August, 2018

Why Hollywood movies are so bad

One of the best films of this year: Mad Max: Fury Road. Photo: Jasin Boland Scene from The Last Picture Show – one of the last great movies? Photo: Supplied
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In 1971, Peter Bogdanovich​ made The Last Picture Show, his third film, in Archer City, northern Texas. It was based on an autobiographical coming-of-age book by Larry McMurtry, who grew up there. It had Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges and a luminous Cybill Shepherd, in her screen debut. The opening shot was of the Royal Theatre, the local cinema, in a winter dust storm. The cinema had burned five years before, but they dressed it up for filming. It’s still there – just. I visited recently, on a movie pilgrimage. It has no roof, no seats and no screen, but the die-hards of Archer City (population 1750) keep doing events there.

Bogdanovich loved the Hollywood golden age, so he made the film in black and white. McMurtry’s title already carried the idea that something had passed: it was the last picture show. How right they were. They would not be able to make that film now, even if they wanted to do it in colour. It’s the kind of high-quality, artistic drama that Hollywood has all but abandoned, in favour of large-scale, big-budget, action-based, computer-generated, cookie-cutter movies featuring robots, men in capes, and giant scary machines.

The biggest film of 2014 was Transformers: Age of Extinction, with $US1.1 billion in worldwide gross box office. The next nine films were all based on fantasy and superhero franchises (The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies, Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficent, The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1, X-Men: Days of Future Past) or reboots of 50-year-old ideas, most of them from comic books: The Amazing Spiderman 2, Captain America, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Interstellar, at No.10, was the first sign of an original idea. Sure, some were fun, but which of them delivered a rich dramatic story that offered anything more than sensory stimulation based on pace, noise and action? Even when they’re good, these movies are bad, if you take the view that cinema at its best is about who we are as humans, and earns its place among the great arts. Modern blockbuster cinema barely has any humans.

I do not dismiss action movies. Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the best films of this year, just as Seven Samurai was one of the best of 1954. Both will be remembered in 50 years. How many others of the last few years will be? I have been writing about movies since 1984 and it is hard to think of a worse era than now. When and why did movies get so bad? I offer some ideas below, with no certainty. There are 100 other factors I could cite. No one knows anything, as everyone involved in film knows. Especially when it comes to working out what to do about it.

The studio blues. Hollywood doesn’t really exist, in the sense of one industry dominated by seven major studios. They’re all owned by conglomerates, so a studio head answers to a boss in Tokyo, New York, or London. That was true of the old Hollywood to some extent, but the higher-ups were usually in the entertainment business, even if based in New York. When the studios were forced to divest their theatres in 1948, most sold off their backlots to raise cash. The “writers’ building” became a thing of the past. The best directors (like Frank Capra) and stars left to become “independent”, controlling their own production companies, even as they went broke. When TV kicked the stuffing out of the studios in the ’50s, big corporations moved in on the studio carcasses. The new bosses came from anywhere but show business: insurance, car parking, Vegas, oil wildcatting. There are still some good people running studios, who love movies and know a good script when they see it, but no studio is looking for modest successes any more.

Head office on line 1. Corporations hate risk and movies can’t be made without it, especially the good ones. No studio would touch Citizen Kane now. A fundamental schism opened up in the 1960s between the studios and the new, younger audience, because Hollywood could not keep pace with social change. Baby boomers wanted Bonnie and Clyde, not The Sound of Music. There was a brief flowering in the 1960s and early 1970s, when a new generation of young directors came in (Altman, Coppola, Scorsese, Malick) to make art cinema. Hollywood doesn’t know much about art but it knows what it hates. And then along came Jaws and Star Wars to change the expectations of how big one movie’s profits could be. George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg saved Hollywood and nobody had to think about art any more. “Less risk, more profit” was the goal in old Hollywood too, they just didn’t know how to achieve it. TV advertising of movies changed that: it became possible to maximise the take at a film’s opening, before word-of-mouth could kill a bad movie. Hollywood has been perfecting that idea for 30 years now and they have become very good at persuading the public that a good movie is the one that opened strongest last weekend, even if the critics hated it. The media helps them do it, by reporting on box office figures without discussing the ways that those figures are manipulated. The media are part of the gravy train anyway, because of the ad campaign revenue.

There are no new ideas. And if you have one, they won’t let you make it. The traditional method of reducing risk was to pack a film with stars. The new method is the tent-pole franchise, based on a hit book series for young adults. Then you don’t need stars. It’s true that the young actors in the Harry Potter films were well paid. It’s also true that Jennifer Lawrence at the start of the Hunger Games franchise was worth a lot less than she is now. The franchise doesn’t have to be new: in fact, it’s safer if it has already been done successfully in the distant past – as in the reboot of Planet of the Apes and Star Wars. Originality is over-rated. Old ideas have pedigree and track record. Even old ideas and characters that old people have forgotten can be revived. Looking forward to the new Peanuts movie in January?

Will it play in Shanghai? The US domestic market is shrinking; most of the revenue now comes from offshore and that means China, where box office growth is phenomenal. In order to maximise the reach of films into that highly restricted market, the studios need films that are easy to market to people who don’t speak English. That means dialogue and characterisation are out, broad action and simple plot (beasts/sharks/robots chase humans) are in. Forget nuanced political issues and be careful about supernatural themes – the Chinese won’t license the film if they don’t like the treatment. The new Chinese audiences aren’t stupid, but they don’t want to read subtitles any more than Americans do. A new mantra has risen: Make the monsters bigger.

The big score. Piracy forces the studios to try to recoup all their profits at once. That means the film is released around the world at the same time. At certain times of the year – like Christmas in Australia with a Star Wars coming down the pike – everyone gets out of the way. There is no room for small and high quality, except at quieter times of the year, so those films make less money. From there it’s a small step in studio thinking to say smaller films can’t make money, so why bother?

The talent has gone to TV. This is only partly true, but if you are a young writer with a great idea, you can have more control and make a better film if you take it to one of the big cable-based networks, or the new mini-majors like Netflix. If you produce it yourself, you also make more money. You won’t get the huge budget of a tentpole movie, but you might reach more people. Big TV screens are the new picture shows, and you never have to leave home for quality drama.

The bloody internet.  Hollywood once had all the eyeballs. From the 1930s to the 1950s movies and radio were the only mass entertainment. Television stole half of that, but movies came back slugging with 3D and cinemascope. They’re trying to do the same thing now with Imax 3D and giant spectacles (on the screen, as well as on your face), but nothing can compete with the internet, where you can watch what you want all the time and for very little or no cost. Internet porn, gaming and free pirated movies – on your phone, your pad, or your PC.

The cinemas are rank.  From George Street to Leicester Square, going to a movie is often a diabolical, not to mention expensive, experience. Projection standards are terrible because the exhibitors got rid of the projectionists; there are no ushers if you want to complain, and many people refuse to turn off their mobile phone. And who can blame them for texting when the movie they’re watching is so bad? Once the connection with audiences is degraded, the behaviour follows suit.

Cinephilia is dead. Quentin Tarantino would say that one reason the movies are in trouble is that they have abandoned film in favour of digital shooting and projection, and digital doesn’t have the same appeal to the eyes. That is why he is paying cinemas to install 70-millimetre projectors for The Hateful Eight (out in January). In a wider sense, the history of movies was once hard to acquire. That made it cool to be a cinephile who had seen all the early works of Godard. The great films are now more accessible than they have ever been, so less cool.  I’m not sure I buy these arguments, but it is certainly true that cinema is less appealing to the young and hip than it once was. Maybe that is the films they are being offered?

The movies are all the same. This is true if you only go to the big cinemas. There is a huge range of great movies we are not seeing in those venues. Even the art houses choose conservatively (French, Italian, anything with Judi Dench). Repertory cinemas once flourished in places that had a good student population, like the inner-west of Sydney. In Melbourne, they still do. There are signs of new life in this area, in smaller funkier places like The Golden Age cinema in Sydney. We can only hope.

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Scentre strikes $2.85m deal with Booodl start up

Apps such as Boodl are increasingly aiding customers find perfect Christmas gifts. Photo: Fiona MorrisShopping is not everyone’s most enjoyable way to spend a day, particularly wandering around a mall trying to locate the stores selling the items on your list.
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This is why technology is being embraced by landlords and customers alike, to not only entice pedestrian traffic to the centres – via the alignment with online shopping through click and collect – but to also make the whole experience that much easier.

Landlords have all said that technology and online shopping is a friend not a foe and they work with tenants to embrace a range of new ways to drive customers back into the centres.

These include food apps where lunch can be pre-ordered to avoid wasting time in a queue, to getting alerts when items are on special or have just been delivered to a store.

One of the latest is called Booodl​, a smart local shopping app. It has inked a $2.85 million strategic investment deal with a consortium comprising Scentre Group – the owner and operator of Westfield in Australia and New Zealand – James Packer, Erica Baxter, Square Peg Capital and Matthew Grounds.

Scentre also plans to expand its technology business, taking an equity stake in disruptive start-up mPort.

mPort pods allow shoppers to get their body measured within minutes and use the information to find clothes that fit, and track their body and health.

The Booodl app and website uses geolocation and machine learning to help consumers find physical retail stores that sell products they want.

Booodl co-founder and chief executive George Freney said users of the app can save these products to a list and receive reminder notifications whenever they’re near a store that sells one, helping to drive more relevant customers in-store.

Consumers can also message stores via the app to confirm details such as price and availability, and pre-purchase products from retailers that have enabled the Pay & Pickup feature. Accelerate store growth

Mr Freney said the $2.85 million investment will be used to accelerate store growth and user acquisition.

“More than 90 per cent of retail is still through physical stores, but not many people actually enjoy shopping,” Mr Freney said.

“Our mission is to make a store more discoverable. The physical store is the heart of the shopping experience, yet stores still miss crucial opportunities to engage with nearby shoppers, and users waste countless hours trying to find and buy what they’re after.”

Mr Freney, who describes himself as a “tech genprenuer” said connecting with Scentre was a logical step for Booodl.

“Our purpose is to create extraordinary places, and connect and enrich communities,” said Scentre Group chief executive Peter Allen.

Through its connection with Westfield Labs in the US, Scentre has introduced a range of tech products, including a new guidance system and ticketless parking at a number of its malls. The nationwide launch of Booodl follows a successful Sydney-based pilot program with seven local retail partners.

During this time, 31,600 products were added to users’ lists, 12,500 reminder notifications were sent to nearby shoppers, and over 6200 messages were exchanged between stores and customers.

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The dynamics of retail leasing in the Sydney CBD

Artist impression of 55 Market Street, Sydney.Sydney retailers are set for a new round of musical chairs as they jostle for space as part of the NSW Government’s move to buy properties for preparation of the planned Metro stations.
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This will see a number of key tenants looking to relocate before the wrecking balls demolishes the buildings, in which they lease the ground floor.

In November, the NSW Government announced that it will buy up to 20 commercial buildings in Sydney as part of its plan to roll out six new train stations across the city.

Tiffany & Co, will be one of the major names impacted as it leases the prominent site at 39 Martin Place, which is owned by DEXUS Property.

The upmarket jeweller has to now move out by early/mid 2017 at the latest.

According to agents, Tiffany & Co. might need 1,000 square metres and the options could include ISPT’s 345 George Street or GPT/Queensland Investment Corp’s MLC Centre.

However, due to the timing, other possibilities such as DEXUS Property’s 175 Pitt Street and Brookfield/Investa’s 388 George Street could be harder as both projects will not be ready until 2018/19.

The David Jones Market Street department store site, which is up for sale, might be hard as the chain may lease it back for another five years.

Agents said if Tiffany & Co moves to 345 George Street, to be opposite Burberry, then it will change the future landscape of George Street as more semi-luxury brands will follow.

Alex Alamsyah​, Knight Frank’s senior director, retail leasing said the the Sydney CBD is very dynamic, with expectations of some movement of luxury/super luxury brands to King Street to take advantage of the developments of the adjoining properties such as 388 George Street, 175 Pitt Street, 138 Pitt Street and the MLC Centre.

“There is also changes of tenancy mix along Market Street because of the future project of 55 Market Street and whatever happens to the David Jones Market Street building,” Mr Alamsyah said.

It is understood that Investa, on behalf of the new owners, the Chinese Investment Corp, has lodged a development application to demolish existing facades, internal structures and former monorail station facility at 55 Market Street and construct new facades and upgrade the retail units.

This comes as the market awaits the outcome of the purchase of the management rights of the CIC portfolio, with Mirvac said to be the purchaser, and the DEXUS and Investa Office Fund proposed merger.

“With this news we could see the DEXUS play on 388 George Street, next to their 175 Pitt Street, and Mirvac’s on 55 Market Street, hence the dynamics of retail leasing in Sydney CBD is unpredictable,” Mr Alamsyah said.

“In 2015 we have seen the opening of Microsoft, H&M, Zara Home in Pitt Street Mall Sydney; and luxury brands Rimowa​, Franck Muller and Cartier in Martin Place, King Street and Castlereagh Street respectively.

“Next year (2016) we will see the opening of HSBC flagship branch at 333 George Street, Tesla at 20 Martin Place, and undisclosed luxury brands at 119 King Street and 112 Castlereagh Street which have been secured by Knight Frank but will only be announced by early next year 2016.”

In addition to all this retail activity, the casual food & takeaway market in the Sydney CBD continues to evolve, according to Michael Hanscomb​, Knight Frank’s director, retail leasing.

“First it was Westfield Sydney’s Black Label Food Court, then the Galleries remixed and dramatically improved their food court offering, Now it’s MLC Centre and Barangaroo which have set a new benchmark,” Mr Hanscomb said.

“The next major food court offering development will be Chifley Plaza’s redevelopment which also incorporate high-end restaurants/cafes and fashion which will set a new benchmark for excellence in the Sydney CBD.”

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Litbits December 12 2015

Poet Geoff Page at his home in Narrabundah. Photo: Jay CronanPOETRY NOT AT THE GODS
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Poetry at the Gods will be reborn with a new name and home in 2016. Next year, the series will be relocated to the Italo-Australian Club, 78 Franklin Street, Forrest, and renamed Poetry at Terza Rima. Admission is still $10 waged, $5 unwaged and dinner is available from 6pm at Tosolini’s in the club (meal bookings on 6239 7520), with readings at 7.30pm. Les Murray will be the first reader there on Tuesday, February 9. Others are Kathleen Bleakley, John Foulcher and Suzanne Edgar (March 8), Iggy McGovern and Petra White (April 12) and Cassandra Atherton and Alan Wearne (May 10), Devin Johnston, Adrian Caesar and Nicola Bowery (June 14), Robyn Rowland and Sarah Holland-Batt (July 12), Russell Erwin, Kathy Kituai and Paul Munden (August 9), Geoff Goodfellow and Nigel Roberts (September 13), Theodore Ell, Andrew McDonald and Sarah Rice (October 11), Judith Beveridge and Michelle Cahill (November 8) and Andrew Burke and Tim Thorne (November 8). Bookings essential. Email Geoff Page on [email protected]论坛. OLGA MASTERS AWARD

The winner of the 2015 Olga Masters Short Story Award was Sharon Willdin from Petersham (NSW) for her story, “No. 12 Hollis Street”, which won $1500; the runner-up was Pamela Parker (Caloundra, Qld) for “Matt McConachie: This is your life” which won $500. The winning entries can be accessed at olgamastersshortstoryaward南京夜网419论坛. CALIBRE PRIZE

Australian Book Review seeks entries in the 10th Calibre Prize for an outstanding non-fiction essay. All essayists writing in English are eligible, regardless of where they live. Essays must be between 3000 and 7000 words and must be written in English. Deadline: January 18, 2016. First prize is $5000 and publication in ABR. See: australianbookreview南京夜网419论坛/prizes/calibre-prize/calibre-online-entry. What’s on

December 12: Between 10am and 2pm at Harry Hartog Book Store at Woden Plaza, author Mick O’Donnell will be talking about and signing his latest historical fiction crime novel Absence of Evidence, recently published by Novel Suite. The novel is Mick’s third following on from Betrayal and Stillsbury Lane. Further information on 6232 5832 or mickodonnellonline南京夜网.

December 14: Geoff Page will be featured in That Poetry Thing at Smith’s Alternative, 76 Alinga Street, Canberra City, at 7pm (doors open 6.30pm) – with open mike session, interview and reading. Cost: $5.

December 15: Frank Bongiorno will discuss his history book The Eighties with former Canberra Times editor-at-large Jack Waterford at Muse Canberra, East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston at 8pm. Tickets $10 includes a drink. Bookings: musecanberra南京夜网419论坛.

December 16: Canberra poets`The Mull & Fiddle Quartet – Martin Dolan, Suzanne Edgar, Michael Thorley and Melinda Smith – will provide an evening entertainment at Manning Clark House, 11 Tasmania Circle, Forrest. 7.30pm. $10 full, $7 concession, free to members. All welcome.

December 22: Diana Thompson’s debut novel, Winterflood’s Passion, is a piece of erotica set in the Southern Highlands. She will talk about it at Muse Canberra, East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston at 8pm.Tickets $10 includes a drink. Bookings: musecanberra南京夜网419论坛.

January 14: Celestial Storytelling in the Conference Room, Level 4 at the National Library of Australia features storytelling with a Chinese twist from 11.30am to noon. Cost $2 a child. Bookings: nla.gov419论坛.

February 2: In the National Gallery of Australia shop at 10.30am, Claudia Hyles will discuss The merchants of light by Marta Maretich. Cost $15 members, $18 guests. Bookings: nga.gov419论坛.

Contributions to Litbits are welcome. Please email [email protected]南京夜网419论坛 by COB on the Monday before publication. Publication is not guaranteed.

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Book review: Cara Carissima, by Geoff Page; Lakeland, by Maureen O’Shaughnessy

CARA CARISSIMA, by Geoff Page. Picaro Press, $20; LAKELAND, by Maureen O’Shaughnessy. Ginninderra Press, $25.
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By happy coincidence, two daring and experimental new narratives have been published. One is a verse play, a salon piece in nine scenes, Cara Carissima by Geoff Page, who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in Australian poetry. The other is a story told in verse and prose by a relative newcomer, Maureen O’Shaughnessy, with Lakeland.

Page’s subject matter might seem parochial – a series of conversations in a cafe in Civic in Canberra between the participants in, and spectators to, the dissolution of a 27-year-old marriage – yet this is a matter, however familiar, that can be of grievous consequence. By contrast, O’Shaughnessy ranges from 1904-2014, from Germany, Poland and Russia into an Australia where old world tragedies are still potent immigrant memories. Each work is alike though in offering a dramatic polyphony, finely delineated voices speaking in monologue, or in company.

Page’s Cara Carissima is a five-hander. One speaker, the barista, links the scenes and observes the action between Sarah, who is getting rid of her husband Barry (a senior public servant), Sarah’s younger sister, Jane, and Cara, Barry’s 41-year-old executive assistant who has just split from her lover, Helmut. Barry is consoling: “Even Teutons have their limits”. No consolation from Sarah as he feels “the whetted edge” of her voice in regard to their wayward sons in Melbourne: Giles has dropped out of law, while “Jack’s med is on the skids”. Worse are their alternative choices: “a band called NOISE. And Anglicare”. As Barry relates her assault on him: “Encyclopaedic, one might call it -/front-on, sideways, in reverse”. Neither is Sarah spared. For Cara she is “a sort of goddamn Hitler-ess/patrolling her domestic Reich”. With unflagging humour, Page will show us who laughs last.

He is a master of light verse. This has nothing to do with triviality, but rather with admirable legerity in handling serious business. A formalist, in Cara Carissima Page deploys quatrains, rhymed abcb. The rhyme words are key to the comedy and the narrative momentum – “OK/chardonnay” – or when Barry thinks of how Cara’s parents might react to an older man: “My thirteen extra shades of grey/might make them wish they’d never seen me”. There the final word jubilantly completes a rhyme with “grandbambini”.

O’Shaughnessy ventures more widely, shifting from verse to prose and back with a skill that makes a complex exercise look simpler than it is. She also has to manage a more convoluted and longer story than Page. For instance, she traces a female line from Anna in Germany in 1904, to her abandoned daughter Helene, to the latter’s child Sieglinde, who emigrates to Australia and has the daughter called only M and a granddaughter, Celia. In the book’s last scene, M and Sieglinde are in Poland in 2014: “she’d wanted to see her home town again”.

The emotional heft of Lakeland is found mainly in the European scenes, whether of the rise of the Nazi Party, “Insolent Jews have been arrested” (one section featuring the Berlin water tower that was the site of the first concentration camp), the involvement of members of the extended family in war, the fate of those who are captured by Russians at war’s end (this in the harrowing section set in a prison near the Masurian Lakes), the uprooting of millions in the years after the war. O’Shaughnessy covers this ground by vignette; for instance, depicting the flight of Sieglinde and her brother Christof from East Germany in 1951: “over the frozen ground the refugees pressed on in hurried amazement”.

O’Shaughnessy’s book demands close attention and patience as gradually the connections across generations are revealed. There are frightening scenes – the countdown in the midnight hours at the end of 1944 on a merchant ship in the Baltic Sea – and incongruous ones, as when Sieglinde takes her German nephew, Ewald, a travel writer, to Victoria’s Little Desert. He is horrified at “country that flowed through your eyes like a wasteland”. Then there is the pathos of a house now without children – “waft after waft of vacancy”.

That Geoff Page has once again excelled in a medium that he has tested and enriched is no surprise. The advent of O’Shaughnessy is a very welcome one.

Cara Carissima will be performed at The Courtyard Studio, December 17-19. Bookings: 6275 2700.

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