FSB Author Article
Hollywood Movie Revival
By Peter Bart,
Author of Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, The Mob (And Sex)
There's a significant revival of interest in the movies of the '60s and '70s. Films ranging from The Godfather to Easy Rider, from Nashville to Midnight Cowboy have become iconic in our pop culture.
Those of us who were lucky enough to work in the film industry of that period are often asked, "Could those films be made in today's Hollywood?" My answer is a resounding 'no' and the reasons are simple.
The key aim guiding studio decision-making in that period was to surprise even shock the audience. Today's film executives are eager to re-capture the familiar. The most important resource to tap into is "awareness," not surprise. Studio tentpoles are predicated on giving filmgoers something they've seen before and hopefully will want to experience again.
The upshot, of course, is the abundance of sequels, prequels and remakes. The success of "21 Jump Street" has underscored an appetite to re-cycle the '80s by remaking films like "Robocop", "Dirty Dancing," and a new "Die Hard". Geriatric action stars like Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and even Arnold Schwarzenegger are in demand again. Even Billy Crystal is coming back as a leading man.
Hence, while there is a desire to revisit the past, the intent is not to re-discover films that changed the landscape of pop culture. Instead, there's a search for re-cycled superheroes.
The Tribeca Film Festival caused some surprise by booking "The Avengers" as the centerpiece for its closing extravaganza, after a two-week menu of art pictures and documentaries. This tentpole offers audiences the chance not to revisit just one superhero of the past but a veritable who’s who of heroic retreads. They include Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain America and even the Incredible Hulk.
Hence fest-goers, too, can enjoy a return to the familiar -- the Avengers comic book dates back to 1963.
The decision to showcase The Avengers is intriguing in that festivals are customarily irrelevant to the superhero genre of motion pictures, as are the major film critics. Tentpoles need tweets and viral buzz, not the approval of cineastes.
Most of all, tentpoles, with their enormous costs, need instant awareness. The auras of books like the Harry Potter series or Hunger Games can create a foundation for that awareness. So can some comic books and video games.
By and large, the game-changing films of the '60s and 70s emanated from original film ideas or obscure books. Even the Godfather was an unpublished and incomplete manuscript when it was acquired by Paramount. The motivation behind such films as Bonnie & Clyde was to provide culture shock, not to capitalize on an existing franchise. Films of that era opened in a very few theaters and ultimately found an audience.
Culture shock actually was a rewarding experience. Hopefully audiences may again get to experience it in films some day.
© 2012 Peter Bart, author of Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, The Mob (And Sex)
Peter Bart, author of Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, The Mob (And Sex), spent seventeen years as a film executive (at Paramount, MGM, and Lorimar Film Co.), only to return to print as editor in chief of Variety. Along the way, he was responsible for seven books, including Shoot Out, written with Peter Guber. He is now the host of Movie Talk, a weekly television show broadcast here and abroad.