Friday, February 6, 2015

'What's Entertainment? - The Follow-Up"

What I am truly interested in is what our contemporary entertainment is saying about its audience. – Earl Pomerantz – Yesterday.

I slipped yet another “Screener” (complimentary movie distributed to Writers Guild members for awards consideration) into my DVD player.  It is called Nightcrawler. 

I did not necessarily want to watch Nightcrawler.  But in these giddy days of finally mastering the DVD player procedure, I would eagerly watch other people’s Bar Mitzvah pictures just to be able to slip in the disc and go,

“Look what I’m doing!

Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, concerns a freelance videographer who sells violent accident and crime footage to local new stations.

Although glossily veneered, the film feels discernibly “old news” to me, as is its dramatic presentation. 

To prove it – to myself, as there is nobody else around – I… wait!

I am about to give away some significant elements of the storyline.  To insulate potential viewers of the movie, I shall print that portion in red – no blue – red is too eyecatching.  If you are planning to see Nightcrawler, skip the blue part and jump in when the print turns black again.  I almost blew it there.  But I stopped myself just in time. 

Okay, to reiterate:

Although glossily veneered, the film feels discernibly “old news” to me, as is its dramatic presentation. 

To prove it – to myself, as there is nobody else around – I make two imaginary bets concerning the storyline:

One, the sidekick the lead character takes on will eventually be killed.

And two, there is a fifty-fifty chance the lead character will get away with his shenanigans, even flourishing as a result.

I won both of my bets.

So, nothing remarkable about Nightcrawler.  (Beyond an impressive performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.)  The thing is – my indefatigable research reveals that the movie was not backed by a major studio, but still, somebody produced it – and that “somebody” had to at some point have sat down with the “pitchers” of the movie and determined,

“Yes.  People will want to see this movie.  Our investment will be returned to us, and we may even make a profit.”


“We don’t care about money.  Let’s make this movie anyway.”

A philosophy that would retain those investors in the movie business for exactly one movie.

The financial backers believed audiences would want to see Nightcrawler.

And my question is,


Why did the investors believe there was an audience for a movie about a sociopath who wins?

Oops, sorry.  When I least I didn’t reveal that the sidekick gets killed. 


What the heck, go anyway.  You might like the cinematography.

Just for fun, let’s pretend the following pronouncement is accurate:

“The movies are a mirror of their times.”

That seems right concerning the eras I was prominently plugged into.  The fifties was Singing In The Rain where the protagonist saw sunshine in a downpour; the sixties was – as I have frequently bewailed – the protagonist who I was rooting for inevitably got blown away.  (Easy Rider, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, etc.) 

Capsule (though hardly all-encompassing assessment):  One period was happy; the other, terminally bleak.

Full Disclosure:  The idea for this post has been percolating long before I watched Nightcrawler.  But I have consistently set it aside, because I have never been able to put my conclusion into words – which is hardly the epitaph a writer wants to hear: 

“He was never able to put things into words.”

Unlike the fifties and sixties, which I participatorily lived through – in contrast to today where I am merely a bystander – I am unable to satisfactorily define the temper of contemporary times, as in, 

“What do today’s movies say about today?”

My sense is that the, if not overt than the subliminal message, is not an essentially hopeful one, and that it has not been for some time.  Maybe it’s the economy.  Or the unwinnable wars.  Maybe it’s a government that seems incapable of doing its job.  Or that we have been lied to so much, we have abandoned all trust.

Of course, this is simply an interpretation.

All I know is what I see in the movies.


Canda said...

Films have become like the Internet, where the majority of films are watched. There is no "community" at the movie theater, so films become more individualistic, less community oriented. There is no need for hope, since it's my individual view that counts, which will likely be viewed by one person at a time.

It's like modern sitcoms, where the idea of writing a joke everyone in the studio would laugh at, is disdained. Instead, we have single camera, no audience shows, that count on clever wordplay, cultural references and upscale locations.

Nightcrawler depends on skill in the technological age, cynicism that everyone is out to make a buck, and then saying at the end there is nothing wrong with that, or that life has no consequences for most people who don't play by the rules.

Also, film schools have turned too many people into filmmakers, as has the new technology.

Plus, it's rare for any film to display any spirituality, since we live in a very secular age, so the idea of redemption, morality or conscience doesn't need to enter the equation.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

What it says is: the only way you can win is to break the rules. And a lot of people do believe that now - and they're not necessarily wrong, though I would prefer it weren't expressed in terms of We must break all civil liberties in the interests of catching terrorists (both in 24 and in real life).