At the outset, let me state unequivocally that I have had a lifetime love affair with the movies. The affair spans the golden age of Hollywood films and as evidence of this heartfelt attachment, I can name most of the actors in black and white films, B movies included.
I inherited this addiction from my mother who would take me with her whenever the movies changed their bill, even in the middle of the week when I should have been doing my homework. Her lure was not only the movie itself but the collection of dishes the theaters would give away free to corral their patrons during the dark days of the depression.
The movie bill in those days consisted of a double feature, news of the day, a cartoon or two, and a minute or two of coming attractions — meaning the pictures that were on deck to be seen in the next few days. There was no popcorn, only a vending machine that would dispense packaged candies for a nickel (about six choices).
Those old birds from the studios who lured you into the movie theaters were the most brashly creative propagandists and advertising geniuses of their day. They built a star system that made gods and goddesses of their actors, slapping their images all over the place, on billboards, fan magazines and gossip columns, and used the mass media with unprecedented skill, verve, and chutzpah.
Indeed, they made you believe that those actors whose love affairs and ‘derring-do’ actually happened to them in real life and seduced you to glimpse into their lurid personal lives, stunted perhaps by the fact that these actors, mostly uneducated and insecure, began to believe that they were the characters put up on that 35-foot screen. Indeed, those movie promoters invented the modern celebrity machine.
They gave away dishes and other items that lured you into the theaters in the middle of the week. They sponsored contests for kids. They coupled the movies with live entertainment like Sinatra, Milton Berle, Martin and Lewis, and many others.
They built faux palaces that made you feel you deserved the importance of entering a baroque castle with lots of gold paint and chandeliers. Remnants remain, of which Radio City Music Hall was the epitome of the era, a relic that has retained its luster but no longer shows movies.
Their advertising in the newspapers was over the top with exaggeration and drum beating bull which to this day continues its legacy of faux praise, much of it bought and paid for.
The language of the lure is still over the top only more so. Ever really read a movie blurb? They are hilarious, extracted from reviews by anyone with a computer and an opinion, but who looks at the source? Some are from the top tier of reviewers from the New York Times and other big city newspapers; others are from magazines, entertainment trade papers, television “critics”, assorted bloggers and movie critic sites where self-proclaimed “reviewers” abound, all with one thing in common: “opinions” hungry to see their critiques quoted and hopeful that their sites attract advertisers.
Here are some samples extracted from newspapers flacking new offerings, which will remain anonymous. I’ll dispense with “Best Picture”, “Best Actor” — which are ubiquitous and the absurdist exaggerations — like the overused “Brilliant”, “Ravishing”, “Remarkable”, “Breathless”, “Imaginative” and the all-purpose “Most” to underline the point.
Then there is the blockbuster word “Masterpiece” and, of course “Winner”, of the various festivals and resumes of directors for past films all embellished with an avalanche of praise words lifted from Mr. Roget’s handy thesaurus. Sometimes the flack writer will get really creative and spew “We’re Too Busy Laughing” or “The Level of Craft is Something to Behold” or “An Erotic Mindbender” or “Thrillingly Hypnotic”, or “Give Us More Like This One”, heaven forbid, and the all-purpose “You Won’t Believe Your Eyes” or “So Good You Will Have to See it Twice.”
For the “save the world” filmmakers, who offer what they believe is life-changing movies, you will find specific hype headlines like “Uncompromising”, “Brave”, “Courageous”, “Fearless”, “Daring”, and that all-purpose word of the righteous activist, “expose.”
Then there are the groups who treat film as a cultural icon and a matter of scholarly inquiry with another cluster of hype words like “classic”, “enduring” and “vintage.”
Of course in today’s world the lure goes beyond mere words. You have to endure a tsunami of advertising if you enter a movie theater on its advertised time entrapped and forced to endure 15 minutes or more of earsplitting commercials, many designed to get you to buy the obesity-encouraging, overpriced menu of life menacing goodies, served in the lobby concessions.
As if this was not enough brainwashing, you still have to endure endless coming attractions, usually eardrum endangering snippets from the latest movie spinoffs of computer games targeting the pre- and early teen set. By the time one gets around to the start of the movie, a half hour or more beyond the published feature time, you are exhausted by the assault and your potential film enjoyment meter has been compromised.
In the golden age of the black and whites, the coming attractions were five minutes long and your concentration on the story being presented on the screen was still fresh and expectant.
There is a sense, even as I write this rant, that the movie auditorium, meaning where groups sitting together in the dark, munching on unhealthy foods while being attacked with endless hype are the last gasp of a desperate industry running out of ideas as they enter an uncertain future.
As I said at the onset, I loved the movies, even the very few being offered today for those of even average intelligence, but I fear a total disenchantment is on its way, unless the moguls come up with a more engaging product for people of all ages and stop trying to overstuff us with all the hype and brainless baloney.