January 25, 2006

Long-tail casualty

Christopher Orr at TNR bemoans the loss of what he calls the B+ movie; you know, a decent film that does not aspire to blockbuster status. I've always sensed this. I'm not a film buff in any sense of the word, but I saw Burt Lancaster in "Come Back Little Sheba" and thought how that movie could never ever be made today. It has a literary feel, solid acting from Lancaster and Shirley Booth, (spoiler!) and an unsettling and unhappy ending. Orr:

There was a time when Hollywood excelled at producing such solid but unexceptional fare--Westerns are the classic example--but no longer. These days, almost every movie needs to have a special hook, a tease, something that will make it new and different and (in theory) better. No one wants a base hit; it's all about swinging for the bleachers.

The reason is clear enough. Back in the late 1940s, when Randolph Scott was making three or four cowboy movies a year, two-thirds of Americans went to the movies during any given week. They didn't need a reason; it was just part of the routine, and as long as the film was moderately diverting they generally felt they got their money's worth. But TV watching has been gradually replacing film attendance for decades, and today, with our ever-expanding array of at-home alternatives (satellite, DVD, pay-per-view, TiVo), just 10 percent of us go to the movies each week. If we weren't actively lured with the promise of something fresh and remarkable--a more radical twist (the lady detective is also the serial killer!), wilder stunt (two helicopters collide in the Lincoln Tunnel!), or bigger star (Russell Crowe as Stephen Hawking!)--we might not go at all.

He answers his own question at the end of the piece. These "films" have gone to the small screen. He uses the example of the "Law & Order" franchise. I've always thought most Buffy/Angel/Firefly episodes to be small films more than TV shows. With the DVD distribution and syndication, the business models have likely blurred.

Posted by John Kranz at January 25, 2006 1:35 PM