For what seems an eternity, I have mourned the loss of the days when Hollywood studios managed to mix films that were simply meant to have mass appeal, with films that focused on a more demanding audience. But those days are long gone and seem, for the moment, to be drifting farther and farther away. Even many of the studio’s more sophisticated arms like Warner Independent Pictures and Paramount Vantage have seen their doors close. Quite possibly forever.
Whether it’s the state of the economy or the fact that studios simply don’t tend to hire people who truly love film (more than the film business), the quality of American cinema has continued to nosedive.
Take Steven Soderbergh’s latest almost-film, MONEYBALL. Based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction baseball story and set to star Brad Pitt, the plug was pulled by Sony Pictures just days before shooting was scheduled to begin. The reason given for such a rare and surprising last minute decision? According to the New York Times:
…accounts from more than a dozen people involved with the film, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid damaging professional relationships, described a process in which the heady rush toward production was halted by a studio suddenly confronted by plans for something artier and more complex than bargained for.
It seems a new version of the script was rewritten by Soderbergh himself. Now without having read the script myself, it’s hard to say if this decision was made because a film with a $57 million price tag simply needs to appeal to as many people as possible, or because the execs at the top simply don’t, themselves, appreciate more demanding films. I mean, let’s face it, Sony used to be the studio that made films like REMAINS OF THE DAY. What was the last film to come from that studio (or any other) that approached the quality of that one? Also from the Times:
The swift mothballing of “Moneyball” may also increase doubts that Hollywood can still deliver tricky but appealing pictures like “Michael Clayton,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” or “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
While films like REMAINS OF THE DAY haven’t had a place at the studios for quite some time, it’s truly sad to consider that films like the above-mentioned might also not be able to find a home at our once beloved studios.
And maybe that’s why I rarely see films produced and developed by a studio unless I happen to be in the mood for something, well, mindless. And they are good at that. And that has its place.
But I still miss the films that inspire and move me, the ones that allow me to think, that challenge me, that remind me that I am a human being, with complexities, questions, thoughts, ideas, curiosities, a sense of adventure, a desire for something poetic, profound, daring… something that can reach deep inside me and move me with the sheer energy of its cinematic storytelling…
But alas… I guess, for the time being, I will have to depend on the rest of the world to supply those. And to the handful of American independent filmmakers out there who are making films more for themselves, and less for that much-coveted directing slot at their favorite studio of choice… I am depending on you.
Addendum: it looks like MONEYBALL is back in the game, but Soderbergh is not. Sony has brought in SPORTS NIGHT creator Aaron Sorkin to do a polish on an earlier, more commercially-minded version of the script written by Steve Zaillian. Pitt is still attached.