Whilst watching Ghostbusters (1984) on Esquire TV the other night, I came to a peculiar conclusion.
Hollywood ain’t so bad.
There’s recently been a lot of talk about this American movie-churner-outer and the quality of its productions. That somehow, the world of foreign films is a more satisfying land. That Hollywood has had its share of exceptions, but the norm is utter junk.
I’m not a big fan of garbage. I’ve seen plenty of it on the big screen. Yet it hasn’t been relegated to major studio productions. Nor is it solely the domain of the United States. Anyone who’s sampled Night Watch (2004) knows this.
And I want to confess something. I liked The Hunger Games (2012) a lot, and I’m damn proud of it. Oh, and I sure as hell enjoyed it more than the horrid indie Birds of America (2008).
The fact is, Hollywood is an institution. Sure it sometimes vomits slush. But there’s a reason it’s so big. It produces popular entertainment – much of which is actually, well, entertaining.
Confession No. 2: I really, really like The Golden Child (1986), one of the most underrated, little praised big-budget fantasies of the 1980s.
The question is, what makes a Hollywood movie? Can it be formulaic? Sure. Is there a mass-produced recipe for every genre? Quite probably.
Yet is that any different from what goes on in any large studio around the world? Hells no.
My third confession: I enjoyed Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) about as much as I loved Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture (2010). Which is to say: not at all.
See the pattern? Big-budget Hollywood dross isn’t just produced in Hollywood. And small-scale indies aren’t always high quality.
There are always exceptions. Scores of them. Still, if we have so many, why can’t we be more accepting? With movies like Duck Soup (1933), shouldn’t we be OK with the crap as long as we get a gem like that?
I am. And I’m not gonna decry Hollywood for wanting to make money if it once in a while churns out a real classic.
Truffaut, Bergman, Kurosawa, Eisenstein – none of them was an average director. You could make the argument that Eisenstein and Kurosawa were big-studio helmsmen, but I’m not going to come out and say that Bergman’s movies would be as widely accepted as, say, the Twilight series (2008-oh, who knows?), despite their vaunted presence in the cinematic canon. Death’s persona in The Seventh Seal (1957) is popular culture. But it’s not the popular kid in school, you get my drift? Few people are gonna watch that on TV over The Hunger Games when press comes to remote.
Should we blame them for that? I’m not going to.
Some things are easy to like. Hollywood knows this. So it produces easy-to-like products. A spoonful of sugar, right? Puts the philosophy on the back burner, unless it’s explained in full. That way, it can reach more, accepting people.
Do I necessarily love all the stuff that’s produced from this factory? Nope. But I don’t love everything produced from other factories either, no matter how big or small they may be. And sometimes these factories give us greatness.
Fourth confession: I’d rather watch Avatar (2009) any day of the week over Persona (1966).
I’m not a Hollywood apologist. Nor am I some sort of flunky. I just like good movies. And believe it or not, sometimes big studios make them. Sometimes they’re even better than what the small studios produce. Sometimes they’re even better than (gasp!) their foreign equivalents.
Sometimes they’re not. It’s a big country, however, and slop is going to be distributed. Just like in baseball: for every Mike Trout there’s a thousand Steve Trouts. It’s just that way. Exceptions will always be exceptions.
Yet we still like baseball, right? And we’ll still watch someone hit a home run off a mediocre pitcher, no?
That’s why we muddle through the dreck to get to the good stuff. Because there’s always a chance to get quality, that golden needle in the haystack. You can’t dismiss a whole enterprise because it’s trying to make money. Everyone does the same thing. And it’s a rare director who wants to spend his or her entire life struggling for financing in the small world after all when the big time could be achieved. Does that mean filmmakers are selling their souls for money? Me, I don’t think so. I think, like everyone, they’re looking for better opportunities.
So let us not reject big-studio productions. Let us instead embrace them – at least, the ones that are good. And let’s condemn junk wherever it may come from without blasting the genre itself. We can still enjoy Stolen Kisses (1968) and The Virgin Spring (1960). That doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), as well, though. Or anything else with a budget of more than 25 bucks if it’s done well enough.
My final confession: I adore The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002).
OK. Some things, perhaps, are better left unsaid.