So “Brokeback Mountain” just finished a one-week run at the Kambe Theater in Kenai, a week after replacing “Syriana.” With two Oscar hopefuls exiting replaced by no less a picture than “Curious George” the time seems right for a bit of movie talk.
When I started college nearly 10 years ago, I wanted to be a filmmaker. After a few student productions I changed my mind about making movies, but my fascination with them remains. This year’s Academy Awards nominees highlight just how interesting the business can be.
With “Brokeback Mountain,” the hyper-political oil drama “Syriana” and “Transamerica” all up for major awards and megahits like “King Kong” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” off the major academy radar, critics are once again saying the group is out of touch with mainstream America. This year’s choice of major award nominees is seen by many, not just social conservatives, as a political statement.
“I just think there’s a very courageous cultural surge occurring, and some of it could be political, some of it could be a response to the neoconservatism,” Steven Spielberg said after nominations were announced last week. His film “Munich,” a story of Israel’s response to terrorist murders at the 1972 Munich Olympics, is nominated for Best Picture.
As expected, conservatives had words for those kooky Hollywood liberals. “Transamerica,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Capote” all deal frankly with homosexuality, which is a major sticking point for social conservative groups.
“It’s a sad day for America when a small group of very determined activists are dominating the awards ceremony,” conservative pundit Janice Crouse told ABC News.
I’m inclined to believe it isn’t a sad day at all. For social conservatives, the best thing for future artistic choices could be a cold shoulder from the academy. Even better to be shunned by Hollywood altogether.
Stick with me for just a moment and think about punk rock. More specifically, how punk rock dealt with its shunned audience. The origins of the snotty musical foodstuff are disputed by those with time to bother, but one thing is fairly clear: In 1979, Greg Ginn, of a group called Black Flag, started a record label called SST to distribute the band’s first single. In so doing, Black Flag became the godfathers of an outsider’s business model still used today.
Starting your own record label at least as a band member and not a business pro was fairly unheard of at the time, and doing it inspired many artists to follow suit. Sure enough, now there are more record labels in the United States than there were records released in a given week in 1978. No new artist needs a major label to release music anymore. Smaller labels can even make you rich. Believe it or not, rapper Jay-Z’s tally of about 20 million sold is tied to Roc-A-Fella Records, an independent label.
This is what happens when the mainstream media gives up on a segment of its audience or fails to pay enough attention to it. The irked audience decides to do it themselves. Niche filled, problem solved.
Not-so-curiously enough, anti-Hollywood backlash has already started the ball rolling on the conservative film front. “Left Behind: World at War,” the latest film adaptation from the enormously popular “Left Behind” Christian book series was produced by the independent Cloud Ten Pictures and released to 3,200 screens nationwide on Oct. 31, 2005. That’s a wide release, and all the screens were in churches.
Michael Moore’s incendiary “Fahrenheit 911” was met with scores of conservative response flicks, including “Michael Moore Hates America.” None had the budget backing Moore’s blockbuster, but they were made, and in many cases made back enough money to finance more films.
Conservatism is already big business is other mediums. Conservative talk radio rules the airwaves, right-leaning Fox News is the number one news channel in the country and conservative books usually top best-seller lists for months on end. Fox News, however, is owned by a multinational corporation, and many of those talk radio stations are owned by the enormous Clear Channel Communications. These movies often originate with smaller artists who have a conservative bent.
There is a difference. Neither of the above corporations go conservative because they believe deeply and sincerely in the hyper-patriotic product. Fox, after all, airs the raunchy cartoon series “The Family Guy.” That show wouldn’t fly on NBC. Big companies do what they do to buy an audience, as I imagine Disney did by directing some $6 million of its marketing money for “The Chronicles of Narnia” into church teaching aides to accompany the film.
Whether by partnering with major media companies or starting companies from scratch, social conservatives shunned by Hollywood types now have the chance to do with film what superliberals and artsy folks have done for years: make movies for their audience without answering to a big budget bottom line. Smaller films for smaller audiences don’t need to make everyone happy to turn a profit.
So if you’re peeved at the academy, cheer up. Someone else is probably peeved, too, and ready to make movies for you.
I probably won’t be attending a church for the premiere of the fourth “Left Behind” movie, whenever it comes out. But I certainly I hope you get to. You see “Left Behind,” I’ll see “Transamerica.” When “Mission Impossible 3” opens this May, I’ll save you a seat. On the other side of the theater. Sound fair?
John Hult is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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