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Monday, January 17, 2011

My retro career just melted....

On top of reading The UFA Story, I've been on a "behind-the-scenes" of Hollywood kick lately.

About John Gregory Dunne's The Studio I have very little to say, other than that it is a fascinating view of how some great (and not-so-great) films were created over at 20th Century Fox, even as studio executives show an inability to relate to the realities of '60s America.

However, I also read Edward Jay Epstein's The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies. I can't really recommend it as highly as Dunne's book, because most of Epstein's book is just reprints from his Slate and New Yorker columns, with even the new material feeling short and fluffy in the way that most magazines and internet publications expect from regular columns.

The snapshots that Epstein gives of the movie industry can be fascinating. He hints at what would have been a more interesting book in the epilogue, where he breaks down the ways that the loss of foreign financing and the bank/hedge fund collapse have severely impoverished the film world (artistically as well as financially). Epstein lays out the case that the recession strikes the independent production companies the hardest, since the difficulty in securing initial funding sinks almost anything without a big star already attached.

Furthermore, even the major studios, which are slightly better off as far as actually getting their films made, but still in an unenviable position re: making a profit, are relying more and more on overseas sales, which means a swing further towards the comic book/licensed property/shoot-out/car-chase side of the entertainment spectrum. So if you were hoping that the recession would mean smaller, smarter pictures and less empty blockbuster, Epstein's not on your side.

Which, jumping back to The UFA Story, sounds vaguely reminiscent of the German film industry's problems between 1924 and 1928 (which, I remind you, was during a period of economic improvement BEFORE the Great Depression hit). To quote Kreimeier:
This risky product with unpredictable sales potential, which even on the domestic market made life hard for producers wanting quick returns, was now pulled into the malestrom of crisis-prone international finance. (123)
 Moving on from there, Kreimeier notes that the studios that managed to weather this storm the best were those with vertical integration (control of distribution and exhibition) and investments in property (studio space, equipment, movie theatres). These giant conglomerates also usually had ties to a friendly and corporatized press that printed stories and reviews that were basically glorified press releases.

That sounds rather familiar to me. Is this where the American film industry is heading for the near future?
The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies The Ufa Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company, 1918-1945 (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism, 23)The Studio

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