Today, we once again visit the work of John "Dirty Harry" Nolte. One of his favorite regular features is the TCM Pick O' The Day which, as I've said before, is an incredibly helpful feature to people who don't get TV Guide, watch the TV Guide Channel or have access to TVGuide.com. On Saturday, his pick was the George Cukor classic Dinner At Eight. Needless to say, he took the opportunity to criticize Hollywood. It boils down to yet another variation of Big Hollywood's continuing theme "Why oh why does Hollywood make all these liberal message movies when they could be making so much more money with lighter fare?"
For Americans suffering hard times during the Great Depression, movies were an oasis not a talking point. Certainly there were exceptions. Warner Brothers found a distinctive voice with grittier fare, especially the gangster picture which gave those feeling powerless the vicarious pleasure of watching people grab power, but this was an era predominantly made up of screwball comedies, DeMille’s lavish epics, musicals, monster movies and adventure films.Please note that he brings up "exceptions" and "grittier fare" for the sole purpose of dismissing them. Not only does he choose not to deal with the fact that downbeat dramas like Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice And Men were also made in the 30s but he manages to fold gangster films into his "oasis, not a talking point" category.
Back then Hollywood knew their only chance of survival was to offer something found nowhere else: Pure Escapism. So Fred twirled Ginger, Shirley Temple was orphaned, Andy Hardy aw-shucked, Paul Muni emoted, Cagney took no crap, Flynn rescued de Havilland, Garbo laughed, and Gable…? Well, all he had to do was grin. And what happened? People with no money found the money. The studios were pushers, the audience addicts, and the drug … looking back now we now know it was art.Yeah, things are different now. Major Hollywood releases are so grim and darkly realistic that Pure Escapism has been completely crowded out. For example, here are the major studio releases coming out this week:
- A harsh and unflinching look at our materialistic society called Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
- Hotel For Dogs, a seering indictment of animal cruelty.
- A godless propaganda film making the claim that a Christian holiday can drive people to acts of brutal murder. I'm talking, of course, about My Bloody Valentine 3D.
As I look through upcoming releases for the year, I can't find a week that doesn't contain at least one piece of light, escapist entertainment. The movie that comes closest to dealing with the contemporary economic situation is The International, the story of an Interpol agent (Clive Owen) fighting a bank run by rich, powerful bastards who are breaking the law to become richer, more powerful and more bastardish and even that comes in the form of an action packed escapist thriller.
As I said before, even in the 30s, escapist movies were hardly being crowded out. Somehow, the film industry back then managed to make Of Mice And Men, You Only Live Once and Wuthering Heights without crowding Snow White, Robin Hood and Top Hat off the screen. Nolte and the rest of his gang seem to believe that Iraq war films and downbeat dramas like Revolutionary Road are keeping movies like Confessions of a Shopaholic and The Pink Panther 2 from being made except that, you know, they are in fact being made.
The day you read, "Dreamworks Studios announced today that they have shelved plans to make a Transformers sequel in order to make room for the anti-Iraq War movie Baby Burner and a sequel to Oliver Stone's movie W called A-Hole: The George W. Bush Story," is the day I'll say they have a point.