I read an argument not so long ago that runs something like this: Movie studios are now owned by large corporations, and these corporations bought the studios when they realized the profits that could be made through blockbusters. These movies make millions and millions of dollars. So the corporate culture is geared now less to making good movies, and more to making the next blockbuster. But blockbusters require two things: major stars and special effects, both of which are expensive. Hence, studios are making fewer more expensive movies, hoping to strike it rich.
Further, these movies must appeal to as many people as possible, and hence must aim at the lowest common denominator, things everyone wants to see. Therefore, they are splashy, lots of explosions, filled with pretty people, and not thought provoking or controversial. They do not challenge the system, they embody it. Independent films have no chance in today's market.
Now I wonder just how true these claims are. First, one may note that there has always existed a tension between the desires of the artist and the desires of the consumer (or the people who pay for the art). An artist who produces for the consumer seems to not be true to the artistic nature of the medium, i.e., they are not being true artists. They are, in a real sense, selling out, chasing the buck.
As plausible as this argument sounds, the reality is more grey. The fact is that artists have always had to pay attention to the desires of the person or people paying for the art work. The Beatles were a commercial group, and their manager choose the look, the music and more with an eye to what sells. The Who, the Sex Pistols, and many more, made music with a conscious eye towards what would sell. They ceded power to their managers to help make this choice, and the manager did more than just get gigs. He would choose which songs to put on the album, for example. Pete Townsend pitched his concept album Tommy to his manager, aware that the manager was not interested in concepts of self, rock opera, mysticism, but in what sells, and Pete let himself be guided by that. 'Pinball wizard' is what made the whole thing work, a pop song about a guy who plays pinball. The bands that make it big do not work with a manager, but for him. And yet, no one can deny the artistic nature of the product. Apparently, art and commercialization are more closely connected than we thought.
The same is true in days of old, where it was not the masses that choose the music, but the patrons of the art, whose taste in art was as suspect as any of the masses. Bach, Beethoven, Rembrandt and many more, worked by commission, or by the whim of the patron, whose tastes they could not ignore.
And the same is true for movies: many classics were produced with commercial interests in mind. 'Star Wars' is a both a blockbuster and a classic movie.
And yet, no one (save Josh) can deny that popular culture can produce popular trash, from Louisiana's own Brittany Spears to the Bay City Rollers to Pat Gibson . So when then does pop destroy art? Does it at all?
Second, I read that there are fewer independent movies, fewer low budget movies, fewer artist movies, fewer thought provoking movies than before, But I wonder just how true that is. Are movies worse, different than before? SteveG argues in his own blog that the blockbusters lack tragic heros, and hence they have been on the decline. Yet if we think about it, there are tragic hero's in today's moves. DiCaprio in Blood Diamonds comes to mind. Is he right? Has the commercialization of the movie industry (and notice that that term 'movie industry' is old, it was an industry already in the '30s!) destroyed tragedy? And with it, the thought provoking movies of old?