Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Closing Time" (Continued)

Jim Brooks – Hit Maker. 

In television, from the very successful – The Mary Tyler Moore Show – to the phenomenally successful – The Simpsons.  In movies, from Terms of Endearment to Broadcast News to As Good As It Gets.  Jim Brooks had “The Midas Touch.”  Every project garnered gold…well not real gold, but gold-plated awards.  Oh yeah, and real gold as well.  Well, not actual real gold, but, you know, big money. 

The man was doing well.

And then, after thirty-plus years of virtually non-stop triumphs, the Train to Hitsville came to a screeching halt.  Spanglish – a whiff.  How Do You Know – Strike Two.  With the game on the verge of being called due to lack of interest.

The question is:  “Wha’ hoppin’?”

Sideline snipers suggest that the super-wealthy Brooks was now “phoning it in”, or that he’d “lost his spark.”  I don’t know Jim that well, but I do know this.  Neither of those knee-jerk accusations is correct.  Equaling his initials counterpart, James Brown, Jim Brooks is one of the hardest working men in show business.

What really happened was time, by which I mean its passage.  Think of it this way.  For over thirty years, Jim Brooks held the keys to the kingdom.  Then somebody abruptly came in and changed all the locks.

As hard as he tries, the guy can’t get in anymore.

This is hardly new.  Charlie Chaplin, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, then later, Woody Allen, Barry Levinson, Rob Reiner – all Oscar winners (or in Reiner’s case, an Oscar nominee) – followed the same inevitable downward slide.  They knew how to do it…and then, after decades of commercial and critical approval…

They didn’t.

This, as Chester A. Riley used to say, “revoltin’ development”, must have been hugely frustrating for them.  Not to mention disconcerting, humiliating and “Ow!” 

I imagine them furious about their predicament.  “I do what I’ve always done, and it’s not working anymore.  What the hell is going on!?” 

What’s “going on” is that the formerly reliable conditioning process has gone inoperant.  The rat who presses the bar and receives a shock rather than the expected pellet of food feels exactly the same way, I would think, though I am far from an expert on the emotional responses of rats.

Jim Brooks is not stupid.  He sees what’s afoot and he makes adjustments.  “The audience is younger; I’ll make my characters younger.  Then I’ll cast actors that the kids today like.” 

That’s not an actual quote; it’s an actual imagined quote.  Jim Brooks talks a lot smarter than that.  But the strategy is obvious.  You can see it in Jim’s most recent movies.

Spanglish stars Adam “Happy Gilmore” Sandler.  How Do You Know stars Reese “Legally Blonde” Witherspoon, Paul “Mr. Bromance Himself” Rudd and Owen “I Won’t Grow Up” Wilson. 

“Younger actors playing younger characters.  (DUSTING HIS HANDS TOGETHER)  The job is done.”


“Why not?’

Because, Jim Brooks of my imagination,

You wrote them old.

Sorry, folks.  My back’s twinging up on me.  I will wrap this up tomorrow.


Max Clarke said...

Good observations and a chilling but true line, "You wrote them old."

Every director/writer has a time of maximum relevance and popularity, but it isn't so much that they fail. Rather, the public finds something else more interesting or relevant.

Could Barry Levinson make another movie as good as Diner or Tin Men right now? Yeah, I think so. Could he get the money? Would the movie last a week in the movieplex? Different issue.

On questions like this, I use the case of Ansel Adams. When I was twelve, I knew Ansel Adams shot amazing black and white photos just by seeing two of them in a book about America. I didn't know who he was, didn't remember his full name, but this guy Adams was doing something amazing with Moonrise Over Hernandez and Yosemite's Half Dome.

Today, Ansel Adams couldn't get a show if he showed up fresh and unknown. He would still be just as capable as he ever was, but the culture and the technology would have changed to the point of making his style appear "quaint." A shame, because he caught beauty through his lens, and that is never out of date.

Nice mention of Rob Reiner. He never won the Oscar for Best Director, but he made The Princess Bride and that qualifies.

michelle said...

I loved "Spanglish," and I think Adam was for once, playing the right age.

Maybe I'm old...

PG said...

You cannot imagine how many times I showed 'Broadcast News' to my media classes over the past 25 years. Two terms a year, two classes a do the math (I didn't teach math).
That movie was Brooks at his finest.
It used to be a big hit in the 90's when my students still cared about 'truth', 'manufacturing consent', integrity, etc. but In the past decade, with the advent of cable news, the 24 hour news cycle, infotainment, celebrity newscasters, it simply became quaint. To me. The kids lost interest mainly because none of them even watch news on TV (or anywhere else) anymore. I used to tempt them by mentioning his credit on 'The Simpsons' but even that began to pale. Those days are gone, I'm afraid.
It's like....ancient history!
But it sure was great while it lasted.

Lyle said...

Enjoyed reading this (as I do most all of your stuff) but I suggest an alternative reason for the lack of success of "Spanglish."

I saw it. Loved it. Hated the name.
Had the movie been titled differently, it may have had a chance.

Retitle "The Wizard of Oz" and call it, "The Girl From Kansas," or, "Kansas Tornado!" . . . and see what happens. Or might have happened.

Just a thought.


PS: One of many things that impressed me about "Spanglish" is the superb acting job Sandler did. We, most of us, thought/think of him as a comedian. He's got some chops as a dramatic actor as well.