Page 8 - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, February 2, 1989
Hollywood out of focus
In today's films, the bigger the budget, the harder they fall
BY MARK SHAIMAN
THINK about Casablanca for a moment. It
stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. It
was directed by Michael Curtiz. Notice the
difference in verb tenses. Even in a movie now
45 years old, the stars are still starring in it, but
the director's job is done, finis, complete. Why
It's because, with rare exception, people go to
movies to see the people in front of the camera,
not the work of the people behind it. Film theo-
rists came up with a term called the auteur,
which refers to directors who takes complete
charge and puts their personal stamp on a film,
such as Hitchcock used to. The term is great for
these theorists who believe that the entire works
of directors must be looked at as a whole in order
to evaluate their merit as a filmmakers. Other
theorists believe each film must be looked at as
an individual work, the product of multiple peo-
But when it really comes down to it, it all
means diddley-squat, which itself is another term,
but one that is just as appropriate in today's film
world. When a movie as bad as Cocktail is the
second highest grossing film of the year, solely
on the basis of Tom Cruise being in it, then the
only terminology that matters is the kind you
would learn in your economics class. Parallel
editing or rack focus are, for the most part, dead
And they desperately need to be revived. Not
so that film theorists have new stuff to talk
about, but so that we have new stuff worth going
to see, especially at the prices the theaters are
charging today. 'Stuff' - a real definitive term,
but again, a fitting one. Just think about it. Last
Saturday night you may have said "Let's go to a
movie," but when was the last time you thought
of going "to the cinema"?
Movie has come to refer to anything that
Cruise would star in, and cinema to anything that
he wouldn't. Rain Man may be a great movie,
but it will never be called a cinematic achieve-
ment because Cruise is in it. Surely, a better ac-
*tor could be found for the part, but that would
reduce box office draw. Enter ecomonics, and
more specifically macro-economics, which in its
own way has become synonymous with movies.
Micro-economics is paired with cinema in the
same system of logic.
The latter should stay that k v. With a small
budget, a direL i must plan ou vcry thing to the
last detail, theric no room for mistakes. With a
large budget, there's room for sloppiness. Spike
Lee is a perfect example of this. For his first
film, She's Gotta Have It, he raised the money
by himself. In fact, the film itself was his mas-
ter's thesis project at NYU. It is a great piece of
cinema, written by, starring, and directed by
Spike Lee. He employs those wonderful things
STATE' tF THE
known as 'film terms' and at points achieves
brilliance as an auteur. Not bad for his first tilm.
Because of this initial success, Lee had a flood
of offers for monetary backing on his next pro-
ject. School Daze obviously hassa large budget
behind it, and just as obviously suffers from it.
There are lavish dance scenes, a large cast, and
other trappings of a big budget. But there was no
tightness to it; the free rein Spike Lee was given
got out of his hand and the product is mediocre.
Movie has come to refer to any-
thing that Tom Cruise would star
in, and cinema to anything that he
If filmmakers are going to spend months in
preproduction, months in filming, and months in
post-production, they might as well do it right.
Their names are attached to the the films. Then
again, how many people can recall the name of
the director of Cocktail?
Actually, his name is Roger Donaldson. He
directed a film in his homeland of New Zealand
called Smash Palace, which was well-received
internationally. So he came to America to work
on big budget films. This is an ever increasing
and continually disturbing trend - foreign film-
makers coming to the USA to work for big pay.
Francis Veber, a respected French director whose
first American film Three Fugitives just opened
to not-so-favorable reviews, said that the advan-
tage of coming to America was purely monetary.
He was excited by the idea that loads of extra
footage could be shot and added in later. If neces-
sary. Sure, that is a "nice" ability, .but it pro-
motes laziness on the part of the filmmaker.
And that's the last thing we need. Today,
films rely solely on the box office appeal of its
stars. Of course, the film has to make a lot of
money, but that is because it costs so much to
pay the stars. A vicious cycle. And from that
continuous loop comes rising ticket prices.
Films of the kind that come out of Hollywood
today generally aren't worth the double-digits it
would cost to bring a friend; they'll be on cable
in a few months anyway, or at least at your video
The appeal of films needs to become based on
the abilities of those people behind the scenes.
They are the ones who start the project and they
are the ones who finish it; actors are just mid-
dlemen. When they are talented middlemen, all
the better, but they are not the creative ones.
Remember, they are being directed.
When Steven Spielberg, one of the few people
today who support the idea of a director who puts
in the effort and comes out with quality, won the
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the Os-
cars a few years back, he gave a short speech that
deserves a prize of its own. His main thrust,
which was aimed at the heart of Hollywood but
seems only to have caused a flesh wound, was
that films need to be better written.
However, Spielberg did not draw attention to
the other aspect that needs to be developed -
cinematography. One of the main tasks of cin-
ematographers today is to make sure the main
action of what is filmed will later fit the parame-
ters of the TV screen. They have forgotten that
they are working with: film, good old celluloid.
Although with the aid of computers, anything
that can be done on film can also be done on
video, neither medium is doing anything visually
interesting at all.
TV doesn't has no need to provide quality be-
cause its audience is generally couch potatoes,
who, by definition, are ever-present. The film
audience, the majority of which is between 16
and 22 years of age, on the other hand, have to be
drawn in. This enticement is based solely on the
names of big stars, and if not that, then big spe-
cial effects. But that means little toward big
quality. Why put in more effort when none is
Then again, why spend money on these aver-
age films, when you can see equally blase stuff
on TV or VCR? Change can only come about if
movie-goers become patronizing and transform
themselves into cinema-goers. And surprisingly,
this takes little effort. In this town, there are
enough alternatives to the first-run films to make
you forget about those multiplex, shopping-mall
appendages called theaters. They aren't much
more than oversized television sets, anyway. And
if Hollywood ever finds out that their films aren't
doing very well because people want "quality,"
this nose-in-the-air term may find it's way into
Hollywood lingo. And that even smaller word
"art" may then be applied to the majority of
films, not just a handful of ones.
Hope to see you at the Cinema soon.
Continued from Page 1
state. Environmental groups such as RAM have begun to oppose these
reductions for three reasons.
Tropical rainforests cover seven percent of the Earth, yet scientists esti-
mate up to 50 percent of the world's animal species live in rainforests, said
Cohen. Whole sections of the rainforest biosphere have not been cataloged,
such as the various layers of the canopy. No one knows what potential ben-
efits to medicine could result from the undiscovered species.
The groups are also concerned about the effects of the razing on the in-
digenous native populations. Many tribes are slowly being squeezed out of q
the rainforests, forcing them to abandon their traditional culture.
The rainforests are also important to the global environment. The enor-
mous concentrations of plants in the forests convert large quantities of car-
bon dioxide to oxygen. As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
increases, this function of the rainforest is becoming more important than
ever, said Cohen.
No single reason exists for the destruction; most of them, however, are
economic. Many large development projects funded by the World Bank take
advantage of the rainforests, which are considered undeveloped land by the
local governments. Huge timber, cattle grazing, superhighway, and hydro-
electric projects have consumed masses of virgin rainforest. Compounding
the problem are the large populations in most of the countries that contain
In the past groups concerned about the rainforest have called for a boycott
against Burger King due to its use of Brazilian beef grazed on former
rainforest lands. The national Rainforest Action Network is beginning a
study of the uses of tropical timber, 80 percent of which is currently shipped
RAM will have information on how to join the group and other ways to
help the environmentalists at tonight's concert.
Big Box of Nines, a local guitar-bass-drums trio, will open the show.
The Nines formed a year ago, making this "yeah, almost an anniversary,"
said lead guitarist/vocalist Charlie Edwards. The band started as a four-piece,
but "no way" will it add members now, because "three-piece music is differ-
ent than four piece music. We don't do verse-chorus-verse-and-then-Carlos-
The band claims to be very prolific, as Edwards declares "people who saw
us a month ago might think they have us pegged, but we still promise at
least one new song per show." The band wants to put out a "a tape, a video,
a live album, anything... as soon as we can afford it." Local fans should
catch them soon, because "we're all graduating in a few months and then
we're moving anywhere but L.A. or the east coast."
Headlining the show will be the Iodine Raincoats, who have just about
reached the limits of local bandom in the roughly two years they have been
together. Interestingly, Big Box of Nines' bassist, Ron Jeffries, was an
original memeber of the Iodine Raincoats, who formed as a quartet but have
since added an extra guitarist.
The band began playing popular 'alternative' covers by the likes of the
Violent Femmes, U2, Bauhaus, and R.E.M., but quickly developed crowd-
pleasing, body-moving originals such as "Four-Eyed and Angry" and
"Spin." Last summer, the band released the four song EP I Wonder, which
guitarist Dave Amir said "sold real well when it was released and again in
the fall when the students came back."
Since then the band has played it's first long-distance gig in Minneapolis
with Frank Allison and the Odd Sox. The band dug "the five guys in a van
and all that" experience enough to agree to gigs in Pittsburgh and New
York. The NYC show was at the classic 'new-wave' showcase, CBGB4,
which turned out to be "not much bigger than The Beat, but very efficiently
run." The band did well enough to earn a "give me a call sometime" re-
sponse from the management.
The Iodine Raincoats have big plans afoot, starting this weekend when
they enter the studio to record a full-length album. They have some new
material to work out tonight, before trying "some live recording techniques
(in the studio) to capture more of our onstage energy. We're unanimously
doing 'Four-Eyed and Angry,' but we haven't finalized much."
RAM JAM will begin at 9 at The Beat, 215 N. Main. Cover is a $5 do-
Big Box of Nines, known for their frequent appearances at
benefits, and subsequent lack of money, play RAM JAM to-
night with The Iodine Raincoats.
(an interdenominational campus fellowship)
Students Dedicated to
Knowing and Communicating
Weekly Meetings: Thursdays : 7:00 pm
439 Mason Hall
John Neff - 747-8831
For Major Events Concerts
Thursday, Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Pendleton Room Michigan Union
VETERAN USHERS- Those who have ushered
Major Events concerts in the past.
NEW USHERS- Those who would like to usher
Major Events Concerts.
CLASSIFIED ADS! Call 764-0557
Saturday, February 4, 8 p.m.
Come see students compete
for valuable cash and prizes!
The Personal Column
MICHIGAN DAIRY CUSSIFIED ADS
$4.00 at the door
$3.50 in advance
ckets available at the
Your Summer Job
more ttan just employment...
CAM~P TA3aACH ot.peen Travel.
Ce~p Kennedy. Agree Outpst, impaired)
SilvermanVillafor the emotial