A reprint of an essay from 30 years hence about the state of the movies.
I read the other day that 13 percent of total U.S. paperback sales (yes, 13 percent) consist of those dumb little Harlequin Romances, in which Boy has by now met Girl in more than 2,000 ways, all of them PG-rated. There must be millions of people who like their entertainment predictable and dependable — who find reassurance in the repetition of the same durable formulas with their obligatory happy endings. And if Hollywood thinks it has learned its lesson during the summer of 1977 and grows single-minded about turning out expensive remakes of remakes, we are going to start wondering, with the new releases of two or three years from now, if we haven't seen all these movies before somewhere.
Well, we have seen them all somewhere before, haven't we? The problem is that most of us don't care; we have the same attitude about the movies (or many of our other art forms verging on entertainments or vice versa) that we do about car parts or hamburgers. They're inherently interchangeable and disposable.
The audience isn't even the audience anymore, and that's the problem. It's the distribution chain that's become the real audience for everything, and the people who actually do the reading, the viewing and (especially) the creating are just auxiliaries. If everyone from Barnes & Noble to Loews could get away with selling the exact same things every single year, they'd do it — and it's now beginning to look like they are in fact doing just that.
I've talked before many times about the damage this does. It hurts audiences, who never get to know about all the truly interesting and creative moviemaking / creativity going on. It hurts creators, who find they have that much less of a market for their product, and who face mounting indifference to their hard work. And last but not least, it hurts the distributors, who get used to doing the same things they've always done, and thus completely ignore seismic changes in the landscape. As much as I dislike the Kindle, for instance, its existence may well set in motion a whole slew of changes that allow creators to connect that much more directly and properly with prospective audiences. Real audiences of "punters", as the U.K. term goes — not just people responsible for filling shelves and getting butts in seats.