Monday, May 20, 2024

Leaning Into Hollywood, A Fierce Beast of a Season – Deadline

What did WB Yeats write, that line that Joan Didion lifted and twisted in her essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” about the chaos of the West Bank in 1967? Things break; the center cannot hold.

That’s how I felt on Thursday, minutes before lunch with some seasoned film executive friends at the Academy Museum (Salad Niçoise again). Ping, a news alert said the actors’ strike was ongoing. Just up the road, SAG-AFTRA was already under media siege. July 13, 2023: It was a hot time in Hollywood and about to get hotter. As Didion said of the cultural crisis of the sixties, “The center was not holding.”

The actors were not acting. Writers did not write. Major film reviewers did not deign to review The Sound of Freedoma right-wing child-trafficking thriller that went through Undercover: The Red Door to lead the box office for a few days, until Tom Cruise took over Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. But the Cruise movie, while strong, wasn’t strong enough to pull this troubling summer out of its rut.

(The Sound of Freedomas Anthony D’Alessandro of Deadline noted, meanwhile, it was set to pass the domestic box office total for the Oscar winner. Everything Everywhere At Once.)

During lunch, the immediate question was how long will the strikes last?

“Well, people are talking about November,” said the seasoned Number One Executive. “But nobody knows,” added the seasoned Number Two Executive.

Of course, this is what is scary about the current disorder. In the Yeatsian phrase, from his poem “The Second Coming,” anarchy is gone in the world.

Hollywood’s double whammy is accompanied by the decline of safe bets such as Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destinythen compounded by the audience’s clear appetite for what those who would shun it have called a ‘QAnon-glued’ movie about saving children.

Disney, the most powerful studio, can’t make its very expensive movies work; and Bob Iger, the retired chief executive, has been called back for a year, then somewhat desperately on the ropes for two more. The Emmys are free floating, without a set date—how do you give and receive awards without actors or writers? With the screen talent sitting out, San Diego Comic-Con is reverting back to what it once was, a comic book convention.

The end of days? Not yet. Some big, intriguing films are still slated for release – this week alone will bring Oppenheimer AND Barbie. And anyone who has done even a rudimentary study of Hollywood knows of its hysterical morbidity. The movie business has been repeatedly declared dead or dying since it began.

But even sober professionals seem shaken by the current crisis. They don’t see a clear path to resolving labor disputes—issues around AI, in particular, seem too vague to resolve, but too scary to ignore. It seems as if the ‘ruddy beast’ in Yeats’s poem has been reaching out to Hollywood in exactly the form envisioned by dozens of Kubrick films. 2001: A Space Odyssey in.

By now, most screen professionals have had considerable experience with broadcasters driving company positions at the negotiating table. More than once, screen people find broadcast executives cold, system-oriented, technology-based and devoid of the antiquated sentiments and values ​​of show business-The show must go on!—that contributed to the strike in 1988 and 2008.

So this downward spiral may last for a while. The elements of a Hollywood renaissance, revival, revival, reformation, Risorgimento, rekindling—or, as they call it at the Academy Museum, “Regeneration” (an exhibit of that name closes today)—are not yet in sight.

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