I think another part of movie going consists of what you are looking to get out of the experience. For example, I have a friend whose tastes are 180 degrees opposite of mine. She loves big fluffy mainstream comedies and action films. Her recent movie going nights have included NORBIT and GHOST RIDER. I am far more likely to be found at the Nuart or the Laemmle theatres taking in a documentary or foreign film. I would never say my friend has bad taste. It is simply DIFFERENT taste. She is also not going into a movie with the same objectives that I am. She just wants to relax, unwind and be entertained for a few hours. She wants to forget about her boss, her bills and all of the other nagging problems in the outside world. She just wants to escape for 2 hours. People have had a similiar mindset about film going since it began. In the 1930s people flocked to the movies simply to escape the overwhelming day to day life during the Great Depression. The same thing happened during WWII. Many people just want a fun diversion and an escape, nothing more and nothing less.
There has been much ballyhoo in the press over 300 and WILD HOGS lately. Both films received horrible reviews, yet both have been super successful at the box office. Does the appreciation of a mass audience necessarily verify or confirm filmmaking excellence? Well no, but it does mean something. It means these films are getting a reaction from the public. They are striking a nerve or perhaps filling a void in audience tastes. My parents loved WILD HOGS and they rarely ever go to the movies simply because they feel movies aren’t made to appeal to people their age anymore. With the Baby Boomer generation now entering their 60s, there is a whole audience that is out there and largely untapped. Movies are seldom made that appeal to them. With the rise of blogging, film critics and their opinions are becoming less valued than ever before. My Mom even goes online and reads reviews and what people are saying. I don’t think it is just the MySpace crowd doing this anymore.
Then again, movies like 300 or WILD HOGS also have huge marketing budgets and a powerful studio behind them. That can always help propel a film regardless of how good it is. It seems that perhaps the smaller films are the ones who stand to gain or loose the most by critical opinion. A film like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE might not have had the popular success it enjoyed without the critics getting behind it. Then again the critics loved ZODIAC and it is floundering at the box office. Who’s to say?
All in all, there is no real formula to guarantee a film’s success. Sometimes horrible films do well and brilliant films often sink like a stone. I think the movie business is just a big lottery and game of chance. Read Patrick Goldstein’s column in the LA Times today for more insight.
Fortunately the program notes prepared us well for what we were going to see. THE GODLESS GIRL was one of the strangest films (silent OR sound) I have ever seen. The plot concerns a group of college kids who are super militant about their religious (or anti-religious) beliefs. There is the Christian faction (led by George Duryea) and the Atheist faction (led by Lina Basquette) who openly lust after each other in spite of their ideological differences. The Atheist group starts peppering the school lockers with signs that say ?Kill the Bible.? The Christian group decides that violence (or at least throwing rotten eggs and vegetables) is the only way to deal with them. An Atheist meeting goes terribly awry when the Christian group shows up and a huge riot ensues. In the midst of it, one of the Atheist girls falls down the middle of a 6th floor stairwell and dies. Her death is every bit as melodramatic as you could imagine. She has a last minute change of heart seconds before she dies. Both the Atheist girl and the Christian boy are both held responsible for her accidental death and sentenced to a juvenile hall. This is perhaps the most sadistic, cruel, grim and torturous place you could imagine. The Christian boy even has his head partially shaved upon admittance.
The kids are beaten, mistreated and tormented at every turn by the sadistic staff. The boys and girls are kept in separate sides of the facility. They occasionally see each other through the chain link fence. In one particularly over the top scene, the Atheist girl is grabbing onto the chain link fence and gazing at the Christian boy on the other side. They touch hands and attempt to kiss through the fence. At that moment, the security guard throws a switch that sends electricity through the fence. The girl is clearly injured as she wobbles back her hands emitting smoke. She stares down at the palms of her hands which now appear to have a cross burned into them from the chain link fence. De Mille was many things, but SUBTLE was not among them.
It just keeps getting better after that. Determined to escape the juvenile center, the boy steals a horse and cart and rescues the girl. They are chased by police and hunting dogs until they are captured and of course brutally punished. As punishment, they are each locked in solitary confinement and handcuffed to the wall of their cells. When a cat knocks over a lantern, the entire juvenile hall goes up in flames. The Christian boy manages to escape but tries desperately to save the Atheist girl. As the flames are fast approaching the walls of her cell, she has a major religious conversion. This fire is unlike anything I?ve ever seen on film. It is so outrageous and massive and over the top. I kept thinking, surely they would all die of smoke inhalation long before the dramatic rescue!
At any rate, the Christian boy rescues the now Christian girl from the blazing inferno. Right before the make their final steps out of the fire, the girl spots one of the sadistic guards. He has been electrocuted and is now being crushed by a burning rafter beam. The boy says he deserves to die, but the girl disagrees. They both go in and rescue him. He is covered in soot and seconds before he dies he says he will make sure they are both pardoned from the juvenile center.
The last 5 minutes of the film feature what must be the most awkward and dreadful sound recording in film history. The minute the boy opens his mouth I was thinking, ?YIKES!? Apparently the sound revolution struck when this film was almost in the can. Re-shooting the entire thing wasn?t really feasible so they stuck on this ?talkie? ending. It was clumsy, ill conceived and somehow perfect!
The program notes said, ?played with the electrifying lust we’ve come to demand of DeMille? and that phrase really hits the nail on the head. This film is full of lust, desperation, religion, action, melodrama, romance and sadism that could fill 10 movies! It was so wild and outrageous and blatant in tone. Yet I have to hand it to DeMille, he KNOWS how to tell a story on film. This film moved along and was never boring, stale or slow. It has a frenetic energy and style that reminded me of why DeMille helped to put Hollywood on the map in the first place.