A solid analysis of the movie business that shows why today’s movies are so bad and why Hollywood is—literally—becoming a land of make-believe.
How did Hollywood get from Gentleman’s Agreement, a trenchant, well-acted, well-written, well-directed film for adults, to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a largely computer-generated fantasy for children? Both films copped the Oscar for best picture, in 1948 and 2004, respectively, and in the intervening years, Epstein (Dossier, 1996, etc.) finds much disconcerting information about the making of movies today. Culling myriad sources in an impressive feat of reporting, Epstein first explains the machinations of Hollywood up to 1948. The scenario is familiar: Major studios made films and sent them to their theater chains; audiences filed in, and, often as not, the films showed profits. Anti-trust legislation, the end of block-booking, and the rise of television ended that successful system in the late ’40s. Business conglomerates and new moguls moved in, their formula largely derived from Disney: When Mickey Mouse and his ilk (i.e., characters that appealed to pre-teens) fail to pull in crowds, you make up the deficit with movie tie-ins—toys, T-shirts, video games, CDs, DVDs. Sell a filmic assemblage of car chases and fight scenes light on dialogue to airplanes, cable companies, and overseas markets. Get the star on magazine covers and TV talk shows, which are often owned by the film studios’ parent companies. And if Cruise, Pitt, or Kidman get difficult, create characters, entire scenes, even entire films by computer. These largely inhuman product packages make billions—and films like Gentleman’s Agreement are gone with the wind.
A compelling take that depressingly suggests movies fit more and more into a bigger picture: the age of unreality.