Monday, September 5, 2011

An Interesting Box-Office Statistic

Recently I finished a short series of essays in which I tried to examine the malaise of the Movie Summer of 2011.  I suggested, as I have in other essays I wrote for this journal, that there is a neglected movie audience  that would come back to cinemas if there were more substantial films, pictures not obviously targeted to pre-adolescents. 

I expressed my belief that "mature" viewers (not necessarily "older", but ones who appreciate something more than computer graphics, explosions, comic book heroes and brutality) would help make more modestly budgeted, high-quality pictures successful if only more of them were widely available.

I even found a recent quote by a powerful industry insider that succinctly summarized what took me several paragraphs to articulate:

"...The last seven or eight months of movies is the worst lineup of movies you've experienced in the last five years of your life. They suck. It's unbelievable how bad movies have been..."
   ~Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation CEO, at the Brainstorm Tech Conference in Aspen,  Colorado in July. 

As fall approaches, the tide will hopefully turn.  But it is still Summer; "Midnight in Paris" has earned more than its budget;, and it appears that another "adult"film in wide release is poised to become a surprisingly huge hit.

Nothing about it would indicate that it would be a smash movie in the Summer of 2011.

It is a period piece (the American South in 1963).  It is the story of, of all things, a young woman aspiring to become a writer, and a maid who helps her realize her dream.  It tells of how these two unlikely allies collborate with a group of repressed women, and how all of them triumph. 

It is a somber tale of caregivers caught up in a dangerous era of change, when they began to resist the long-standing attitudes and traditions that robbed them of the most basic freedoms in personally degrading ways.  Its physical violence is shocking, wounding, but not shown on screen.  Its tension and sadness are punctuated by  laughter and honest warmth.  There is nary a computer in sight, nor a gun. 

It is an authentic re-creation of an unbelievable time and place in America's history, one whose repercussions are still felt today.  It was made by a competent and talented director, a gay white man who grew up in the milieu of the film, who was a childhood friend of the woman who wrote the novel  (one that no one wanted to publish) from which the screenplay was adapted. 

All it has to offer is a human story that absorbs audiences for 2 hours and 17 minutes, played by talented performers, new and old; and a meticulous design and soundtrack that engulf viewers into a world that requires the same suspension of disbelief as the latest fantasy blockbuster--except that it is based on a real time and place in our world.

The film, of course, is "The Help".

What makes this all the more interesting, in the context of the Summer 2011 Movie Season, is that among all of the billion-dollar franchises, the "safe" blockbusters that were critic-proof and all but guaranteed to be financially successful,  "The Help" is the only 2011 film to achieve the #1 weekend box-office spot for three consecutive weekends (and the first film to do so since 2010's "Inception".) (See more HERE)

That is amazing...and reinforces my instinct about audiences for movies that are real, entertaining and made without compromise (paraphrasing a mysterious voice from an Iowa cornfield):

If you make them--they will come.

Tomorrow...My re-view of "The Help".

Cicely Tyson ("Sounder", 1972) and Lila Rogers in a scene from "The Help"

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