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join the discussion: has hollywood really changed for the worse? If so, who or what is to blame?�

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am not defending the state of film. Instead, I believe the notion of film as art is dead in the U.S. Once that notion of higher expectations is thrown away (much like when one accepts that TV exists to sell products, as a medium for advertisers, not educate), many of the criticisms aimed at Hollywood become simple observations.

Cinema is an industry and films are its products. For film to exist as art auteurs must possess total control over their films direction and content (as in Claire Denis in her film Beau Travail.) Working film auteurs can only exist if, as in France, theres government subsidization of film, or a group of patrons, like the Medicis, begin to fund certain filmmakers, simply out of a love of film. But since so much art funding comes as a need for a tax write-off, or as an investment (like owning a singular work, such as a painting), and NOT from a genuine love or, more importantly, understanding of the arts, its doubtful patrons will invest in independent films, without an obvious financial incentive. (Really, how many of the super-wealthy had time to develop an artistic sophistication? Look at Hollywood executives.)

Despite this, many are optimistic that digital filmmaking will bring forth a indie-revolution by way of lower cost and distribution through the Internet. I seriously doubt this. Much like independent web sites have failed, because of a lack of traffic, or an inability to make money off their existence, a market flooded with digital films will fail as well. People are creatures of habit and cannot make up their minds when confronted by overwhelming choice. They will always fall back to the name brand -- the familiar product, encountered through its marketing, which was funded by the major media conglomerates.

Independent voices are drowning each other out, and will need to form some sort of unified front or site to promote these independent films. Where is the money in this, to support such an endeavor? And what will keep the struggling independents from being co-opted once theyre successful?

Ultimately, however, were blaming the victim, a victim that may not even exist. How many people are truly upset with current cinema -- the tripe that is fed to the willing masses? Sadly, few. Just like the audience for Frontline, the sophisticated audience who actually craves intellectual challenge, and who gags at the middlebrow sentiment and clich of mass entertainment, is profoundly small and, for the most part, economically powerless.

My conclusion is as base and obvious as most film formula people are stupid. They get what they deserve, and theyre not complaining. Thanks to globalization of the film industry, the audience has grown exponentiallydumber. Most Americans and Europeans have been sophisticated by-proxy exposed to so much midcult garbage, that theyve matured or at least finally grown somewhat weary of the same formulas. But it could be argued theyve just grown bored and crave more extreme and outrageous gutter fare. Its far from ironic that Gladiator won best picture, considering much of modern mass culture shares the exploitive and vulgar content of the original Roman events.

People havent changed. For the most part theyre lazy, ignorant and emotionally arrested. Theyre guided by short-sighted, simple ideas and the culture they crave and consume reflects and enforces these traits.

For me (as I assume is the case for most for most Frontline viewers), this is simply stating the obvious, or, to end on a clich preaching to the choir.

Joe Deasy
brooklyn, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thanks for telling the truth about the downfall of commercial American cinema The film press is so co-opted that we seldom hear the real reasons for this awful drek being hoisted upon us.

The program reminded me of a joke that a friend had told me about a junior executive that pitches the president of a large film company about a screenplay that focuses on a fellow who mixes drinks in a bar. The president angrily responds, Thats the stupidest idea that Ive ever heard! and the junior exec quickly replies ..but weve got Tom Cruise attached! The president thinks about this for a moment.. Hmmm.. We havent seen a good drink-mixing film in a long time!!

Doug Cawker
los angeles, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

If one thinks that the corporatization of the movie business is a new thing, read Thurman Arnold's "The Folklore of Capitalizam" from 1937 in which this former great trust buster has a lot to say about the mythology of capitalism with respect to the film industry.

Or "America in Midpassage" by Charles and Mary Beard from 1940 which discusses the film industry in its then cultrual and economic context just before WWII and during the Great Depression. Six corporations then controlled the entire movie business through stockholding and a practice known as "block booking" that forced exhibitors to accept mediocre films with top rated movies. This practice was eventually decreed in violation of the antitrust laws, a la Microsoft. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Large corporations are bad no matter what industry they are in and they are especially bad when the corporations assume "global" proportions. The larger and more powerful these corporations become, the less they reflect reality or the concerns of the audiences. They pander to ignorance, fear, lust, sadism and cruelty, the most degrading aspects of human behavior.

As the public tires of being endlessly bludgeoned with blockbusters, the film industry as described in this program will be forced to restructure, if it does not collapse altogether. We'll probably then be treated to a plea from the CEO's of these corporations for some type of bailout from Congress.

Jon Erik Kingstad
afton, minnesota


Dear FRONTLINE,

Although vertical integration & the entrance of highly-capitalized players such as SONY & SEAGRAMS may have altered the balance of power in Hollywood, we thought your program was overly grim.

The emphasis on first week grosses doesn't account for the influence "Oscar Buzz" has in providing "breathing room" for additional films. For example, despite critical drubbing, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES developed "word of mouth" momentum & became a money-maker for MIRAMAX after receiving several Oscar nominations resulting in two awards. Similarly, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME moved from the festival circuit to an art house winner last year after receiving several Oscar nominations as well as multiple Independent Spirit Award nominations.

So things may be bad in Hollywood, but there is still room for quality films. Sites like ours direct adults to interesting films which go from theatrical release to broad video distribution & then to cable venues such as IFC (the Independent Film Channel) & SUN (the Sundance Channel).

"The truth is out there."

Jan & Rich @ Films42.com
chicago, il


Dear FRONTLINE,

I am an avid watcher of Frontline, but this week's documentary did not tell me anything new about Hollywood.

I wish you had brought more attention to the studios's irritating barrage of weekend grosses?

vancouver, british columbia


Dear FRONTLINE,

The show was riddled with misinformation, often because of wrong chronology and because it was trying so hard to make its predetermined points.

From forgetting to mention that many of the megacorps owning studios also own the theaters to stating that SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE was the downfall of Miramax as an indie and it was acquired by Disney after that film, are just a few of the wrong facts that question the research of the writer....who didn't want credit and used the name of Hollywood's famous fictitious director, Alan Smithee. Please.

If only you'd give some decent airtime to John Pierson whose article on the website does an excelent job of summing up much if the real situation in the indie world.

The fact is that many new true indies surface annually and bring the specialized audiences a range of interesting films to supplement the studio owned divisions (Sony Pictures Classics, Par. Classics, Fox Searchlight, Universal Focus, Fine Line). It is hard for many of them to find screen time but innovatove strategies get movies from Strand, Cowboy, Zietgiest, Rialto, Artisan, etc.seen. If there is a true villan it is often these distributors themselves who still fall into the traps of the giants of the industry. As Pierson states, too many indies open on any given Friday. I'm in this business and I can't keep them all straight or even remember which have opened already.

The other villan is the press. As editors look for more high profile stories, the smaller films may get the best review of the day but it is buried in the back of the entertainment section so that the studio releases cover the front pages. Concerned moviegoers need to write to their local papers expressing disappointment that their "news"papers are covering anything "new" on their front pages.

With the cost of making films coming down for the small maker, there will be more films than ever. Most will get what they deserve: a few showings to family and friends. A few really good works may never surface while some will get discovered. And by sheer drive, a lot of mediocre junk will find its way to screens (though not necessarily audiences) and launch a career in ancillary markets.

gary meyer
berkeley, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

As far as whos to blame, I think there are many who contribute to what Hollywood has become today. Corporate ownership of motion picture companys guarantees that "motion picture art" is now profit driven. This ensures that every major release gets a marketing blitz that will undoubtedly lead to some type of fast food promotional cup or action figure. Directors and producers have become so proficient at the formula for creating a blockbuster (i.e. 9 explosions + 3 car chases + 8 naked women = $20 million opening weekend) that they fail to work at improving their craft. Writers fail to write intelligent and challenging scripts, while at the same time leaving their work so incomplete that if the picture attains box office success, a sequel can be easily spun out from any of the tattered storylines. Actors and actresses fail to drive improvements to the scripts that ultimately will affect their performance.

But most of all I blame us, the audiences of these movies, for not holding the studios responsible for the quality of their product. As long as we continue to sheepishly support these generic films and sequels with box office revenue, the corporate bean counters will continue to fund them as a cost effective product.

gary cochran
sacramento, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

Part of the problem is the expectation of enormous profits. That is not realistic. This business was designed to self-perpetuate the art form while carving out a rather nice living for those who work in it. Now the expectation of enormous returns is all the more aggravated when a film makes more than it was ever expected to (Titantic)--and everyone else feels like they are LOSING money if they don't have a runaway over the top success like that. Fiscal responsibility to overexpectant investors who should have never been led to think of the film business as a get rich quick scheme makes the creating and the working in this business a miserable exercise for those of us who actually physically bring the elements together for a hopefully magical experience on the screen.

Since the American Film experience is in a position of shaping the culture of the entire world, I hope filmmakers can take control and responsibility for the quality of the culture they are exporting not just the quantity of its financial returns.

brooklyn, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

The Frontline doc was excellent. I am a firm beleiver in the power of passion and creativity. The movie business, like other segments of entertainment, is defined by the incredible wills of a few individuals who go beyond the obstacles to realize their vision. I believe technology will play a significant role in prodcution and distribution. However, it may take several years for technology to truly give independent producers significant partity in the market. In an aging and ever more educated market, I also believe indepedent producers will be future of the movie business and entertainment overall. The barriers to entry in the film business are extremely high to the capital requirements - with continued advances in technology hopefully that will change and open more opportunities for smaller companies focused on quality commercial filmmaking vs. corporate cashflow.

Eric Noren
upper montclair, nj


Dear FRONTLINE,

I owm a video store and see what people want to rent. It has come to the point that if it dosen't have a big name star or they have never heard of the movie, they will not rent it. It's what I call the Macdonalazation of America. People who travel will only eat at mcdonald's becasue they know what at they will get. it is the same with movies, no matter how good the movie it dosent't rent unless they have heard of it. Having said that, i think the only hope for independent film maker is video.

As an independent store we cater to customers and are always ready to recommend a good film. Something that isn't happening at your local Blockbuster, where the average clerk has no knowledge of any movie more the a year old

cuba, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

Interesting show.....does it give an indication the business will falter, change, or improve, do you think....

Jerry Briggs
cannelton, in


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