Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Good Film Is a Good Film

And audiences, sooner or later, pick up on the reality and buy into it.

But sometimes it takes a while.

Brad Bird has far more gravitas than I do, so it's always good to read him saying what I yell about all the time around here:

"A lot of people don't remember but, you know, of Walt Disney's first five movies, only two were box-office successes, but they're all huge box-office successes now because they're good movies.

"I think in the long run if you make something as well as you possibly can and it doesn't work the first time out, people will find it eventually and it will end up being profitable.

"How many movies that are profitable now are people going to be looking at in 20 years? I don't know. I don't think a lot of them are going to stand up that well."

We can stipulate that a "good film" is a subjective judgement, but time usually helps the better ones stay remembered, and causes the lesser ones to fade away.

A few examples: The Life of Emile Zola won the best picture Oscar for 1937. Anybody remember it? I thought not. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the most memorable film of the year, wasn't even nominated (And yeah, after it broke box office records in 1938, the year of its wide release, the Academy woke up and gave it a "special" Oscar).

Best film of 1938? You Can't Take It With You? Have you seen it? Is it something you go back to again and again?

I rest my case. The Adventures of Robin Hood takes the trophy for the most-remembered film out of the ten nominees for '38. By a country mile.

I could dredge up more examples, but you get the idea. Good films find their audience. And go on, and on, and on. So good is what you strive for, and you forget (if you're smart) about trying to second and third-guess audience tastes. Or as Mr. Bird says:

"If [a Pixar film] isn't the Second Coming of the Lord it's somehow a disappointment. I don't know what you do about that. If you start changing the way you make films to try to guarantee success you're on the road to failure."


Anonymous said...

People love to claim that arguments like these are bunk because how else can you explain the profitability of "bad" movies...

But the fact is, audiences have become so starved for decent entertainment that I think they've almost forgotten how to react to anything truly exceptional.
People go to bad movies because they're ultra-hyped and they don't want to be 'left out' of the pop-culture loop.

Ten years from now, some up-and-coming yuppie is going to pop in 'Shrek' and say to himself "Wow... that was really awful... what did I ever see in that movie?"

This same yuppie will then see a rack of DVDs on sale and buy 'The Incredibles' just for the heck of it, and find himself saying "Oh my god... this movie actually speaks to me... I'm so happy I own this now. I'm going to cherish this story for years to come."

It's as though people have been fed nothing but junk food for the last several decades, so they've lost their taste for real food - but before they'll fully appreciate lobster, we have to wean them off the McNuggets by getting back to the home-cooked meat-and-potatoes basic, good storytelling.

Robiscus said...

you know, i criticized The Simpsons movie in here(a bit harshly perhaps) and was immediately attacked because its "good for the business" that a 2D film was breaking box office records.

-but its not a good film. its quite bad actually. its mired down in political jokes with expiration dates, characters that aren't true to themselves, and a meandering story arc that takes the viewer away from the excellent menagerie of characters in Springfield. I'm a 2D animator and i'm saying this because its self evident.

i'm not going to tow the line for a movie that is NOT a good film even if it does break box office records.

Tom said...

The other day Antran Manoogian and I were discussing movies that were hot in their time, but almost totally forgotten today. Born Free (1964) The Sullivan Brothers (1943), Oliver!(1970) and Saratoga Trunk (1937) were top box office in their time. They don't even rate a blip on best of lists today.

Meanwhile films like Citizen Kane came and went.
The slow motion battle everyone loved in Gladiator you could see in Welles Falstaff the Chimes of Midnight from the early 60s.

Orson Welles used to joke;" The problem with my movies is they become classics ten years later!"

Anonymous said...

Just because a film of 60 years ago isn't remembered doesn't necessarily mean it's good, bad or ortherwise, just that it doesn't have the exposure it once had. You get into very murky waters if you start claiming that the "good" films of the 30s are remembered, and the ones that are now obscure are failures or perhaps not as good--not the case at ALL. I'd strongly argue that "You Can't Take it With You" is a classic and is very well known today(a Pulitzer prize-winning play, still produced all over the US, and a Capra film that has great performances from Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, Edward Arnold and Lionel Barrymore among others).

The point Brad makes about the money losses of Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi are true-they all lost money. A BIG part of the reason why was WW2 causing a huge part of the market to close down(europe).
But both Disney himself and today's execs didn't and wouldn't be happy with a film that is a great film that makes no money in the near term. I don't like that state of affairs or agree with it because I'm an artist, not an accountant or an exec, and my end of the equatiohn is to hopefully work on good films and try and make great ones, as far as I'm able to contribute.

Back to the "if they were really worthy back then we'd know them today" argument. It doesn't hold water if there are few venues to SEE all the older films and decide for oneself. Just the fact that TCM exists isn't going to cut it for most people in this jaded, color-movie--only society. And even with the most beautiful Technicolor there are more people in the 18-34 range who've NEVER seen "Robin Hood" than have seen it, sadly. Doesn't make it less worthy(it IS a great, great film and looks better-made and is more entertaining every year imho).

As for Brad's last sentence you quoted: I'd offer that those who change films to guarantee success-by which I guess he really means second-guessing audiences in the screening-cards sense-you're not on the road to failing, you're already there, as far as undercutting yourself. Within limits; even the great films of the golden age DID listen to radical audience dissatifaction-sometimes the audience was right, sometimes, though, they were completely wrong. It's largely all a gamble and that's where the expertise of and trust in the filmmaker has to come into it.

Oh--and OLiver! is a terrific movie of agreat stage musical, sorry. ; ) The Sullivans is dated, but still well directed, well acted and great soap opera of its time(and a true story).

Anonymous said...

The idea that Pixar wasn't trying to make films that audiences loved and make huge BO is complete BS. They were doing exactly that. Maybe they weren't going to change to please a test audience, but was that due to not wanting to alter their art or hubris?
I seem to recall plenty of changes that had to be made to Toy Story 1 so audiences would like it. When was the last time they reworked a film that much? It sure wasn't the last time they needed to.
I think that while Bird is right in part these statements are beneath him and smack of trying to explain what must clearly be seen as a failure for Pixar - or he wouldn't be suddenly discussing this, would he?

Big BO is Big BO and there aren't many films that have been seen by huge numbers that become obscure. There are many award winners that become obscure, but that's not at all unusual.
And anyone who thinks that Shrek 1 won't be remembered in years to come is clearly not aware of how good a film it is and how much the audiences loved it. Loved it enought o keep coming back for more. Those 'critics' can't see past their own personal tastes and refuse to admit they don't know what audiences really like or why.

And as long as we're discussing films that probably won't be remembered what about Bugs Life? or Monsters Inc? If it wasn't for Disney constantly promoting these films as if they were classics they would've already been forgotten next to several of Disney and DWs 2D films. Who remembers Pocahontas, Atlantis, Treasure Planet or Road to Eldorado and Spirit?

Anonymous said...

wow, that last post is really happy to cater to the lowest common denominator audience.

by the reasoning displayed above, Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code" stands shoulder to shoulder with the works of Hemingway.

what a crock.

Anonymous said...

My misatke - I thought we were making entertainment for the masses not for a few snooty people.
And once again if you don't think Pixar is making films for the masses than you are only deceiving yourself.

Anonymous said...

I love when people project "10 years from now" and dream that OTHER people will finally come around to their personal opinions.

Anonymous said...

Pixar seems to make films for - as it has been said - the dumbest AND smartest people in the audience... this can be alienating to the truly idiotic moviegoer, so while their movies do very well, they don't do nearly as well as movies that cater entirely to only dumb people.

Anonymous said...

sometimes i dream that the last EIGHT Disney animated features were made for a few snooty people, because then they might have been watchable. they sure stunk to high heaven in the the name of "catering to the masses".

but yeah, sure. you're really onto something there...
Jim Hill? Is that you?

Anonymous said...

Kind of reminds me of a certain president that is sure that he'll be remembered in the history books as great and a genius despite what the majority think now.
Face it Bird did a great job of making a bad idea enjoyable enough to sit through. It was a great job of turd polishing.

Robiscus said...

leave it to an anonymous poster to provide one of the most idiotic statements ever typed in here.

Brad Bird is a turd polisher, now...


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"I love when people project "10 years from now" and dream that OTHER people will finally come around to their personal opinions." Ha! Maybe the funniest post of the year...if you don't agree...try waiting 10 years! D.

Christian Roman said...

Couldn't Brad also be referring to 'Iron Giant' under the same terms, since it was considered a 'box-office failure' and yet is considered to be a great film?

I think the crux of his argument is the difference between timely and timeless. An easy laugh can be gained from a timely reference, which can translate into big box office...whereas timeless may not immediately resonate but ends up having true impact over time. And profitability. And the timely references eventually become meaningless.

Pixar eschews timely references, which tend to be the bread and butter of the big box office executive.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Of course Pixar caters to the masses. But not in a business-type way. As creators/directors/writers maybe they *would* like to make more Kubrick-like films (just to take an easy, clear example). They don't because they want to work towards as many people as possible. But that doesn't mean their heart's not in it. They want to tell certain stories, and even talk about certain ideas, in ways that communicate and resonate to a large amount of people. But ultimately, they make these films the way THEY would like to see them. Not they way they think other people would like to see them.

That's what makes the difference. Not the decision to make mainstream films.

Steve Hulett said...

It's -- ultimately -- an exercise in futility to argue what's "good," "better," "best."

Many claim that "Citizen Kane" is the best film of 1941. Everyone knows that the film was smothered by the Hearst papers and that RKO semi-abandoned it.

I'll admit that "Kane" is way flashier and razzle dazzle than "How Green Was My Valley" (the winner that year), and now more highly rated, yet I'm extremely fond of "Valley." The film grabbed me by the throat when I first saw it thirty-five years ago (via a nitrate print on a big screen), and it still grabs me.

Is it the best film of '41? Not necessarily. But it's not a bad choice for "best picture."

Movies aren't mathematics. They play on our senses, and everyone has different ideas of good and awful.

Steve Hulett said...

I'd strongly argue that "You Can't Take it With You" is a classic and is very well known today(a Pulitzer prize-winning play, still produced all over the US, and a Capra film that has great performances from Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, Edward Arnold and Lionel Barrymore among others).

I've seen the play but not the movie.

But would you argue that "You Can't Take it With You" is better than "The Adventures of Robin Hood"? (I suppose for some folks it might be.)

Anonymous said...

I know plenty of people, from a younger generation than mine, that feel Goonies is a classic so many years after it was considered a piece of crap. Does that really make it a classic or is that generation just remembering it nostalgically.
The same with Scarface (the De Palma one).
It's all subjective.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Dano, it is better to be anonymous in this current climate if you have soemthing even slightly negative to say about Pixar - you just proved it.

Besides, if you were able to see past your absolute devotion to all things Pixar,you would have understood that statement wasn't a reflection on Mr Bird's enormous talent and directorial skills. It was a actually a confirmation of just that.
It seemed like it was pointing the finger at Pixar and accusing them of greenlighting a turd that needed to have it's original creator/director removed and their best director brought in to save it instead of shelving it.

Sounds to me like a positive statement about Brad Bird's talent if you ask me...

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is "good" is subjective (despite John K.'s insistance to the contrary). Art, in general, is subjective - so it's pointless to ramble on about what's "good" and what's not.

I think the reason a lot of people rally behind Brad Bird and Pixar (aside from their obvious abilities to make great movies) are because they represent a potential swing towards more "artist driven" animation as opposed to the more producer-heavy, commitee-driven films that get churned out by Dreamworks.

You may have loved "Over the Hedge" and I wouldn't begrudge you for anything you enjoy. But successful Pixar movies are better for the industry insomuch as they encourage a growth towards letting directors direct.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, Dano, it is better to be anonymous in this current climate if you have soemthing even slightly negative to say about Pixar..."

Why? Are you afraid the jack booted Pixar police are going to break down your door and drag you away to re-education camp?

Just do us all a favor and stop posting. You're an embarrassment.

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