Man, the elections are over. I hope Palinisms continue, though. Whatever you believe, she’s been a wonderful thing for the discourse. Fox News said she thought Africa was a country. Awesome.
SPEAKING OF POLITICS…
I was born in 1976, so my greatest awareness of cinema is of the films released since then (maybe a little bit before), but more so since I started going to the movies every weekend, something I’ve been doing – at least – since 1992. It’s easy to divide era of cinemas into both movements and decades, but I think – more than anything else – the current politics and who’s in charge plays into the mood of cinema more than any other arbitrary marker. It seems it’s been this way for quite some time, but when you look at the important films of the 1960’s and 70’s, it had everything to do with what was happening in the country.
It’s hard to say what makes the confluence. The cinema of Spielberg and Lucas seems geared toward the 80’s, but many of their seminal films came in the 70’s. Films like The Right Stuff and Blade Runner seem like the last moments of the 70’s movement, so years make it awkward to term things. Look at the appeal of Lucas and Spielberg, the desire to move past the collective grief over the failures of Vietnam, and rerouting oneself into the charms of the nuclear family of the 1950’s is very much a part of the appeal of Reagan. Though that said, Spielberg (with films like E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial, Poltergeist and his produced Back to the Future) was not uncritical of this reflexivity.
But it’s impossible to look at the films of last year, films like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood and not see the thumbprint of the current president, and cultural climate on them. It’s hard not to map many of the film that will come to define the Bush era through cinema, from films like Revenge of the Sith, Munich, The Village, or the preponderance of Superhero films as directly connected to the Bush regime.
It’s easiest to compare Clinton to Bush, simply because both were two-termers, and if one is to compare the era of Clintonian cinema to Bush cinema, let’s look at what arch-typifies both. Please note, this thesis requires that films made up to and including two years after leaving office, and generally the first two years of office are more in line with that president. That is to say, I think Clinton’s impact on cinema was more from 1994-2002, and Bush’s will be from 2002-2010. Just as I would say the Reagan era was from 1982-1994, as Bush I is something of a continuation.
For Clinton, the defining cinematic movement was that toward independent cinema, and the commercialization of it. Though those seeds had been planted for quite some time, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the smaller films by the likes of Spike Lee or Jim Jarmusch, or Steven Soderberg really started to take hold. But with Clinton in office, the Miramax label, and all the independent offshoots began to bloom. This created a cottage industry that also catered to art house fare, and so more foreign films were crossing over, from Kieslowski to Life is Beautiful. This also tied into the economy, when a culture is flush, and things are prospering, it’s much easier for people to take chances on things they don’t like. Whereas for the last couple years, we’ve seen films that either connect or don’t. There’s little middle ground.
With Clinton we also saw action films where the main villain was often mother nature – like Armageddon – or something vaguely middle Eastern (as in True Lies), though sometimes Soviets were brought back out of retirement to stir the pot. We were in a time between America having a true foe, so science running amuck had a comeback, and so did aliens and natural disasters. Often the villain was an America who turned bad (Mission: Impossible, Eraser, Ransom, The Rock). We also saw the rise of CGI just as America was accepting that no modern home was complete without Internet access. As CGI rose, so did home computer usage. Dark and depressing films were so rare that a film like Se7en could strike a nerve by not only being clever, but by being truly bleak. Quentin Tarantino may have rode the zeitgeist with a neo-noir, but Pulp Fiction was anything but nihilistic. The new art wave – which also included the rise of gay cinema – was a happy one, and so films like The Daytrippers or Good Will Hunting made the art-house friendly.
The defining paradigm shift of the Bush era of cinema is the rise of DVD. Though the format began reaching consumers in 1997, it wasn’t until the release of The Matrix, and a number of hot button titles (like Gladiator) made watching films at home more than just something you did when there was something good on HBO. More people started having libraries, and the format grew exponentially as low price points made shoppers indiscriminate.
But what happened was the art house product began to dry up.- strangely the last year of huger breakout art-house hits seems to have been 2004. With marketing budgets and opening weekends taking precedence, platforming has become a sucker’s bet (it still works here and there). Part of this is piracy, but part of it is economy, and the insta-reactions that are now available via the internet. We’ve seen arise in superheroes, which ties into the black and white imagery the current regime has used to describe our foes, but also, you’ve seen that grown more and more corrupted (with The Dark Knight, and next with Watchmen). Bleakness returned, and bleakness was commercial, though never when it was directly about bleak subject matters (see the Iraq war films or W. for that matter).
Ultimately cinema does not happen in a vacuum, and you don’t have to watch the last fifteen minutes of Spider-Man to note that cinema reacts to the moments that change our world. A president is merely a figurehead in some respects, he may help change currents, but he is not without the people he answers to, and it’s just as easy to suggest that no matter who the person was in charge, certain things would happen. The nature of history, of living in the present is that the unknown X factor to which this discussion relies is unremovable, though. Or, that is to say (can you tell I was a philosophy major?) you can suggest that if if 9/11 didn’t happen that Spielberg might not have made War of the Worlds, but both things happened. To completely rip the legs out from under this discussion. But all things correlate.
Which brings us to this last Tuesday. The effects of the election on this country, and what America is are not quantifiable yet. But regardless of how things go down, there will be a sea change in cinema by 2010, that I don’t think will have anything to do with the new decade. It’ll be interesting to see what that is.
PLEASE DON’T STOP THE, PLEASE DON’T STOP THE PREDICTIONS
Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa opens this weekend. The first film made a lot of money. This has the Fall slot. some are projecting over $50 for the weekend. I am going to low-ball it. Why? Because Bee Movie didn’t open that big, and I don’t think the original is all that beloved. It came out at a time where CGI was still fresh enough that people would go to anything. The ceiling on this picture is $200, but I don’t think it will have the word of mouth of a film like Kung Fu Panda – which is actually good, by the by – so I would place it in the $120 Million range. The only thing that might make me wrong is the paucity of competition, and a very weak December.
Role Models is also hitting. I love David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer, and I enjoyed this. I would like to see David Wain work more, so I recommend this rather okay to good film. but regardless, it’s ceiling has to be $15 for the weekend, and it’ll more likely be around $10. Again, since there’s no real R rated competition for a while, this could coast respectably. The other picture opening is Soul Men. When Brandon Lee died – or for that matter Heath Ledger – the macabre nature of the roles intensified curiosity. Bernie Mac was in a comedy, and though people might want to see his last film, his death may work against the film’s chances. Expect another weak release from The Weinstein Company, and with this Christmas looking bleak for them, perhaps the folding of TWC by first quarter of next year. High School Musical and Zack and Miri should round out the top slots, but both will be hanging on.
Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone:
1. Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa - $39.5 Million
2. Role Models – $13.5 Million
3. Soul Men $7.6 Million
4. High School Musical 3: Zitsapoppiin! – $7.5 Million
5. Zack and Miri End Kevin Smith’s Career – $5 Million
Do you think Rosario Dawson feels bad that Eagle Eye is wiping the floor with Zack and Miri? I doubt it. See you Sunday.