and the Italians. That’s the global economy for you - Hollywood’s now out-sourcing its audience.

Well, if Brooke Anderson's folksy pre-Oscar take on things is any indication, why on earth would Hollywood -- or for that matter, any corporate entity whose primary motive is (get this) making money -- bother with the logistics of schlepping their product into every one-stoplight podunk town, half of whom will bitch about the movie instead of seeing it in the first place, because Sean Hannity told them to? They won't see Brokeback Mountain because of "all that sex and skin". I haven't seen the movie either (but yes, I am secure enough in my masculinity/heterosexuality/whatever social construct to see it once it hits DVD), but from what I've heard there is actually very little "sex and skin". Apparently people have been led to believe the movie is non-stop ass-fucking and blowjobs. Perhaps they were thinking of Spartacus.

These folks have been preconditioned to take a negative view toward it, toward Syriana, toward whatever the potboiler movie all the conservative cranks haven't seen but know is un-American (through osmosis, presumably). They would rather continue to pretend that the benevolent Petroleum Fairy works with Jeebus to arrange for unlimited supplies of oil for us to waste, than maybe gain a little insight into the corrupt network of people working to get it here at maximum profit and political disruption.

Whatever. Frankly, I gave up on such people long ago; they don't want to be converted, and I certainly have no interest in converting them. And I have no idea why any gay Jew sodomite anal-sex-fetish anti-American pro-mass-abortion pro-homos-marrying ACLU card-carrying liberal Hollywood bastard would want to waste their time or money trying to cater to them either. You want The Sound of Music, ladies? Go rent it, then.

So yeah, you could actually concede Apuzzo's larger point to him -- Hollywood doesn't care about what the "heartland" "wants". Nor should it. It's a business, people. Guess what, Walmart doesn't give a damn about what the "heartland" "wants", either. They're just better at pretending that they do.

But obviously those terms are loaded anyway. The "heartland". The "red states". Bullshit. Most states are in fact purple, but because the "news" media thrive on manufactured conflict, they continue to portray this red state/blue state nonsense. Exactly how do a half-dozen bell-ringing biddies ranting about movies that they will never see come to represent anything more than a lame anecdote about what "heartland" "values" are? The terms are loaded before they even get used. Honest debate is pre-emptively quashed.

This is the Republican agenda writ small, people. It's straight out of Orwell. How can people have a sensible discussion about anything -- politics, culture, music, ethical values -- if the terminology has already been rendered meaningless?

There is what liberalism actually is and what people have been told that it is, over and over, day after day, year after year, by Limbaugh and the rest of the Horst Wessel gang. There is what the "heartland" is -- communities being held together by little more than duct tape and prayer, ghost towns with naught but ignorant codgers and meth addicts, outsourced and downsized and co-opted to where only retirees and small children can afford to live there without going completely insane from the lack of anything truly meaningful in terms of quality of life -- and the incessant reverential flag-waving hoo-ha we all know is coming anytime CNN sets foot in Kansas or Nebraska.

And there is what "values" are -- understanding that what makes this country truly special is that it is the only one that promises the pursuit of happiness to every individual within its borders, and trusts each individual to decide what that means to them -- and what it has come to mean, a nosy society of Gladys Kravitzes, assholes who not only don't mean well, they don't even pretend to mean well anymore. All they know is that they're perfect, and you're a threat, so they're going to infest every school board and law-making body until they've imposed their personal morality on everyone else.

There's your fucking "heartland" "values", Chief. No thanks.

All of this may be depressing to read, but here’s the good news: if the price of entry into the movie game is $5-$20 million, conservatives can play too.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” grossed over $610 million worldwide on an initial investment of only $30 million. And guess what? There’s no reason to assume that conservative productions made on even lower budgets couldn’t be successful, as well. George Lucas even said recently that the economics of ‘blockbuster’ filmmaking no longer make sense, and that Hollywood’s future is probably in making films at about the $15 million level.

Phillip Anschutz’s Walden Media turned a lot of heads in conservative circles last year by pumping about $180 million into “The Chronicles of Narnia.” It was a great, successful experiment - but you won’t see another “Narnia” until 2007 - and in the meantime Hollywood will go about its usual business, merrily bashing Bush.

Here is where Apuzzo goes off the rails. Mel Gibson does not strike me as a political conservative, but rather a social one. And he captured lightning in a bottle with Passion. That fueled a specifically religious coordination of worshippers and congregations, many of whom went to see it multiple times. Do you know why Titanic is the all-time box-office champ? Because every 14-year-old girl in America decided she had to see it as many times as possible. Repeat traffic amongst the target demo is what drives blockbusters, and that's a hard thing to pull off even for experienced film marketers. Niches are easy to exploit, but they're very difficult to turn mainstream. And Gibson himself was instrumental in that aspect of the marketing, going on every wingnut 700 Club-type show he could find, to get the word out to his target demographic. The hivemind and the media attention did most of the work for him after that.

But regardless, to reiterate, Gibson does not seem politically motivated to become a careerist "filmcon", for lack of a better term. While socially conservative and obviously quite religious, he comes off as being politically rather neutral or libertarian. That is not the same thing as these recooked Trotskyite movementarian cultists who populate the neo/theocon activist ranks, with their (extremely unconservative) mission of eternal revolution revolving around an ever-changing cast of disposable wampeters (note how they are all starting to run from their failed codpiece hero, now that the chips are down and they can no longer deny what an incompetent fool he has been all along). It is not the same thing at all.

As for Anschutz, he's a real piece of work, but I submit that Narnia succeeded precisely because it did not have any overt political agenda. For one, most people of a certain age (that is, back when Americans used to read something other than fake memoirs and D-list celeb confessionals) are familiar with the books. That transcended political and religious affiliations. Second, the movie, aside from a couple of moderate scenes of battle and peril, was geared toward children. There was a concerted effort to market the movie toward evangelical Christians, but again, that is largely orthogonal to the movie's success.

If anything, the marketing campaign was successful on that count because it reminded evangelicals of their (rather loose) connection to Lewis' profound ethical philosophies, and it also convinced them that the movie would be inoffensive to their beliefs, and that Aslan might be an acceptable analogy to the risen Christ. Fine, but when all is said and done, the bottom line is that they had to make their money back like anyone else, and they were careful to soft-pedal the implicit Christian message in their mainstream marketing efforts.

Anschutz’s $180 million could just as easily support twenty films - maybe about the War on Terror? Maybe about loopy Marxist academics? Maybe about snotty West Hollywood liberals who drive gas-guzzling SUVs? Anything’s possible.

Wouldn’t it be fun if a conservative company followed the model of Participant Productions, and pumped out a few low-budget conservative films each year? Such a company could kick-start a conservative film revolution.

You know, I have heard this stuff bandied about for years and years. Apuzzo's take on it is nothing new, he's just learned the basics on how to me-too his own little counterpart to the decadent Sundance Festival (Official slogan: "It's just like Sundance, minus the interesting, commercially viable films and the pussy."). Whoopdee-fuckin'-do. Here's the deal, sporto -- if the movies were any good, if people were clamoring to see them, they'd be out there. True story. Hollywood and its awful denizens may indeed care to some extent about pushing what ignorant stodgy curmudgeons are predisposed to assume is a "liberal" agenda (again, with all the negative false connotations they've been heavily conditioned to associate that pejorative with).

But they really do care more about making money. As Rogers points out, they're far more concerned with figuring out just how the fuck Big Momma's House 2 managed to turn almost $30 mil in its opening weekend, than worrying about what Michael Moore's next project is. Hell, by the the cons' own definition of the libs, that they're amoral and decadent, it stands to reason that the pursuit of money would indeed trump all, even boutique political causes. So what's the fuckin' problem, fake Randians?

And Apuzzo needs to really think about his own question, as regards funding conservative film projects. Why isn't it happening, like at all? Why isn't Phil Anschutz complementing his Narnia investment with some smaller fare caricaturing the lib stereotype? Why aren't the immensely wealthy religious grifters bankrolling anything bigger than crummy Kirk Cameron Left Behind movies in the nether regions of basic cable? Why haven't the oh-so-principled solons of movementarianism pooled their noble efforts and honestly-acquired wealth to give the biddies in Lebanon, Kansas -- and all the Lebanons of the vaunted "heartland" -- their fondest desire? What's stopping them?

Really, Jason, why aren't your heroes putting you and your cohorts to work? After all, if these are truly the values that represent America, and this is truly what the majority wishes to see, then it should be that magic confluence of sacred principle and practical use of capital, no?

So why aren't they doing it, champ? Does George Clooney's eeeevil reach really extend that far? Or have you just been blowing smoke up your own -- and everyone else's -- ass this whole time?


Craig Heath said...

You got that right, bro!

As usual, you hammer the bullshit (especially with that aside about "fake Randians") by pointing out yet another contradiction in the position held by these loons, regarding the Almighty Market.

The Almighty Market, when unfettered by eeeeevil regulation, is supposed to be a perfect mirror of the desires of the purchasing public. Idiots like Apuzzo are all for that, except for certain industries. He (and they) exempt "markets" like "Hollywood", because these kinds of markets are (for some unspoken reason) supposed to deliver to us what is good for us rather than what we want.

That such markets continue to deliver product that some don't want is a sign of a problem with the supplier, not the consumer. Uh-huh. And the problems with alcohol are because people make it and sell it, not because we'd make it in home-made stills and bathtubs if we had to.

Never mind that the Left Behind series is a multi-million (billion?) dollar market of books, audio tapes, children's books, annotated versions, etc. etc. etc. For some unspoken reason, millions of frightened, angry people sincerely want to be told that the bad buys (meaning you and me, Heywood), will suffer untold agony and explode like M-80-laden melons on Judgment Day. No, that is not good enough. Hollywood has to put out blockbuster movies on the topic, that every red-blooded Merkin goes to see seven times, before they will admit that the product meets the rigorous test of righteousness.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Hammer away, o ye Master of the generally unobserved obvious!

Jones said...

Yeah, that was some fuckin' rant, Hammer.

One point, which really only, at best, extends yours a bit: Right wing propagandists have made politically themed movies, and they suck.

I think powermongering is simply a fix, and a poor one at that, for people who do not have the depth of heart needed for genuine creative pursuit.

dave said...

BTW, Hollywood didn't give a shit about Michael Moore until he made two back-to-back movies that are the top-grossing documentaries ever. And I still don't see anyone offering him another "fiction" film since "Canadian Bacon" tanked.

Oddly enough, Rupert Murdoch gave Moore a weekly show on Fox after "Roger and Me" did boffo box office. It's all about the do-re-mi, wingnuts - money talks, bullshit walks.

Heywood J. said...

Yeah, I was wondering how many people would catch that "fake Randian" line. That's a big thorn in my philosophical side -- the one-percenters are happy to have taxpayer-subsidized socialism for themselves, and preach the magic of the marketplace for the proles. And people like Apuzzo are happy to help them out with that.

It's bullshit, and it takes weaselly little turds like Apuzzo to help them accomplish that goal via straw-man arguments and emotionally-charged imagery. Either he doesn't understand that he's merely a butt-boy for that rarefied class, or more likely, he's proud of that shit, like any good Kool-Aid chugger.

And Craig, you're right about what a lucrative grift the Left Behind series has been. I am genuinely surprised that no one's stepped up and bankrolled a major Hollywood trilogy based on it. If the books are any indication, they'd make huge money, too much money for the usual satanic Hollyweird bastards to just ignore.