So Batman, breaking records. Like Shaun in Shaun of the Dead. Breaking the Batdance.
THE END OF AUTONOMY
In some ways it began with the absorption of New Line. WIP, AKA Warner Independent (oxymoron? You decide), and Picturehouse were then folded in. Paramount Vantage has been scrambled like eggs. Vantage, which released No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Babel, Into the Wild. Those guys. Tartan closed its doors. Universal’s adjunct Rogue got folded in. Et Cetera, et cetera. Peter Cetera (I am a man who will fight for your honor). The Weinstein’s, the crowned princes of independent, gave up Miramax to Disney. Miramax has had some success (The Queen), but both it and TWC are shadows of their former glory. Noses were cut to spite faces. And when you talk about the Indie hits of the summer, you’re talking about the Per Screen of The Wackness, and The Visitor.
But, as always, you have to go back to the beginning. Theatrical distribution always had their adjuncts, partly to handle the international films that were deemed to niche to be put out by the likes of a major. Minor studios could be made by these releases, if they worked their shoe leather. But it was a small business, and were also trafficking in the foreign in a way that modern films have also benefited from. Or that is to say, what HBO calls Adult Content. There were always crossover hits, sensations, but with box office reporting what it was back in the day, these films were released in a clandestine manner, and – likely – most of the money was staying in the local distributors pockets. Both parties were cool with that usually, as an up front fee was the way to go (and with dubbing or subtitling needed, it was never a sure thing).
Cut to the late 80’s, and Harvey Weinstein started figuring out how to run game on the Oscar crowd. With some savvy plays he was able to really forge a presence for independent cinema in a way that John Casavettes, or Orson Welles ever could. Then again, he made very easily digestible films with a pedigree of class. With the emergence of Sundance, and with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the idea of a nearly-DIY cinema – along with the new voices of black and gay cinema, you had a movement. A movement that is now dead.
but at the time, it was a minor sensation, and like anything that attracts an audience, the studios were all too willing to co-opt this. And so most majors got their own branches of mini-majors. Places like those mentioned above, and Fox Searchlight. USA Films, Artisan. Sony Pictures Classics. Et Cetera, et cetera. Peter Cetera. The base readings for this, as much as any movement, or anything like that is economics, and the cultural mood. With the rise of internet, and with the dot com bubble and a general sense of the Cold War being over, multi-culturalism and an interest in the smaller made sense. It’s much easier to try something new when you have more disposable income, and when something foreign is not threatening. That’s not to say Bela Tarr became a household name, or that John Woo or Roberto Benigni were making films that weren’t essentially American in their core. But indie theaters could do strong and steady business, and audiences might take chances on a film with subtitles or an arty pedigree if they heard about it enough. But with the studio’s interest came competition, and so many of the smaller studios did not get their pickk of the litter. Miramax ran this game both ways, as they’d sometimes bid up, and sometimes buy things to put in their closet. And studios would sometimes do the legwork, but it all depended on if they believed in it, had faith in the release, thought it might net some Oscar attention. If they weren’t sure, then a cursory release was acceptable, because – shit, these films were cheap in studioese.
Then came the dot com bubble burst, DVD and collapsed released windows, an election, and an attack on American soil. Quickly there was less money, more immediate access to cinema, and new senses of patriotism and xenophobia. And as much as the co-optioning of Independent cinema from the Indie studios hurt, with people without the pocket change to take chances, with a cultural sense that there is an us and them, and with a pervasive attitude of fear and contempt those voices have withered up. That’s not to say there aren’t still independents, but the crossover success requires gentle nurturing and one hell of a hook. As Devin left Sundance this year, the films that were hits were the ones bought to be remade. You can point to Juno, or Little Miss Sunshine, but their status as indie pictures is tenuous to say the least. And that filmmakers sold their pictures to the studios (often to make a picture and then get fucked off), and often then sold out makes the art of smuggling a rare gift. One that Christopher Nolan seems to have in spades. But he’s one of the lucky ones (and most talented).
There was an attitude, best personified by Kurt Cobain in the early 90’s, about the desire to not sell out, that it meant the end. But the way the industry has shuffled, selling out is the only option to stay working – at least in this industry. But, also, in that time, there was the luxury of not selling out. That’s not a luxury modern filmmakers can afford until they’ve already sold out.
There is always hope and prosperity around the corner, and it should be no surprise that as the country charts a recession that smaller industries suffer the most. If things turn around, if they do, in two or three years, this bitter fruit may yet turn ripe. Or, as Notorious B.I.G. might suggest, “Juicy.” And if you don’t know, now you know. But now more than ever, indies need help. Lots of help.
SHE’S-A, RECORD-BREAKER, LOVE-TAKER, DON’T YOU MESS AROUND WITH ME (DRE)
Guess who’s got the #1 slot this weekend without guessing? Guess… don’t guess! Why aren’t you guessing?
Even if Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight took a 70% drop, that’s still $47 Million, which would put it within spitting distance of $300 Million, which would mean that likely – by next Thursday – it would be the #1 film of the year. That’s a 70% drop, and you know that shit ain’t happening.
Adam McKay’s Step Brothers opens Friday, and should prove to be some counter-programming, while the word on X-Files: Don’t Stop Believing is so toxic-toxic that it will likely be a Friday picture. Who but the faithful they say? Still, even with Ferrell’s rep somewhat tarnished by the stink of Semi-Pro, if the film delivers enough, it should do well, and this was better marketed, and looked more appealing from the outset.
You don’t have to be beautiful, to rule my world:
1. The Dark Knight - Two Dollars
2. Step Brothers - $25.7 Million
3. X-Files 2 - $16.9 Million
4. Mamma Mia – $16.8 Million
5. Journey to the Center of Pearth - $7.3 Million
I’ll return Sunday, if I don’t have to go to Comic-Con. I made a promise. To an old friend. With Bats going into the weekend nearing $240, I would not bat an eye if the film crossed into $300 Million by Saturday’s end. I would guestimate around 80 for the weekend, simply because it’s half. But, with many people holding off for a week – simply because of the nuttery surrounding last weekend, that’s like having to wait a week to fuck your girlfriend. Those people aren’t going to patient, so they may say “fuck it, even if the shit’s crazy” (and trust me, it will still be a bit nuts). Hitting a second weekend century mark seems out of the question, but… $90 is not. Even with Nerd Prom this weekend.