Open Thread for May 22, 2009

American Idol! Fall TV Schedules! Cannes! And an epic battle for survival between man and machine.

Obviously, Terminator is coming out. You are probably aware that we have taken note. (Get it? Get it? Note? Because it’s a song? See what I did there?) It’s definitely at the top of our to-do list for the weekends.

But did you realize that there are other things going on in the popular culture? To wit:

  • The Cannes Film Festival (Snobby frogs!)
  • TV Upfronts (Any new shows you’re excited about?)
  • A Little Ratings Juggernaut called American Idol (Meh.)

Sound off on these or any of your many brilliant thoughts in this week’s Open Thread.

13 Comments on “Open Thread for May 22, 2009”

  1. Darin #

    I noticed something recently that came on slowly like boiling a frog.

    Directors and producers have become part of the machine. Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams, m. night shyamalan (or is that captilized). This could go on and on. There are others who have not quite accepted the P.R./Personality/”Creative genius” mantle.

    Historically, the director and producer were studio lackeys. They cranked out films with blistering speed. A combination of events from the 1940s to late 1960s resulted in some of the directors exerted more will and vision on a film. But, those projects were still studio projects and those directors will still inner circle types.

    Ultimately, producers made the scenes. Combinations of investors with creative insight started their own companies to make fresher movies. Television allowed more frequent viewing of producer “sign-offs”. (Please someone tell me what these little 3 second things are actually called.) Stephen J. Canell , Aaron Spelling, and Jerry Bruchheimer started to get their name and stamp put everywhere, but still not becoming the “personality”.

    I attribute the closer connection to “what is J.J. going to do with the Star Trek franchise” more to the intimacy of the media than to producers and directors becoming more vain. Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorcese would meet with “papa” Coppola to talk movies and direction. These kinds of fascinating conversations would be plastered all over today’s intertubes. Now, if a Joss Whedon tweets about a new pitch, it ends up in the media.

    My “relationship” to any of these creative studs is not based in loyalty to them as personalities. The media would like us to have that relationship… and care. Do I really care about what the next sci-fi Hamlet from McG is going to be like? Do I want the buzz? Not really, I just want quality content.


  2. fenzel #


    I’d attribute the connection less to the media itself and more to the decline of the studio system.

    There was a point not too long ago (say, mid-20th century) when it looked as if the movies might go out of business because of television.

    The movies have survived and thrived because of the tentpole model – the demand isn’t just to see the picture (you can get the equivalent of that for cheap or free elsewhere), but to be part of the event surrounding the picture. Movie openings are practically cultural festivals.

    But this means that “production” isn’t really what sells the movie – it isn’t where you want to put most of your eggs. Nor is, stricly, “promotion” or “hype” – both these imply a falseness, as if you are forcing people to recognize

    To describe it, I’ll coin the term “remarketing” – capitalizing on the remarkableness or specialness of what is going on. Driving the quality of, not of strickly uniqueness, but of distinction, more than that of quality or a sales message.

    Basically, the director has become a huge part of the value-add, and movies have become massively dependent on value-add, really for its own sake. It’s been lucky for them that the idea of an “auteur” is popular among the audience and drives interest.

    That’s my take on it anyway.


  3. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    For the Terminator fans out there, I highly recommend this 1998 essay by David Foster Wallace, about how Terminator 2 is “an appalling betrayal” of the original:

    Wallace, who committed suicide last September, is generally thought of as the eggheaded author of the daunting dense “Infinite Jest.” And indeed he was. But he also was a pop culture fan, and a bit of a geek. Honestly, this essay reads a lot like Overthinking It on steroids.

    His argument is that while The Terminator is an all-around brilliant film, T2 puts an inordinate emphasis on the “F/X Porn,” to the detriment of everything else. I don’t necessarily agree with him. However, I will admit that the entire second act of T2 (after they break Sarah out of the asylum and before they decide to blow up Cyberdyne) is sort of a blur to me. And yup, I hate Sarah’s final voiceover. HATE it.


  4. fenzel #


    By his reasoning, there’s also no difference between hard-core porn and opera, because it has a bunch of songs in it and the overarching structure strings them together.

    As for the Inverse Cost and Quality law —

    In this article, he says Jurassic Park, Independence Day and Forrest Gump are obvious examples of movies that are shitty except for the special effects. I’m kind of flabbergasted by that.

    It is fitting that the article was written when Titanic had just come out – it seems to represent a potential branching point for an alternate timeline in which Titanic were a shitty movie that nobody connected with personally except for the special effects. That world is probably interesting.

    Also, if the Inverse Cost and Quality Law were alive, it sure is dead now. The Lord of the Rings movies straight murdered it.


  5. fenzel #

    Also, T2 isn’t like hard-core porn at all. The people and robots aren’t actually getting shot, and they don’t show a lot of brains flying around or anything. It’s clearly soft-core.

    Lazy, DFW. Lazy.


  6. Gab #

    Stuff I care about that nobody else does: The finale of _DWTS_ and _Castle_ getting renewed.

    Shows I’m interested in next season: NBC’s _Community_, Fox’s _Brothers_, and ABC’s _Flash Forward_ and _The Deep End_. Probably too many to actually follow, but we’ll see.

    Stuff others may be interested in: M.I.A. was on Bill Maher’s show this week.

    The Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights was signed.

    _King of the Hill_ will end this fall.

    A California Supreme Court is going to rule on Prop 8 on Tuesday morning.

    Re: _Terminator_: I’m a little surprised he’d say _Jurassic Park_ and _Forrest Gump_ were bad movies, too, so I’m more than a little skeptical about this Wallace’s tastes and (p)references. _LotR_ may have proven his little formula wrong, but _King Kong_ sticks to it, so I think Peter Jackson gets sort of nullified there. But I think enough good (or at least not TERRIBLE) movies with big special effects budgets have come out in the past couple years to prove his theory obsolete.


  7. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I admire DFW’s writing and incite enough so that I want to try and understand where he’s coming from, but it’s hard. He says in this essay that Aliens is one of the two best action movies of the 80’s. Is Aliens really so different than T2?


  8. Trevor Seigler #

    @Matthew B: Yeah, Aliens is different from T2. It has aliens in it, duh!

    I like the discussion of who makea a film, producers or directors. In the truest collaberative art of all time, it’s interesting how much stock is placed in who’s in a movie or who directed it. I think Truffaut lived to regret his statements that “the director is the author” of his particular film, if only because the reality is so often less definitive. Directors like Kubrick, Godard, and Tarantino might be “name directors,” but they can’t make the film on their own. Conversely, though, their names are on the line with each new film they release (well, except Kubrick, who’s been dead for a while, but you get my point). When was the last time anyone got excited for a Paul Thomas Anderson film, for example? Movie stars and directors can live or die by what the public gets to see. Producers, so far as I can tell, do sometimes experience a similar exit from the main stage of fame, but no one ever walks out of a movie either praising or damning the producer.

    I’m looking forward to the start of the fall TV season, because the summer one looks like a post-apocalyptic nightmare of creative bankruptcy.


  9. Trevor Seigler #

    I just want to note that PTA is a director whose work I admire, but his seemed like the most obvious “where are they now” director name to use as an example. Any man who can make Tom Cruise seem like a macho heterosexual pig is okay in my book.


  10. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Trevor – “When was the last time anyone got excited for a Paul Thomas Anderson film, for example?” Um, his last film? There Will Be Blood?

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say. Clearly, a LOT of people get excited for PTA’s work – I promise you that whatever he decides to make next, there will be a lot of buzz around it, and healthy crowds (for an indie movie). And if you’re arguing that There Will Be Blood’s success was all Daniel Day-Lewis, let me point out that Daniel’s previous film, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, didn’t even break a million at the box office.


  11. Gab #

    I’d like to throw a monkey wrench in the cogs and say I think it depends on the film and who is involved. No, it isn’t so much about the studios themselves any longer. Instead, every film seems to drop names and former works wherever convenient, using whichever ones are most likely to get a positive reaction from the potential audience. Take Disney ads. I can’t name specific movies, but they’ll say things along the lines of, “From the director that brought you _Suchandsuch_,” or, “From the animation team that brought _Bladdyblah_ to life,” or, “With music and songs by the team behind _Whatsit_,” in mutually exclusive situations. So if the director has a good track record, their name will be emphasized when the movie is being pitched; if it’s the producer, then there ya go; writers; even cinematographers; etc. Of course, if it’s a TEAM of minds, or if more than one of the positions is filled with a Big Name with a Good Work or Works, all will be used (or at least as much as can fit practically in the ad). But the bottom line is the ads for any movie will emphasize whatever they possibly can to get maximum viewership of the film.


  12. Trevor #

    @Matthew B – I totally forgot about TWBB. Let the shunning begin.

    Honestly, his name just crept to mind when I was flailing for a director whose work has been vaunted in the past but his later stuff isn’t so much (clearly I could’ve picked a better example). My apologies, but you do remind me that I need to get around to seeing TWBB (I am very deficient on keeping up with Oscar winners over the past decade, I only saw Slumdog when it came out on DVD after the awards and ditto Frost/Nixon). I think the last year I caught all five nominated best pictures was 1999/2000 (whenever “Life is Beautiful” made the Holocaust funny, I guess).

    @Gab – Anytime an ad says “featuring Oscar-winner insert-name-here”, I always think “but not for this movie!” Nine times out of ten, it seems like an Oscar winner’s immediate follow-up project fails to reach the same heights either critically or commercially.


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