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The Secret of Failure

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Lately a lot of followers of Hollywood have been writing “Why did it fail?” type articles, mostly about John Carter, but also about other films and TV shows. For example, Patrick Goldstein at The Big Picture brings together John Carter, Hugo, Luck, and Terra Nova, all “failures” in Hollywood terms. Luck, for example, drew “only” 500,000 viewers for its last episode. (Guess those half million people don’t count for much. I certainly wouldn’t want to fight them, even with John Carter-like powers.)

In any case, all of these autopsies are flying in the dark. They have no idea what really happened. They have no idea why these shows flopped. But I do know why John Carter, Hugo, Luck, and Terra Nova failed. It begins with Alan Moore. Remember why Watchmen, the film, flopped? Of course, you do. It’s because Alan Moore put a curse on it. Well, remembering Moore’s success, I thought that if it worked for Moore, maybe it will work for me.  I suppose most people would have dismissed the idea as pure pipedream. After all, Moore is a bona fide magician, while I have not practiced magic since at least ten. Nevertheless, I went ahead with my experiment. I cursed them all. I cursed Carter, Hugo, Luck. And I especially cursed Terra Nova. (Sorry, Tristan.)

The results speak for themselves. Therefore, I heartily recommend cursing to everyone.

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Written by pronountrouble2

March 22, 2012 at 10:22 am

Best Comment on Before Watchmen

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DC Comics is publishing a “prequel” to the famous graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wich was published in 1986-87. They are calling it Before Watchmen. A lot of people are against the idea. The main issue is said to be that of creator’s rights. Moore’s and Gibbon’s contract stated that the copyright to Watchmen would revert to them when the work went out of print. There was no expectation that the work would not go out of print and thus there was no feeling that something more specific needed to be put into the contract which would have specified when the work would go out of print. Unfortunately for Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen proved to be very popular and DC has seen to it that the work has never gone out of print. While DC has acted strictly according to the letter of the contract, it cannot be said that they have acted in accord with its spirit.

The passage below is the best commentary I’ve seen on Before Watchmen, apropos the creator’s rights issue, and it doesn’t even mention the comic. It’s an excerpt from Joshua Glenn’s book, The Idler’s Glossary, posted today at hilobrow.com:

ALIENATION

Marxist theory explains that alienation is a systematic result of wage slavery. Deprived of the opportunity to conceive of themselves as authors of their own destinies, deciders of their own actions, and owners/users of the value created by their work, workers in a capitalist social order are alienated from:

1. the work they produce

2. from working itself (which, in a factory setting, tends to be an interminable sequence of repetitive, trivial, and meaningless motions — as parodied by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times and Lucille Ball in the I Love Lucy chocolate factory episode)

3. from themselves as producers (an important aspect of human nature, or “species-being”)

4. from each other

Moore and Gibbons, when it comes to Watchmen, are mere wage slaves, JUST LIKE THE REST OF US. The privilege of being exploited is not reserved for the few. It’s a right guaranteed for all. I’ve written about this before here and here.

Written by pronountrouble2

February 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Is Copyright Democratic?

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It’s unlikely that if everyone in the world were to suddenly wake up to find themselves in a world where their opinion mattered, one of their opinions would favor copyright law. Why? Because copyright is not democratic. The first copyrights originated from Kings and Queens, and have continued to be used by elites to maintain their power ever since.

Here’s how it works:

1. Copyrights create artificial monopolies.

2. The monopolies use their power to create artificial scarcities.

3. Scarcity leads to prices that are higher than they would otherwise be.

4. Higher prices restrict access.

5. Access is restricted to those who can afford access, which leaves most people on Planet Earth out in the cold.

6. Given such a situation, theft and piracy are inevitable.

7. The best way to combat piracy is to make copyright laws democratic.

8. Good luck with that!

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

If you are against piracy from the perspective of so-called creator rights, you should also be for full employment and a living wage as the minimum wage. Wage earners cannot buy the creators’ stuff if they don’t have the money. Of course, if wages increase, prices will increase. So the only way to make a wage increase effective is to put price controls in place. In other words, it’s an economic justice issue which should be looked at from the perspective of what’s best for society as a whole, not just a small group of individuals or corporations.

We need to come up with an unbiased system that works for everyone, not just an elite, and enables everyone access to all information with equal ease, regardless of economic standing.

Written by pronountrouble2

January 18, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Are they serious?

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Kubrick’s The Killing: Why Do They Shoot the Horse?

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Why does the plot of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White) hinge on the shooting of a horse? It’s presumably because they expect a horse that falls during a race to create a big commotion and distract everyone while they rob the track. Whoever came up with this plot either had no idea what goes on at the racetrack, or thought that most people reading the book or watching the movie would be clueless.

The truth is that horses break down during races all the time and that something akin to the showbiz ethos, “the show must go on,” operates. Don’t believe me? Here’s what a columnist in Today’s Racing Digest had to say about Vic Stauffer, the race caller at Hollywood Park, when he failed to adhere to this ethos:

He’s taken us to the precipice often in the past, but this time Vic Stauffer went right over the edge. His call for Thursday’s Hollywood Prevue Stakes was the last straw, not to mention a flagrant violation of the neutrality code and professional ethics that announcers from coast to coast have lived up to for nearly a century. (Source.)

What was Stauffer’s sin? When a horse broke down during the race, he had the gall to say, “Galex has pulled up. It doesn’t look good for Galex. Darn it.”

Like I said, horses break down practically every day during a thoroughbred race somewhere in North America, and practically nobody bats an eye. It makes no difference whether the horse is the favorite, as is the case in the film, or a longshot. This is why the plot of The Killing appears to be hatched by people who never set foot on a racetrack in their life. If they had, they would know that most of the people at the track were inured to the tragic consequences of the Sport of Kings long ago. These people accept break downs as part of the game. Thanks to this attitude, the killing in The Killing was doomed the moment someone came up with the idea that shooting a horse at a racetrack would create a stir. Would there be any reaction at all? Sure. Bettors with losing tickets on the fallen horse would be angry as hell, perhaps even shouting “boo!,” as they tore up their tickets and marched towards the exit.

Written by pronountrouble2

December 30, 2011 at 11:53 am

Posted in Are they serious?, Films

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Edgar Wright Programs the New Beverly Cinema (Again); Or Why Ignorance is Hip

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Edgar Wright, New Beverly Cinema film programmer

Edgar Wright has announced the films that will be shown as part of  The Wright Stuff III: Movies Edgar has Never Seen, at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.

Here is the schedule:

Friday, Dec. 9: Rock & Roll All Nite
7:30 PM – The Girl Can’t Help It (suggested by Joe Dante and John Landis)
9:40 PM – Get Crazy (suggested by Quentin Tarantino)

Saturday, Dec. 10: Stone Face vs. Little Tramp vs. Uncle Claude
7:00 PM – Steamboat Bill, Jr. (suggested by Judd Apatow)
8:40 PM – Modern Times (suggested by Bill Hader)
10:40 PM – The Bank Dick (suggested by Judd Apatow)

Sunday, Dec. 11: Far Out & Far East
7:00 PM – The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (suggested by Harry Knowles)
9:00 PM – Kwaidan (suggested by Guillermo Del Toro and John Landis)

Monday, Dec. 12: The New Romantics
7:30 PM – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (suggested by Edgar Wright)
9:30 PM – Chungking Express (suggested by Quentin Tarantino, Bill Hader, Greg Mottola, and Daniel Waters)

Tuesday, Dec. 13: Rise and Fall and Rise and…
7:30 PM – White Heat (suggested by Edgar Wright)
9:55 PM – Throne of Blood (suggested by John Landis)

Wednesday, Dec. 14: Farewell John, Hello Sam
7:30 PM – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (suggested by John Landis)
10:00 PM – Ride the High Country (suggested by Joe Dante)

Thursday, Dec. 15: Hangdog & Underdog
7:30 PM – To Be or Not to Be (suggested by John Landis and Joe Dante)
9:40 PM – The Bad News Bears (suggested by Bill Hader and Doug Benson)

Friday, Dec. 16: Noir is the New Black
7:30 PM – Hickey & Boggs (suggested by Quentin Tarantino and Daniel Waters)
9:50 PM – Cutter’s Way (suggested by Daniel Waters)

For what it’s worth, here are my comments.

1. If the fates were kinder, I’d be in the front row for every program, despite having seen most of the films. It’s a nice list.

2. On his blog, Wright said:

I hope in my time I have never chastised anyone for not seeing a movie. Neither am I a big fan of the phrase “I can’t believe you haven’t seen…” accompanied by an exaggerated expression of surprise… I basically believe that you can’t be late to a party if the party never stops.

I’m sure I’m not the only one whose first thoughts upon seeing the above program is exactly what Wright says he doesn’t take kindly to, that is, I thought, “I can’t believe Wright hasn’t seen…” Wright’s attitude  is not unique. In fact, nowadays it seems that most people, instead of being slightly embarrassed, consider it  to be more of a badge of honor to be able to say something like,  “I’ve never seen Citizen Kane or 2001,” but is it really what we want to hear coming out of the mouth of a film director who is now into his third round of programming for a major film revival theater? Personally, I’d rather see a program of films not seen by someone who has more film buff cred that Wright, for example, someone such as Martin Scorsese or even Tarantino himself, whose name is attached to the only two films on the list I have not seen, Get Crazy and Hickey & Boggs.

3. Does anyone else think that the way this program was put together was a bit unusual? First, Wright announced his intention of putting together a program of films he had not seen, then asked fans to suggest films without knowing what films he had not seen. In any case, the majority of films were suggested by fans. Yet, somewhat mysteriously, or perhaps not so mysteriously, the final program is made up exclusively of films suggested by Mr. insert-famous-person-here. Every film. No exceptions. Perhaps it’s simply that “suggested by fan x” will not sell as many tickets as “suggested by Mr. Famous Person?” (It should be pointed out that the “suggested by” tag does not appear on the New Beverly site’s official calendar.) But then why involve fans in the process at all?

UPDATE 1/16/12

With regard to my second point above, here’s another example of what I mean by ignorance being a kind of badge of honor nowadays:

The above excerpt is from the website Comics and…Other Imaginary Tales, part of its monthly review of comics featured in the Diamond Previews catalog of upcoming comics and related merchandise.

Note what Jim says: “I have no clue about who Chip Kidd is…”

Note what Gwen says: “I’ve never heard of him either *shrug*.”

Chip Kidd may not be known to these nitwits, but he is nevertheless a well known book designer and writer. His work includes books on Peanuts, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel, and Batman. (All books in my library, as they should be in theirs.) You would think that anyone who poses as a comics expert,  to the extent that they offer monthly opinions on what’s worth buying, would know who Kidd is, or at least google him. Perhaps you will say that I’m making much ado about nothing. Unfortunately, these comments are not only not unique faux pas for this site, they are representative of an attitude that extends far beyond Comics and…. This is an attitude which leads people to think, “If I don’t know who or what someone or something is, it’s not my fault. If I don’t know, it must not be important. If it was important, I would know.”

Nowadays, ignorance is not just bliss. It’s hip!

UPDATE: April 25, 2012

“Gwen” is still out there:

Gwen says, “I’m not even sure who Wally Wood is.”

I say, I’m trying really hard to believe that she’s not representative of  all people out there in internet land.

Written by pronountrouble2

November 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Bad Movies?

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Affection for the detritus of the media takes many forms. After watching too many campus simpletons (both students and profs) laugh mockingly at Fritz Lang and John Woo movies, I’m opposed to condescension. I suspect Camp in its disdainful form. I don’t like people demonstrating their sense of superiority to the trash their parents and grandparents enjoyed. Knowingness leaves you with nothing. —David Bordwell

I couldn’t agree more with David Bordwell (I wrote about some of my own encounters with unappreciative audiences here, although you probably should not read it if you fall into that category.)

A lot of us possess a need to feel superior to somebody else, and some of us need to feel superior to everyone else. Much of our humor comes down to us laughing at someone else because we feel superior to them. Currently popular, Ayn Rand’s philosophy is based on the idea that some people are just better than others. The need to be superior even finds expression in The Incredibles: “When everyone is special, no one is special.”

This is humor at the service of the status quo, but it’s nothing new. It’s easy to imagine aristocrats assembled in the salon laughing till it hurts as they tell jokes at the expense of their servants. It works the other way as well, with servants telling each other jokes in which their masters appear foolish and stupid. Some of the most popular comedies in ancient Roman were about slaves who bested their masters. These jokes tell us that despite actual circumstances, we are the superior ones.

So it’s no surprise when many of us, most of whom have not even attempted to make a film, find it so easy to laugh at certain kinds of movies, that which we call “bad.” Of course, we don’t always all agree on whether a movie is bad. I remember watching the Douglas Sirk directed version of Magnificent Obsession at MOMA during a Sirk retrospective. Half the audience was laughing, but the other half was yelling at them, through their tears, to shut up. This half of the audience took the film 100% seriously, seeing nothing funny about it.

But what exactly are we laughing at when we laugh at a film that was not made for our laughter? A post on She Blogged by Night about, what else?, Plan Nine from Outer Space, provides some examples. The blogger asks what can be done to “fix” the movie, for it definitely needs fixing, as we all know. What, exactly, needs fixing? Here’s her list:

  1. Casting: Lugosi’s double doesn’t even look like him.
  2. Set dressing: That shower curtain in the cockpit? Belongs in a shower!
  3. Writing:  Needed an editor to cut, cut cut.
  4. Editing: Was there any?
  5. Special effects: Hubcaps as UFO’s. Gimme a break!
  6. Acting: Don’t get me started!
  7. Etc. Let’s just leave it at that and go back to laughing at poor, inept Ed Wood, Jr.

So that’s She Blogged By Night’s take on Plan 9. What’s the common element of these all too familiar complaints? Judging the film according to the standards of Hollywood film studio verisimilitude. If a set is supposed to be a cockpit, it damn well better look like the real thing. If a hubcap is supposed to be a UFO, we better not see the string it’s dangling from. It’s not enough that we know what it’s supposed to represent. It’s necessary that it look the part 100%. It should look so real that we are not reminded that we’re actually watching a film until the credits roll. It’s hard to believe that in Japan a form of puppet theater developed in which no attempt is made to hide the people manipulating the puppets, let alone make everything look real. In fact, according to Noël Burch in To the Distant Observer (download the book in pdf form here), even Japanese film has a tradition in which the filmmakers do not aim for maximum realism or naturalism. But that’s Japan. Hollywood’s where the real filmmaking action is, right?

So, who benefits from this approach. Certainly not the guy down the street who dreams of being a filmmaker. If an audience expects the film to look “real,” it’s going to cost more. Heaven forbid that you do what Ed Wood did and skimp on production value. Therefore, you’d better have money, lots of money. In fact, you’d better have even more than lots. In short, it’s this attitude, of constantly demanding greater and greater verisimilitude, that makes it next to impossible to compete with companies that do have lots of money, namely the Hollywood film studios.

Meanwhile, the ones who are truly laughing are the people who are lucky enough to run the Hollywood studios. They are laughing all the way to the bank. Sure, they have to spend more, a lot more, but they’ve killed off their most of their competition. They have long since conditioned most of their audiences to laugh at movies that don’t have Hollywood’s kind of verisimilitude. But it was not always this way. People did not always laugh at Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession the way I saw them do at MOMA. The fact that the standards of Hollywood verisimilitude are always changing means that future audiences will never be able to look back at the films of yesteryear with the same eyes as those films’ contemporary audiences.

Many of the earliest films used painted sets and no one thought to apologize for it, and audiences did not think to laugh at it. For example, the original audiences for Georges Méliès’ Voyage À Travers L’Imposible did not rush to the boxoffice to demand their money back after watching this train wreck:

My suggestion for anyone who feels that Plan Nine from Outer Space needs to be “fixed” is this: the easiest way to fix this film, or any other film that does not measure up to the standards of Hollywood verisimilitude, is to imagine that the film begins with a message similar to this:

Remember when you were kids and you would make-believe that you were cowboys and robbers? You used nothing but sticks for horses. Filmmaking is only make-believe, folks.  What difference does it make if you spend a million dollars or one dollar, as long as you get that it’s supposed to be a friggin’ plane cockpit?

We had a ton of fun making this film and I hope you have fun watching it.

Whatever happened to our sense of play?

Written by pronountrouble2

November 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Frank Miller, Politics, and Entertainment

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Everyone’s talking about what Frank Miller has to say about the Occupy Movement. If you don’t know what he said, read about it here.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. How likely is it that Miller’s screed is not an honest, authentic op-ed, but instead a bit of PR? That is,  he did it  to bring attention to himself and his new book. If so, mission accomplished!

2. Miller was and still is a Libertarian. Some people seem to be shocked by his “turn to the right.” But he hasn’t made any turn because he’s been traveling the same road for a long time.

3. Libertarianism is the philosophy of the 1%, just as Ayn Rand is the philosopher of the 1%. Miller identifies with the 1%. In fact, technically, he probably is a one percenter.

4. Here’s what Grant Morrison says in Supergods about The Dark Knight Returns:

Frank Miller brought the Dark Age style into line with a newly confident right-leaning America. His monumental Batman was no bleeding-heart liberal but a rugged libertarian. (Supergods p. 190) (I wrote more about Morrison’s book here.)

The casualness with which Morrison locates Miller’s work on the ideological spectrum contrasts with the apolitical attitude of many, if not most, Americans. For example, here’s what Tom Spurgeon says, in his post about Miller’s rant:

I am more grateful than usual this morning to have grown up reading comics without ever having to be exposed to, say, Don McGregor’s rants against Gerald Ford signing the Helsinki Accords. Or whatever, I mean, come on. Yuck.” (Source.)

Does Spurgeon sound like a Yahoo, or is it just me? However, the point is that his attitude is typical.

5. Learning how to see the political messages in all works of entertainment is a form of empowerment. It’s like waking up with Superman’s X-ray vision, or finding the glasses used by the heroes of John Carpenter’s They Live. A book that will help you acquire this super power is Peter Biskind’s Seeing is Believing. Here’s how Biskind describes it on his site:

Samuel Goldwyn is usually credited with the phrase, “If you have a message, call Western Union,” which was gospel in Hollywood for decades. But there are messages and there are messages. It is the contention of this book that all films carry messages, overtly or not. Seeing Is Believing examines Hollywood films of the 1950s that everybody saw but nobody really looked at, classics such as Giant, On the Waterfront, Rebel Without a Cause, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Blackboard Jungle, and so on, and shows how movies that appear to be politically innocent—westerns, weepies, science fiction movies—in fact bear an ideological burden.

Why not read the book and become a superhero today?

If you are too busy to read the book, Jim Hoberman, film critic for the Village Voice, covers some of the same ground in “The Fascist Guns in the West” in Radical America Vol. 19 No. 6, p. 53. Download it here.

UPDATE (11/18/15):

In a recent interview Frank Miller confirms that he is a libertarian:

People often think it’s a conservative screed. But Ronald Reagan is literally a villain in the story! That interpretation has never made sense to me.
Especially since I’m not a conservative. I’m a libertarian.