Jewish World Review June 3, 2005/ 25 Iyar
It's cold inside just like Frank Rich's heart
There are several reasons to explain Hollywood's slump that weren't mentioned in Laura M. Holson's New York Times May 27 article ("With Popcorn, DVD's and TiVo, Moviegoers Are Staying Home"), a typically belated, fill-up-the-space -with-nothing-The-Wall-Street-Journal- hasn't-already-printed entry in the paper's decidedly pedestrian business section.
One: Most movie theaters are too cold, cranking the a.c. even when it's snowy outside. A generous observer might suggest the frigid temperatures are a nod to nostalgia, when people without home air conditioning (almost everyone) fled to any chilly refuge to beat the summer humidity. I'm not that kind; seems like another waste of energy by employees who don't pay the electricity bills.
Two: The amount of trailers you have to suffer through before the "feature presentation." My attention span is not unlimited, and seeing some hype for a film "Coming on Christmas Day 2005" is a waste of time.
Three: It's not a cheap night out for most people, when you factor in rising ticket prices, the inflated cost of refreshments, parking and maybe a babysitter to watch the kids.
Holson quotes 28-year-old Matt Cohler, a vice president at an Internet company, as saying, "I feel quite strongly that, with a few exceptions, the quality of movies has been declining the last few years." That's nonsense, of course, and reminds me of the equally solipsistic complaints that are heard about any long-standing institution. "I used to really like the Voice, but it's gone downhill in the last few years," is a sentiment that could've been expressed by a youngster in any one of the past four decades. In truth, that weekly started suffering when Rupert Murdoch bought it in the late 70s and had far more interest in making a profit than maintaining founder Dan Wolf's eclectic and raucous editorial content.
As it happens, my family bucks this film doldrums trend since our 12-year-old can't think of a more pleasurable way of spending two hours than in a movie theater. This is a cross to bear, from my point of view, since I have to accompany him to a lot of dogs that I wouldn't even consider watching on DVD at home, where the temperature is kept at a reasonable level. Maybe this isn't fit for polite company, but I had absolutely zero interest in seeing Hero, and was forced to scoot outside for two cigarette breaks while my older son was entranced inside. One positive of his film obsession is that in recent weeks he's decided that upon reaching 16, the legal age to work in Maryland, he'll seek a job at an art theater instead of a video game store.
Anyway, imagine my surprise when the two of us went to see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room last weekend and I liked it better than Nicky. Unlike conspiratorial atrocities such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Outfoxed, for example, Enron was tightly focused on the crooked dealings of that bankrupt company's chief executives and only barely insinuated that all huge corporations are evil.
Sure, it was annoying when the other 14 people in the theater snickered with appreciation when George Bush was pictured alongside Ken Lay, but as left of center documentaries go, Alex Gibney's effort was fairly engrossing, especially with the creepy footage of Jeffrey Skilling's in-house pep rallies. The film erroneously portrays Gray Davis as a political casualty of Enron's greed, absurdly claiming he was once a serious presidential candidate who was done in by the company's role in the 2001 California blackouts. Gibney might've remembered that Davis was reelected in the fall of 2002, after Enron's collapse controlled the news for three months, and that Arnold Schwarzenegger (whom he implies was in on the fix) wasn't elected until 2003.
And, much to my chagrin, there wasn't even a single mention of the Houston Astros being forced to change the name of their ballpark from Enron Field to Minute Maid Park. Maybe Gibney was simply displaying the manners that have eluded so many of his fellow filmmakers, anticipating the disastrous 2005 season for the Astros, a National League calamity that the team's management could've prevented by re-signing Carlos Beltran and one or two other hitters able to drive in a run.
Why the Yanks didn't buy Beltran continues to remain one of the mysteries of this season; the spin put out by GM Brian Cashman that the franchise couldn't afford the young (under 30) center fielder because of other acquisitions (Jaret Wright, for one) doesn't wash. Since when has money come between George Steinbrenner and the pursuit of a world championship?
Not that the Yanks are in dire straits, despite the near panic in last Monday's sports pages after the Red Sox pasted Bomber pitching for two games. The Daily News' Filip Bondy was especially critical on May 30I wouldn't know what the Post sportswriters are carping about since Rupert's new online registration process is too time-consumingeven though the team had won 16 of its last 20 ballgames. Mike Mussina, who'd been Cy Young-worthy in May until Sunday night, got roughed up by Edgar Renteria and David Ortiz, and all of a sudden Bondy frets that he might be washed up.
Maybe the Yanks get their comeuppance this year, maybe not, but one thing management is doing right is the continuation of "G-d Bless America" being performed during the seventh-inning stretch at the Stadium. Times scold Frank Rich no doubt skips Yankees games on the tubehe's a busy fellow, monitoring the Fox Channel for even the slightest hint of jingoismfor if he'd see Ronan Tynan (or his subs) with a mostly hushed crowd maybe his May 29 column "Ground Zero Is So Over" would've been less cynical.
Rich takes advantage of George Pataki's unconscionable dithering on rebuilding at the site of the Towers to once against molest George Bush in print. He writes: "Bothered as New Yorkers may be by what Charles Schumer has termed the 'culture of inertia' surrounding ground zero, that stagnation may accurately reflect most of America's view about the war on terror that began with the slaughter of more than 2,700 at the World Trade Center almost four years ago. Though the vacant site is a poor memorial for those who died there, it's an all too apt symbol for a war on which the country is turning its back."
The invasion of Iraq was never popular, and Rich knows that. Nevertheless, the entertainment columnist's Democratic candidate lost to Bush six months ago, to his and the ghost of Pauline Kael's astonishment, and so the slug remains bitter. George Steinbrenner isn't everyone's favorite millionaire although I prefer him to Warren Buffett and Teddy Kennedy but at least he's not actively rooting for an American defeat in the Mideast.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- was the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.