Vol. 1 No. 1 2007
BEYOND BOOKS (Film)
Rona's Reel Take:
Seen Any Good Movies Lately?
BY RONA EDWARDS
When Fred Beauford asked me to write a column on film for the Neworld Review, I thought it was a no-brainer. After all, I'm a film producer living in the hub of Hollywood, and I'm also a writer/journalist. I've had movies produced and tons more stuck in turnaround. I've been in the trenches, so to speak, and seen success and failure time and time again.
And, I was tired of having everyone pooh-pooh Hollywood movies, even the turkeys, knowing how difficult it is to get them made! Like it or not, Hollywood movies are this nation's greatest exports. So seeing Hollywood and commenting on the industry through my eyes seemed natural to me.
However, as I started thinking about what I wanted to write, I found myself very dissatisfied with the state of the industry. Thinking about the best movies that have been released so far this year in the United States, the handful that I could actually recommend to readers were mostly foreign films originally released here in 2006 but receiving a wider release in 2007. Those include movies such as Das Leben der Anderen AKA The Lives Of Others (2006), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's horrifying expose of the last years of the East German Stasi, which won the Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars this past year, or Paul Verhoeven's Zwartboek AKA Black Book (2006), the true story of a courageous Jewish girl who joins the resistance in Holland and infiltrates the Gestapo, and finally, Mira Nair's beautiful portrait, The Namesake (2006), a story about the conflicts between traditional East Indian immigrants and their offspring who try to assimilate into American life.
I go to the movies a lot - I see almost everything out there. So why, after seeing so many films, could I only point to three films in more than six months that I could honestly tout? And those particular films were not U.S. stories? I started thinking about the commonality that these three films had versus other films released in this country this year. The main thing that stuck out was that all three took me on a journey to places I have never been, yet I could still identify with the protagonists. I could put myself in their place. Isn't that, sometimes, what makes the best movies succeed? Think Casablanca (1942), Chinatown (1974), Witness (1985), The Godfather (1972) or even Gone with the Wind (1939)? Where are the stories that are engaging? Stories that have characters worth spending your two to two-and-a-half hours of time in a darkened theater?
Most of the time, I leave a theater angry at having wasted my precious time. So does this mean that American filmmakers have lost their way? That they pander to a box office or studio's taste for the formulaic, afraid to really take a chance on stories that have something to say? I'm all for entertainment. I laughed at Borat - but I also think Borat had something to say; oh and by the way, the filmmaker, Sasha Baron Cohen, is British - so I guess that doesn't count - another foreigner!
Suffice it to say, in looking over the 2007 studio releases, we have been force-fed sequels ad nausea, lifeless thrillers, and comedies geared to the lowest denominator, all for the sake of commerce. The major studios now have specialty arms to foster the "smaller" more art-house style film but if you try to sell them a movie that fits that bill, it had better come with a star actor or director for them to write a check. The Lives of Others, Black Book and The Namesake do not have known American stars per se - what they have are great stories with complex heroes and overwhelming circumstances.
We root for them; we cry for them; and we fear for them. The richness of these films is much more than the tales they tell; the storytelling has many layers with a cast of intriguing characters. Just when you thought the movie was going in a certain direction, it surprised you, and nothing was as it appeared to be. Something American movies seem to have lost - with their straightforward and predictable A-Z narratives.
With the price of movies these days going up, I for one want to go see something that is not only entertaining but also that will take me somewhere I haven't been and choose to go. I want to spend those two hours in a theater getting lost inside a film. However, it seems that Hollywood waits till the last three months of the year to release any films of substance, let alone entertainment, in order to keep those films fresh in the Oscar voter's minds.
Therefore, the first nine months of the year, studios release those movies that would seemingly have no shot at an award: fillers. I guess it's a good excuse to catch up on foreign entries into the marketplace - and maybe we should thank Hollywood for that, because some of us may have been too caught up with the usual Hollywood fare and have missed some of the gems foreign filmmakers are creating. Is it that they care more about the art of making the film rather than the opening box office weekend? I'm certain every filmmaker out there wants their films to be seen, otherwise, why make them?
But there's something inherent in the art of filmmaking in other countries that leads me to believe that while they may have always admired Hollywood films, they've switched places, from the neophyte to the experienced, and are using the same medium to tell stories that are not only personal, but indeed, entertaining, yet still managing to take us somewhere, whereas other Hollywood films seem content to placate the audience until the really good stuff enfolds. Even then, they tout the end-of-the subyear films with such fanfare, there's almost always disappointment with maybe one or, if we're lucky, two rising to the top.
Ever the optimist, I'm hoping that, come Oscar time, the Academy won't let movies like The Namesake and Black Book, released earlier in the year, go unnoticed in that sea of studio hopefuls believing in their own hype of excellence; those one-sentence sound bytes praising a mediocre film to new heights. I mean, after all, how many times have you gone to a movie based upon a glowing review and left the theater thinking, "It was ... okay. "
Motion picture! television producer Rona Edwards also writes music reviews for the Folk Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME) on the net, feature articles for Produced By Magazine and co-wrote the critically acclaimed book, I Liked It, Didn't Love It. (Screenplay Development From The Inside Out) for Lone Eagle Publishing. Her blog is at www.oursideoftown.wordpress.com.