Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Media Feed – Reel Reviews

Media Feed is a (sort of) weekly podcast where we provide food for the culture vulture in you.

This week's show reviews the Reel Reviews Podcast by Michael W. Goeghegan.

Full disclosure: I have read and really do like Podcast Solutions, a book co-authored by Michael W. Goeghegan.

Download the podcast here:


Our theme song is graciously provided by Jim's Big Ego. Learn more about the band (and buy albums) at www.bigego.com.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Play it Again, Sam

There are already murmurs and whispers about how Phillip Seymour Hoffman should get the Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Truman Capote. His performance is dead-on top notch and mesmerizing.

Which is fine. Hoffman is an excellent actor and has deserved accolades for some time. But why for this role, which, in musical terms, is really nothing more than a cover tune? For one, a precedent was set with last year’s Academy Awards – where both Jaime Foxx and Cate Blanchett won acting awards for their impersonations of Ray Charles and Katherine Hepburn, respectively. The message is this:

If you want to get an acting award, you have to jump through the Rich Little Hoop.

We can see this in films like Good Night and Good Luck, where David Strathairn impersonates Edward R. Murrow and in Walk the Line, where we get not only Johnny Cash and June Carter impersonations, but impersonations of Jerry Lee Lewis and, surprise surprise, Elvis Presley.

So why is this?

The knee-jerk reaction is to repeat the mantra that wards off bad entertainment, “Hollywood has run out of ideas.” But the issue is more complicated than that, and it deserves more consideration than a casual dismissal. Because, in a very real sense, Hollywood never had any ideas.

The entertainment industry is first and foremost an industry. A place where money is invested and money is then generated. And the investors want to make sure their investments are well-protected. The way to do this, of course, is to not to take chances and make the safest bets possible.

And what is a safe bet? Investing in an established brand. An established brand can be anything that people already know – an actor, a television show, a media personality, another movie, or any combination of the above. Since advertising is routinely the most expensive budget item in a movie, anything that can be done to reduce advertising costs is a godsend. When you hear that there is a Dukes of Hazzard movie out there, the expectations are already set. Whether you decide to see the movie or not in the .0002 seconds after you hear of its existence, the amount of time and effort to reach that decision is minimal. Processing the five words “the Dukes of Hazzard movie” takes much less time than seeing a commercial, movie trailer, or internet banner ad. Reducing that amount of time saves movie companies money, and the more they save money, the more they make money.

A quick survey of film history shows that this has always been the case. Silent films routinely depicted popular plays or books (for fun, do some research on what Brahm Stoker’s widow thought of the silent film, Nosferatu). Recent DVD box sets of The Wizard of Oz and Ben-Hur show that both of these films had silent film predecessors, effectively declaring that these Cinematic Classics are really just remakes.

So where does that get us?

My life changed when someone pointed out to me, “Every time you buy a ticket to a movie, you’re placing a vote for what you want movies to be like for the next three years.” If you don’t like what Hollywood is churning out, then don’t go to the movies. If you like movies with subtitles, then make the time and effort to see them for the week they’re playing in the theater.

And if you like impersonators, there is something tailor-made for you in theaters now.