Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hollywood Imperialism

I have a love-hate relationship with Hollywood. On the one hand, Hollywood has brought us many cinematic classics we all treasure and love and to this day, still continues to manage to thrill and excite us with quite a few new classics. On the other hand, Hollywood is also a corporate entity and with a few exceptions, a real creative and artistic black hole filled with remakes, reboots, sequels and rip-offs. Don't get me wrong. I'm not some elitist hoity-toity film snob who only likes obscure avant-garde films from Eastern Europe. I enjoy a great popcorn flick and geek out when a great genre film comes out.

But Hollywood isn't the only place where great popcorn flicks, great genre pieces or even great films in general are produced. Lots of filmmakers and film industries all around the world are making great films. But I'm not just talking about the big art-house, auteur-driven film festival favorites. They're also great popcorn flicks, genre pieces and totally accessible films in general but only a few make any significant impact in the U.S. box-office or even the world box-office. Hollywood executives will tell you that your average Americans generally do not like to have to read subtitles and are generally not open to seeing films made by other countries. Others will tell you Hollywood simply made films the most number of people want to watch or that Hollywood simply made better movies. *snorts*

Actually, the REAL reason is that Hollywood is one big corporation and they've set up a system that is almost a monopoly that dominates the multiplexes leaving very little room for anything else to succeed. Hollywood Inc. is very clever in fostering the mindset of subtitled films are boring and only for film snobs and intellectuals. But how does one explain Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? It's a subtitled film with female protagonists and made well over $100 million, unheard of for a foreign-language film! It's the exception, they will insist on saying. Yep, the "exception". Every time an unconventional, unexpected film succeeds, be it something quirky, a bit artsy, a bit cerebral or heaven forbid, a documentary or a subtitled/foreign-language film, the upper-echelons of the Hollywood elite will say "It's the exception!". To me, it's bullshit. I believe that they've really set up a system and a cultural mindset that dominates and favors the big mainstream studios to pretty much dominate. It's Hollywood imperialism.

Hollywood does this in two ways. First is what's called the buy-it-and-sit-on-it method. The Chinese epic wuxia film Hero almost fell victim to this. It was first released in China and the world on 2002. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still fresh in the minds of many people. Here comes another martial arts epic from the East that has been a hit in several countries already and got an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It should be a no-fucking-brainer, right? Wrong. Miramax bought it, they tried to "edit" it because they didn't feel it's "marketable" to Americans and postponed its U.S. theatrical release for two years. A similarly themed film just made a ton of money in the box-office just a couple of years before, how simple could it get? Clearly, there are people who will want to see this. It wasn't until a combination of a very vocal group of film buffs online and Quentin Tarantino who is a fan of the film said to just release it as "a Quentin Tarantino presents" film that Miramax broke down and released it. It opened at the Top 5 of the U.S. box-office. It would've made more had it been released sooner, I bet. How many films do people in Miramax have in their vaults?

The next one of course is the remake. Simply promoting and distributing potentially huge money-making breakout subtitled hits is not enough for the Hollywood studios. Remaking them will get them more money. That's not to say all remakes are pure cash-grabs devoid of creativity. Several Hollywood remakes of foreign films have turned out to be very good standalone films on their own, from The Magnificent Seven (the Western remake of Seven Samurai) to The Departed (remake of Infernal Affairs). The most offensive type of these are usually horror films. There's a Spanish horror film called [REC] which is a rather scary zombie thriller set almost entirely inside of an apartment building using the "found footage" technique. As it is, it could have been a hit State-side but the powers-that-be knew better. They remade it as Q uarantine and even stole the scary final shot of it.

During the '50s, '60s, and even the '70s, the films of Kurosawa, Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut were shown quite often side by side with the Hollywood films of Hitchcock, Ford, Wilder and Capra. What happened? I'm hypothesizing it's the combination of the invention of the blockbuster and the liberalization of film censorship laws. (Before that, Americans got their sex and nudity from foreign films so they flocked to it). Are Americans really that lazy to read subtitles? Perhaps. But I do believe that if Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon could make over $100 million, it's totally and completely possible that more foreign-language films a year could make that kind of money in the U.S. and the world as well. It's not an "exception". If it's a good film that is accessible to people, it will definitely have a market. A good film is a good film.


Natural One said...

The movies they've been putting out lately are downright lazy.

Anonymous said...

I love the Hollywood Movies!

msmariah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
msmariah said...

I am in complete agreement with you on this. Hollywood has become a disgusting machine. Every now and then they churn out a good one, but good movies are the exception, not the rule.

Remakes and sequels are king, original thought and foreign films are frowned upon. I knew that Hollywood was completely devoid of any kind of decent filmmaking ability when they tried to shut down Christopher Nolan's 'Inception.' They thought this movie woldn't make money--it's too complicated. People won't get it.

Chris Nolan finally had to threaten them with the new Batman film before they let him complete Inception properly.

I compare Hollywood to the radio stations of the 1950s and payola.

Oh and Heaven forbid they ask us to read subtitles. It doesn't matter if a movie like Crouching makes $100 million. They think it's a fluke. They were about to remake District 9, but they didn't b/c it's an english-speaking film. They're remaking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for no good reason. The original movie was great.

Warner Bros kept one of the most brilliant original horror films in their vault for years, 'Trick r Treat.'

Tarsem had to finance 'The Fall' with his own money and then they didn't promote it. It was filmed over years in 20 different countries. It was old filmmaking at it's best, but they don't appreciate it. Instead they threw money at him to make The Immortals--yet another big budget ancient greek movie (Troy, 300) with the new Superman, Henry Cavill.

They don't understand the simple equation=if you build it they will come. If you make a good movie people will want to see it.

There are still some good people in Hollywood who seem to live by that principle and are decent filmmakers, but the vast majority of them think that people in the rest of America, excluding New York, are stupid. They live in their own little hollywood world and don't seem to remember that life exists elsewhere.

Movies on my Mind said...

You make some valid points regarding the creatively bereft state of current Hollywood filmmaking, but I think you miss the essential synergy that’s fuelling the studios desire to not just remake foreign movies, but to actually have a stake in their creation.

Hollywood majors have funded a number of Bollywood movies over the last decade like Sony (Saawariya), Disney (Roadside Romeo), Fox (My Name is Khan) and Warner Bros. (Chandni Chowk to China). Warner Bros and Thomas Tull have created Legendary East so that they have an established Chinese base that can not only finance but also make movies that abide by the country's cultural rules limiting scenes of sex and violence.

Even Sony partnered with China Film Group, the largest government-run film producer and importer of movies to the country, to help finance and produce the reboot of The Karate Kid in 2010. That relationship guaranteed considerably more play than it would have gotten with only a U.S. company involved.

Hollywood studios are majorly smart business people. Sure, the films they make may be supremely dumb by and large, but the people of Earth want to see the movies they make and Hollywood is more than willing to cater for the demand.

I don’t blame the studios; I blame audiences across the world. No one is innocent.

Anonymous said...

Nowadays Hollywood is just making senseless movies. :/


To Tipota said...

Oh man i hate poor remakes. What's the point of this year's '' Let the right one in ''. I tend to boycott them.

MRanthrope said...

Yes, most people in the USA are in fact too stupid to read subtitles. =/

The Hollywood machine continues remaking awesome foreign flicks...and even it's own films from the not so distant past! Sighs.

mjunta said...

I like Holywood!

Bart said...

movie was kinda confusing

A said...

My friends and I have had long discussions about this, and I agree with almost everything you've said here. I also applaud you for laying out and articulating the information much better than we were able to when we were having said discussion. I am certainly with you in your criticism of Hollywood, but I'd also have to give credit for the contribution Hollywood has made to our culture. Regardless, I believe it shouldn't monopolize our theaters so much in the way it does now (as you yourself said). Great post.

Bersercules said...

I totally agree with your post! and think it was exilently written! On a side note Star Wars (the origanal one) was heavely influenced by Kirosowas (The Three Evils of) The Hidden Fortress!

JunkBot said...

I agree with this article. Also, what is with American cinema subtitling movies that are in english, but from places like Scotland or Australia. I mean, surely they aren't in that much of a cultural void that they can't understand regional dialects of the same language?!

+following :) cheers

Damon said...

amazing post

my day in a sentence said...

That's what I've been saying for a long time now: a movie doesn't need to come out of Hollywood to be good.

DS said...

yea good point! i dont want to judge a movie from where it comes from or goes through

Copyboy said...

Yeah, but then again Crouching Tiger had flying people with swords. BTW...made you new blog of the day.

Bob said...

You make some good points.
Maybe they do it, so the foreign movies don't take away viewers from the Hollywood movies.. wouldn't that lower their profits? That's after all one thing they really care about.

tracirz said...