Thursday, October 24, 2019

Not Cinema?

So, superhero movies 'aren't cinema', in fact, they are 'despicable', when they aren't just 'boring'.  So say Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola and, er, Ken Loach.  They are all perfectly entitled to their opinions, of course.  Personally, when it comes to superhero films, I can take them or leave them. Of the Marvel films I've seen, I've liked some more than others.  But then, I'm not their target audience any more than middle aged directors of 'serious' films are.  I do know that they are cinema, though, just a different kind of cinema to the films of Scorcese, et al.  But the thing I find most beguiling about this whole non-debate is the way it is being treated as some kind of great revelation that such films are essentially studio 'product', tailored to their potential mass audiences.  Well, obviously.  Mainstream studio films always have been.  They are commercial ventures, for God's sake - studios have never made films primarily for art's sake, or because they want to make a social statement.  No, they want to turn a profit.  That's the way it has always been.  It is easy to romanticise the major studios in their Golden Age of the thirties and forties, but the fact was that they were factories, turning out cinematic product on an industrial scale. A lot of it was crap, but a surprising amount was good, regardless of genre.

Of course, these days the major studios are all corporate subsidiaries, owned by huge multinationals, rather than being corporations in their own right.  What this means in practice is that they are now part of wider entertainment concerns, turning out product destined, not just for the cinema, but for release across multiple platforms, each part of a wider inter-locking sales campaign which will include all manner of spin offs: direct-to-DVD sequels, video games, animated series, toys and games, fashion accessories, etc.  It also means that their products benefit from the greater marketing resources of their corporate overlords - they now have access to the sort of market research which can help them shape their films to their audiences expectations in the way that the old studios could only dream of.  Not that it always works. Cinema remains an industry where it is notoriously difficult to sure fire hits.  Which is why those Marvel superhero movies are so carefully tailored to their audiences - nothing succeeds like success, so they never stray too far from their established, popular, format.  Let's not forget that before the Iron Man films, Marvel had found it extremely difficult to translate its characters to the screen with any degree of success.  So when they finally found the formula, they weren't going to change it.

The fact is, of course, that all of these highly successful studio movies, regardless of their quality, subsidise all those other, worthier, movies which are never likely to find a mass audience.  Or, those which, against all odds, become commercial successes, but would never usually get initial financing - studios with a string of successes under their belts are going to be more willing to take a chance on something more, well, arty.  But it isn't just big studio films which have always been 'product' - it has been even truer of the low-budget, exploitation end of the industry.  Sure, these films might be rough edged and far less slick than their big budget counterparts, but, by necessity, they have to know their audiences.  While they can take a few more risks than studio pictures as they have less at stake in budget terms, they still have to know who they are trying to persuade to part with good money to buy the DVD.  Which is why I found Coppola's remarks on the subject of superhero movies particularly surprising, as he started his movie making career in exploitation, working for Roger Corman.  Corman is a man who boasts that he never lost a dime on any picture he ever made, his secret being that he kept budgets low, knew his target audience and knew how to market films to them.  He turned out 'product', including Coppola's first directorial credit, Dementia 13.  Before Corman ever greenlit a picture, he knew which exploitable elements had to be in it - directors could do anything they liked, so long as those elements were present.  It was an approach that worked.  Something that Coppola should be grateful of.  But hey, it doesn't really matter what any of us, famous film directors or ordinary cinemagoers, think of those superhero films: as long as they keep entertaining their target audiences they'll keep making money and the studios will keep making them.  When they cease to do these things, the studios will find some other genre to attract the mass audiences, regardless of what we think.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home