From Chuck Klosterman's 2003 "low culture manifesto," Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:
The idea of making a sophisticated movie that could be brilliant and commercially massive is almost unthinkable, and that schism is relatively new. In the early seventies, The Godfather films made tons of money, won bushels of Academy Awards, and -- most notably -- were anecdotally regarded as damn-near perfect by every non-Italian tier of society, both intellectually and emotionally. They succeeded in every dimension. That could never happen today; interesting movies rarely earn money, and Oscar-winning movies are rarely better than good. Titatic was the highest-grossing film of all time and the 1998 winner for Best Picture, so you'd think that might be an exception -- but I've never met an intelligent person who honestly loved it. Titanic might have been the least watchable movie of the 1990s, because it was so obviously designed for audiences who don't really like movies (in fact, that was the key to its success). At this point, winning an Oscar is almost like winning a Grammy.
I realize citing the first two Godfather films is something of a cheap argument, since those two pictures are the pinnacle of the cinematic art form. But even if we discount Francis Ford Coppola's entire body of work, it's impossible to deny that the chances of seeing an uber-fantastic film in a conventional movie house are growing maddeningly rare, which wasn't always the case. It wasn't long ago that movies like Cool Hand Luke or The Last Picture Show or Nashville would show up everywhere, and everyone would see them collectively, and everybody would have their consciousness shaken at the same time and in the same way. That never happens anymore (Pulp Fiction was arguably the last instance).
This is mostly due to the structure of the Hollywood system; especially in the early 1970s, everybody was consumed with the auteur concept, which gave directors the ability to completely (and autonomously) construct a movie's vision; for roughly a decade, film was a director's medium. Today, film is a producer's medium (the only director with complete control over his product is George Lucas, and he elects to make kids' movies). Producers want to develop movies they can refer to as "high concept," which -- somewhat ironically -- is industry slang for "no concept": It describes a movie where the human element is secondary to an episodic collection of action sequences. It's "conceptual" because there is no emphasis on details. Capitalistically, those projects work very well; they can be constructed as "vehicles" for particular celebrities, which is the only thing most audiences care about, anyway. In a weird way, film studios are almost requiring movies to be bad, because they tend to be more efficient.
Tags: Chuck Klosterman, Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs