The Hype Awakens

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What exactly is contained in a can of Darth Vader Campbell’s soup? The label says it’s pasta with chicken in chicken broth but really – what evil concoction do you think is secretly hiding inside? Hint: It’s the same ingredient contained in the Yoda, C3PO and R2D2 Campbell’s soup – at least as advertised. Yes, they are ALL pasta with chicken in chicken broth! At least according to the label.

This is what you get when you go to your local market and buy STAR WARS CAMPBELL’S SOUP. And if you don’t believe there is such a thing – an authentic Star Wars version of Campbell’s Soup that you too can have for about a buck a can at your local food dispensary – check it out!!

How many nerds will never open this?

There are Cover Girl make up tie-ins (Black Avril Lavigne eyeliner anyone?). Subway tie-ins (well, now that Jared’s not a viable pitch person…) and even Duracell battery Star Wars (at least that makes some sense when you think about it – sort of).

Experts say over the next 12 months there will be $3-5 billion generated in merchandise sales alone tied to The Force Awakens – the first Star Wars film in 10 years. And $11-$20 billion in five years, according to a recent LA Times story.

Even if that’s a bit overinflated, it’s still in the billions. Yes, that’s a B. And we’re only talking merchandising tie-ins.

The force is strong in those.... grapes?

The force is strong in those…. grapes?

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to this sort of stuff. Watching the finale of one of my guiltiest TV pleasures in the world last week –The Voice – I see Missy Elliot and Pharrell do this bizarre and somewhat catchy song called WTF. (Note: They had me at the title). It’s a bit edgy and sexy and revels with a lyric about repeated TONGUE action. I thought, good for them – it’s primetime network TV and they got some tongue in. Then this weekend I hear it again – on a Verizon/Samsung Galaxy commercial. The same lyrics but somehow they’ve managed to de-sex it for a Saturday afternoon. Is nothing sacred?

Chairy... please

Chairy… please

I’ve been left behind. It used to be where I could sneak Playboy’s annualSex in the Cinema” issue and as a teenage gay guy manage to see naked pictures of men while pretending to look at naked women. I always felt so proud of myself for the forbidden, successful sneak.  But I mean, what’s really forbidden these days? Certainly not guns. I can buy enough firepower to shoot you in the head a Google times and still not one person could legally blame a corporate overlord.

It’s all about personal responsibility. Or is it?

Well I, for one, am responsible for my choices. Do you know that the night the new Star Wars opened I was at home watching a DVD screener of The Martian? Then, on that Friday night I actually went to the movie theatre to see the new Italian film Youth. Do you know there is a Star Wars: The Force Awakens screening at the WGA just about now with JJ Abrahams speaking afterwards that I was invited to and am NOT attending? (Note: Full admission – I tried to RSVP but it was a day after I received the email and it was sold out. So screw him/them). Still, there are three other screenings I can get into at 11, 2 and 8:30 today and I’m not going to any of them. Nor am I going to the theatre to wait on those damn lines. I’ll show them. I’m waiting until the next industry screening at the DGA on Dec 28th that I did manage to respond to in time. Take that corporate overlords!!!

Whattup Santa!

Whattup Santa!

I can remember seeing Star Wars when it came out in 1977 at the theatre during its first week. It was fun and original. Then I went to a Fox screening room three years later to see Empire Strikes Back. I liked that too, though not quite as much. Then it was Return of the Jedi – I liked it a little less but it was fine. Which was followed years later by the first prequel, The Phantom Menace. Oh, dear, I fear Jar Jar Binks did me in. Though in fairness, it wasn’t entirely his fault.  There came a moment where even I finally stopped going to Cher’s Farewell concert tours.

... but I will follow her on twitter forever.

… but I will follow her on twitter forever.

Yeah, I know Force Awakens recaptures the verve, fun, spirit and storytelling of the original. And I’m going to see it. Just as I’m going to see Creed – which reinvents and captures a lot of the energy of the first Rocky – which I adored at the time and still really like much to the chagrin of so many of my intellectually snobby film friends who can’t let go of the fact that it beat All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Network for the best picture Oscar that year. Come to think of it…oh, never mind.

Alright already! It's been 40 years!

Alright already! It’s been 40 years!

Still, there are limits to how excited I can get about revisiting the past. I do this enough with old friends. Which is wonderful. Though sometimes it makes me feel like a relic. An all-warm and fuzzy, much loved relic but old and pasteurized nevertheless.

The key to evolving as a person and a species is to keep active, not retire and, most importantly, NOT LIVE IN THE PAST. Nostalgia is good but even better is moving forward. When you stagnate in art you remain frozen in time or are perpetually looking back in time in real life. You become not only irrelevant but lazy. You’re not a leader but a follower. If you’re not out to pasture you might as well be. Certainly, you’re making room for some younger or more hard-working upstart to pass you by and take the reins of the evolutionary spiral.

Cough Cough

Cough Cough

There’s a lot of talk these days about America being the leader of the free world. How we are the best, the most exceptional, the top innovator, the #1 purveyors of moral authority and brilliance. But you can’t be brilliant or original or innovative – or really lead into new, uncharted territories – if you’re merely looking back and always nostalgic for the former, trying to recapture what you’ve already experienced.

The future is scary because it’s unknown. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. We used to know that.

Snob Stories

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There are few things more annoying to me than an art snob. That endless debate about high and low art where the snobs turn their nose up at specific artistic endeavors – meaning the commercial kind, the childish kind or even the basic kind – in favor of what they perceive to be masterworks that have not gained mainstream acceptance. This group also doubly bridles when others often criticize their masterworks for being slow-moving, esoteric, sad, depressing, overly intellectual, confusing, distancing or, at the end of the day, just plain boring.

This argument cuts equally the other way. For there are also those who are consistently determined to leave what little bits of brains they have remaining at the door and dismiss anything on film, television, the stage or even at a museum that challenges them to spend more than a second or two pondering or, heaven forbid, processing its meaning. The adjectives this group – the anti-snob snobs — apply to their hate list usually begins with pretentious and ends with high-fallutin’.’ Translation: Anything that doesn’t immediately make me laugh or cry is beyond the ability of a reasonable person (Note: ME) to understand and enjoy and therefore is not worth my time. This, too, is snobbery, but of the mainstream kind.

Ugh. Is this movie in black and white?

Ugh. Is this movie in black and white?

Of course, neither of these forms of elitisms is to be confused with the most treacherous – the financial and/or critical version. Meaning the amount of money a creative effort makes in relation to the cost or how many experts write complimentarily and eloquently about it is the real bottom line of its value???

Uh, no.

Simply put, just because your latest favorite film has grossed a billion dollars worldwide is not tangible evidence it is great. Money is not necessarily proof of artistic talent. It is evidence of a talent for moneymaking. Similarly, a handful of rave reviews from your fellow intellectuals and/or critics who always agree with you does not prove the new piece of cinema which didn’t get theatrical or even VOD distribution but you so, so enjoyed is better than anything playing at any random multiplex anywhere in the world. Nor does it give you a pass to boast voluntary ignorance or giggle derisively when someone mentions it might be worth your time to check out a really fab new limited TELEVISION series they saw with their kids and spouse at home one Saturday afternoon while lounging on the sofa.

#goaway

#goaway

Full confession: I was a film and television critic for Variety many decades ago and used to fight these battles daily with fellow co-workers, studio executives and other critics – as well as with many in my family and friends. There is a reason why the saying, Everybody has two businesses – their business and show business has stood the test of time. People get very emotional and are very invested with what they find good and bad on the cultural landscape.

This is why comments by Variety’s chief film critic this week proclaiming his total ignorance about contemporary television – as well as an article in Filmmaker magazine that boldly declared TV IS NOT THE NEW FILM (Note: You could almost hear the writer shouting it off the page) really got my goat. Oh, and add to that writer/director Ethan Coen’s response to a question at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where along with his brother Joel he served as grand jury president, about the much-acclaimed TV series version of their hit film Fargo.

It’s not that I don’t like TV. It’s alien to me.  I haven’t watched a television show in decades. 

…..he said proudly.

Oh yes, he was just being honest. The same way Variety’s Justin Chang was truthful when he wrote about the Cinema vs. Television debate in a gee whiz sort of way:

I would have to bone up on years of neglected TV watching before I could hazard a guess — as it stands, it feels like an apples-and-oranges comparison, and one where I don’t have the clearest idea what oranges taste like.

I suppose this was better than what Mike S. Ryan proclaimed in Filmmaker.

As much as I love Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men or Twin Peaks, as great and as groundbreaking as those shows were, they are still not Cinema.

Oh, why is it whenever anyone says or writes the word cinema I want to stick my tongue down their throats and get them to spit up a hairball?

Preach

Preach

The reason this has surfaced is that the upcoming Toronto Film Festival has decided to follow the lead of other film festivals all over the world and feature one of two programs this year devoted to television i.e. the pilot episodes of several new series viewers will be treated to later in the year.

The immediate reaction of critics like Chang is to sniff they were just too busy with CINEMA to watch contemporary television, even the superior kind. It seems like it’s even the inferred response of a prominent film artist like Mr. Coen, who treats the mere mention of the medium as some rare oddity from outer space he, as an earthling and non-scientist, has just not had the time or education to get familiar with.

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Frankly, I’m amazed at these reactions.

Certainly everyone has the right to sample what they choose to or have time for. We’re lucky to live in a world where there are so many possibilities of art to sample with the click of a button. But this is the same reason for any evolving artist and/or critic to try and take a little bit more time to survey the contemporary world if they want to continue to remain interesting, or even relevant.

This past week I stood in front of three different small groups of students in the first classes in the college semester where I will guide them as they formulate and execute any number of screenplays, television pilots and spec episodes of existing series. These are all smart, aware and active young people in their early twenties and it might or might not surprise you to know that the vast majority of them only very sporadically go out to the movies or watch a television series at the precise moment its network or cable outlet decides to first air it. Nor do they particularly care whether they view what they eventually watch on a big screen, laptop, iPad or smart phone. Oh sure, there are the occasional events, or motion pictures that must be seen large or viewed as early as possible. But these are rare. Like – VERY rare.

Like this...

Like this…

And studio executives take note – the two most repeated words I heard in all of our conversations about which movies and TV shows they liked and watched (Note: Yes, they all did BOTH!) were:

HULU and NETFLIX.

Unless one wants to write about or create art rooted or set solely in the past it might be nice for those at the top of their game in either of these fields to take note of some of the above. It does not mean you are betraying Renoir, Tarkovsky or Chantal Akerman. Anymore than it means you are turning your back on The Real Housewives if every now and then you decide to go to your local art house or streaming service and check in to see what Andrew Bujaski or the Dardenne brothers are up to.

As for the high vs. low art issue, I for one refuse to get into a debate over whether The Hangover is better than Breaking Bad, if the first season of True Detective had camerawork and imagery that would indeed rival the latest Terrence Malick film or if Guardians of the Galaxy was more enjoyable than any one episode of Mad Men or even The Sopranos. I mean, who really gives a shi damn???

Oh who am I kidding? The answer is ALWAYS Mad Men. #EmmyforHamm

Oh who am I kidding? The answer is ALWAYS Mad Men. #EmmyforHamm

Yes, I’d rather watch Breaking Bad on a loop for the next three years than to have to sit through another Hangover even one more time. But I have actually seen the first two (Note: Ok, not all three) Hangover films. Not to mention all of the above choices, even the last few from the brilliant Malick – a director I really have to take a rest from before I become one the very kind of lazy, non-thinkers I’ve warned my students (and all of you) not to become.

See, sometimes it’s not enough to simply be aware of your tendency toward marginalizing, judgment or limited thinking in the art world. You actually need to make an effort to get off the couch or your soapbox, or flop down onto your couch and put on the TV. You’re free not to do that. But if so, please spare us your snob stories.