What Is Hollywood Smoking?

Stephen Simon by Stephen Simon | January 4th, 2008 | 4 Comments
topic: Inspirational Media

I have a message for both the mainstream film industry and its film critics: You have both lost all connection with film audiences.

Hollywood has seemingly decided that “quality” now equates with dark, violent and depressing; consequently, 2007 was one of the bleakest years ever for film distribution. To make matters worse, and to illustrate anew the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, film critics have fallen into lockstep with film distributors.

As I write this column on January 1, 2008, the film that has garnered almost every film critic group’s nod as the best film of 2007 is “No Country for Old Men,” which centers around one of the nastiest, most vicious and soulless serial killers ever depicted on screen. In the first 10 minutes of the film, a man is graphically strangled while the killer looks positively orgasmic and then another innocent man is cold-bloodedly shot between the eyes. And then it gets worse … much worse. Nevertheless, the film critic for the Portland Oregonian said this about the film: “exact, spare, bloody, dark, and unrelenting, it’s superb.”

Excuse me?

While I respect everyone’s right to say whatever they believe, I also reserve the right to ask, “What are you folks smoking?”

“Best film” means the one film every year that is represented to the world as the premier achievement in the American film industry. Focusing on the craft itself is fine for categories like sound editing, costume design or cinematography. But when you’re talking about the “best film,” content itself should be of paramount importance.

For studios and critics, “superb” and “bloody, dark, and unrelenting” may belong in the same sentence but, fortunately, we in the audience don’t agree. The fall season of 2007 produced the weakest box office results for that period of time in the last 10 years. The film industry is quite literally awash in red ink. According to a November 26, 2007 article in Video Business Weekly, the film industry lost a staggering $6 billion dollars in 2006.

In short, the business model of the film industry is broken. Creatively, it’s even worse. The chasm between the insular, dark, violent and cynical tastes of most studios and film critics and the desire of audiences to have other choices is now deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Next time: My five favorite films of 2007.



  1. [...] have I written a blog or column that generated as much response as the last one I wrote about the dark, violent preferences of both critics and Hollywood. Now it’s plain [...]

  2. The film industry and its critics have “lost all connection with film audiences?”

    I’m sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree. As an avid (and I mean very, very avid) film fanatic, I just can’t imagine how the above statement could even be partially true, and I also can’t understand how you can speak for all audiences – I have spoken to many people who have been completely overwhelmed intellectually and philosophically by many of the films that you personally didn’t enjoy, especially “No Country for Old Men.”

    It seems as if you equate “darkness” with poor quality when it comes to films, and that because there is a succession of films with dark tones recently, that somehow the film industry is trying to keep us from seeing anything else. Also, it seems that you feel if there is violence in a particular film, then it is not worthy of being recognized as “best film.”

    Perhaps you are observing these films with too much negative energy to begin with. Violence is only one component of these recent films.

    For instance, if you watch “No Country for Old Men” and pay close attention, you can experience and understand the emotional development and personal reflection that Tommy Lee Jones’ character goes through and is actually the most important theme in the film. All else is shown to illustrate what he has to accept – one cannot run away from the violence in that town, and be at peace with the fact that death can be just around the corner at any time.

    When it all comes down to it, do films have to be happy-go-lucky, warm and fuzzy to be considered “quality,” or deserving of an Oscar? I can’t imagine only being able to pick from films that show only one side of reality, and not acknowledge that the world can be a dangerous place.

    Joe Rogel | January 25th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  3. I think there’s an incredible amount of value in exploring all aspects of life, so long as it’s done with integrity. Integrity leads to great art. And great art is what lifts the spirit, not mere positivity.

    No Country = integrity = great art. Steve in Real Life = low integrity = insipid art. The Namesake = integrity = great art. If you focus just on the dark/light dichotomy, you’re going to miss everything your spirit is actually hungering for.

    So you completely missed the point of No Country — or maybe it was just devalued in your mind, because the atmospheric elements overrode the storyline for you — but hopefully you at least agree that the theme of Jones’ character’s waffling about getting in the fight of his life was coherent and rich and thoughtful.

    Maybe your sensitivity to the dark side occluded your ability to get into the fight of the movie. I’d just hate for your readers to lose out on a quality film experience which is present and rare.

    Christopher Galtenberg | January 25th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. [...] many of you know, I have blogged recently about the pathetic state of mainstream movies and film critics, most particularly the ugly, violent films that were praised by critics and also nominated for the [...]

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