Monday, June 30, 2008

....more entertainment news....

by peter bart, editor-in-chief, Variety

Glance at the weekend box office numbers and the ‘big question’ pops up at you:

Does bad news mean good news to Hollywood?

The economy is plunging into a recession and millions of people are losing their homes, but folks are nonetheless lining up to spend their remaining bucks at their local megaplexes.

During the month of June, movie grosses were 17% ahead of last year, and attendance was up 14%, while revenues for the summer are running substantially ahead of last year’s record numbers.

So what’s going on here?

Are the movies that much better?

I don’t think so (although both the critics and the audiences applauded Pixar’s “Wall-E” this weekend -- a rare convergence).

What we’re seeing, I’d argue, is a need for escapism -- a recurring phenomenon going back to the Great Depression.

The war in Iraq grinds on, jobs are disappearing and as many as five or six million more families will lose their homes by year’s end, so people want to forget their cares at the movie palaces.

“We don’t wish hard times on anyone, but the cinema business does very well during challenging economic times,” John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, told Pam McClintock in this week’s Variety.

So given the need for escapism, is Hollywood coming through for its audiences?

This summer the studios are serving up a steady diet of superhero fare (ranging from “Iron Man” to “Hancock” to “The Incredible Hulk”) with a sprinkling of comedy (or wannabe comedy like “The Love Guru”).

The diet obviously is working, but it’s very narrow compared with the offerings of the past.

I don’t want to get pedantic here, but consider the spectrum of escapist entertainment offered up by Hollywood during the depression era.

In the vintage year of 1939 the studios offered up westerns like “Destry Rides Again”, musicals like “The Wizard of Oz”, comedies like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, dramas like “Wuthering Heights”, family fare like “Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever”, horror movies like “The Gorilla”, crime movies like “King of the Underworld”, chick flicks like “Bachelor Mother “--

and then there was a tentpole called “Gone with the Wind”.

I know, I know -- the studios don’t have that kind of muscle any more.

They don’t own the theaters.

They have to compete with the web and video on demand.

Nonetheless, the folks out there are crying for entertainment.

Maybe it’s time for Hollywood to widen its focus a little bit.

Given the state of the world, the studios could look like heroes if they dreamed beyond superheroes.

No comments: