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Graham: Hollywood’s give & take: We give bucks, or they take films

Political pundits are always fond of saying, “We get the government we deserve.”

Now the pop culture pundits can chime in with “We get the movies we deserve.”

If thousands of teens buy tickets to see thrill-ride action pics, and only a few thoughtful adults stop by the multiplex to enjoy an intellectually stimulating film, guess which genre gets all the attention from high-rolling studio execs with personal income equal to the national budgets of a smaller Third World country.

Hollywood has now reached the point where studios can turn out 100 special effects extravaganzas for every drama of substance aimed directly at getting an Academy Award nomination.

So write this date down in your movie diary and remember it: April 17, 2009.

That is the day Russell Crowe’s $60 million “State of Play,” a serious film of ethical consequences, opened against “17 Again,” a sophomoric comedy with an infinitely smaller budget, starring youthful Flavor-of-the-Month Zac Efron. Of course Efron’s box office returns stomped all over Crowe’s turnstile earnings.

It’s just like how guys will buy a hefty pickup truck instead of some wimpy little car that’s good for the ecology.


So what happens to the true cineast? Where is the art part? Surely our educated citizenry with all that disposable income can’t spend all its time hunched over a laptop on Wi-Fi. Wouldn’t these intellectually curious folks take a little time out to read a book or wonder what’s playing this weekend at the Loft Cinema?

For years, we’ve been saying all the interesting films are smaller budget, independent films. In recent years, a number of famous and bankable actors have gone a little dilettante on us – such as Heath Ledger doing “Brokeback Mountain” – putting out pictures that nobody sees on the big screen but that become little treasures as video rentals.

Sure we all know about that, but here’s the big twist. After the major studios bought up all the little, so-called boutique studios to make the arty movies, audiences still didn’t show up in very large numbers. The extremely excellent “Frost/Nixon,” with one of the most unappreciated performances of all time by Frank Langella as Nixon, couldn’t even reach $19 million in ticket sales.

It is especially cruel that what we remember most about “Frost/Nixon” is its weak performance at sucking money out of people’s pockets. Instead, people should remember that Langella’s profound portrait of Nixon as a world leader in decline is worthy of Shakespearian tragedy.

Believe it or not, with the free-market forces having no hesitation stuffing art up the fireplace, those of us who love moving pictures as an art form are turning to television!

Once you’ve seen each week’s movies at the Loft, there is plenty of week left but no where else to turn. Believe it or not, in the byzantine bazaar of cable TV there are nooks and crannies that resemble the unappreciated FM radio stations of the 1960s.

Remember how the boomer version of rock ‘n’ roll was midwifed by FM radio? Once the kids who were janitors sweeping out the FM radio stations at night could pick the records those stations played in the daytime, rock ‘n’ roll filled the air.

Of those fabled 500 channels of TV, only 400 (more or less) are dedicated to reality reruns. The other cable channels are opening up when low budget but idealistic filmmakers come knocking.

What this means, fellow cineasts, is that we can’t snub television any longer. Too many of the indie flicks are cramming themselves onto those little screens. True, it will be like watching art displayed through a knothole, but we’ll just have to squint a little more and like it.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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