Stephen Spielberg And The Inevitable Death Of Hollywood

‘Tis often said that evil contains the seeds of its own destruction, and so appears to be the case with Hollywood – if the plaintive cries of some of its most acclaimed talents are to be believed.

First it was Stephen Soderbergh telling anyone who would listen that he’s done with Hollywood because ‘they’ passed on his new Liberace biopic for being too gay.

And now, as you may be aware, noted clairvoyants Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas are reported to have predicted a hellish post-apocalypse for mankind.   That’s right, folks, punters are to be forced to spend inflation busting sums ($25! $50!) for the privilege of watching Iron Man 12: The Search For Rust Guard and the third reboot of the Twilight saga.

The plus side is that our sages reckon films like Lincoln will be cheaper than now except that 1) no they absolutely won’t and 2) you won’t be seeing them at the multiplex because they’ll all be on HBO.

All it will take is for a few tentpoles to detumesce in quick succession, they didn’t quite say at an opening for a brand spanking new complex at the University of Southern California recently.  For film students.

But, dear reader, the dire warnings get worse – after a couple of these monsters of cock have failed to rise, the industry itself will implode becoming even more conservative than it is already.  And more expensive as fewer studios are forced to bet the bottom line on cinematic Viagra (like they do already).  Survival of the dickest, as Darwin certainly wouldn’t have put it.

But that’s probably enough penis jokes to last a lifetime.

Strewn throughout this irradiated landscape will be unemployed directors.  Even a predilection towards lens flare and jump cutting might spark the pique of the McArthyite blacklist marked ‘unprofitably interested in something other than bombs and boobs’.

In other words, we’d best get used to this brave new world lest the culture shock of every film being a sub-Bruckheimer special kills us.  As is painfully obvious, the only accolade that matters is the one marked ‘box office’.

But we’ve been here before, right?

“Sell the kids for food,” sang Kurt Cobain longer ago than you might care to admit.  By the end of the decade some irresponsible and impecunious types were perhaps more likely to sell the kids for CDs as prices rocketed.  1999 was a record breaking year for the music industry.

And then the internet proved to be something more than a faddy flash in the pan for basement-bound 30 year old virgins, and a complacent, deeply conservative industry was brought to its knees.

Something similar is happening with publishing as the industry diversifies in the face of an old, arrogant business model being undermined in part by its own inability to adapt to change and new threats to its profit margin.

The old top down model in which a group we’ll label ‘facilitators’ dictate what can and can’t be served upon a weeping public is clearly no longer the only game in town.

The likes of Spielberg warning putative directors that they won’t get work, because even the big dogs are struggling, is valid of course.  But it’s hard to escape the suspicion that what they mean is that they’re finding it harder to get away with the budget and level of creative control to which they’re used in the same environment they’ve always known.

George Lucas may have had to fight to get Red Tails financed but that was almost certainly less to do with stingy studios than it was to do with Indiana Jones 4 and his Star Wars prequel trilogy.  Also, Red Tails was shite.

Likewise, conventional Hollywood may have passed on Liberace, but HBO jumped on it, and is likely to reap the rewards.  Spielberg’s own Lincoln was itself almost an HBO production as he was quick to recognise.

Three counterpoints, then.  Firstly, the cruel reality of the creative arts is that all are eventually cast adrift in favour of the new.  Eventually even the greatest of greats are handed their lifetime achievement awards as the circle jerk of life continues.  And you’re not exactly hearing the blockbusting likes Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams complaining about having to fight harder than usual for their visions.

Secondly, as even these bods have freely accepted, there are avenues by which ‘more artistic’ projects can be realised.  Because there is clearly a demand for films that don’t involve explosions.  The industry may splinter to cater for disparate tastes, but those tastes will still be catered for.

Thirdly, predictions of the future are a mug’s game.  After all in 1967 some predicted the death of the entire Hollywood studio system as New York upstarts such as Mike Nicholls tore up the schmaltzy, reactionary rulebook with films such as The Graduate.

All that in mind, here’s my own prediction – there is a demand for, forgive me, more demanding films.  That craving is currently (mostly) being sated by TV’s golden age, but the one guarantee is that that won’t continue indefinitely.  TV is no less conservative than cinema – both love themselves a formula (cop shows and superheroes).

And as night follows day, the new becomes old, formulae become stale; the circle jerk of life continues.

Hollywood probably will find ways to boost ticket prices in the short/mid-term, but that’s ultimately counter-productive.  There may be a painful market correction, but eventually ‘normal’ service will resume.  Hollywood and her studio system may not survive unscathed, but directors will still get to make challenging, creative movies and have them shown in the cinema.

Because people like the cinema experience.  However good home systems become it’s never going to be quite the same, if only because it’s hard to replicate the sound of a hundred people chewing in one’s living room.  There may well be fewer cinemas, but a demand will invariably be met, whatever the good or service.

As with music (home recording, smaller labels) and publishing (self-publishing, ebooks), cinema is going through some changes.  While it may react against the onset of puberty by clinging more closely to its childhood toys, changes are inevitable.

But as with puberty, it’s not necessarily all bad.

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