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David Poland

By David Poland

While Others Run For Shelter From The Storm, NYT Pisses On Film Biz From On High

I’ve been tweeting about this ridiculous and not-unexpected turd of a piece by the NYT’s Michael Cieply on how terrible the theatrical film business is.

For a change, the headline—”Movies Try to Escape Cultural Irrelevance”—is stupid, but not offensive. It’s a conversation that reasonable people can have. That doesn’t mean that “I’m old now and you kids are fucked” pieces like David Denby‘s are worth the bandwidth on which they travel, but sure… have the conversation.

But what the piece by Cieply tries to do is to use facts about business to try to answer the question. And the first problem with that is that it’s not a legitimate question. How many people saw The Master versus how many people saw, well, Taken 2, much less a free TV show like The Walking Dead is a STUPID question. By Cieply’s standards used in this piece, Kim Kardashian is the most culturally relevant media event of the last five years. And if that doesn’t make you want to jump off of her ass into the abyss, this idiocy is extended like a campaign rally in Florida by citing A Man for All Seasons, 8 ½, The Searchers, Gone With the Wind and The Godfather as the key movie touchstones… the most recent of which was released FORTY years ago.

(Note: It seems a minor point to mention that, “After the shock of last year’s decline in domestic movie ticket sales, to $1.28 billion, the lowest since 1995 (and attendance is only a little better this year)…” puts a $ figure in front of an estimated attendance figure, adding inaccuracy to stupidity. Domestic theatrical revenue alone last years was over $10 billion. And international was over $22 billion, making last year the highest grossing year in history where it matters… in the bank vault.)

According to Cieply, “the weakness in movies has multiple roots.”

1. Television is free… once you’ve paid your cable bill. Uh… duh. Another 50-year-old reality.

2. DVD died. But what does that have to do with people who cannot open movies doing TV for decent money? Nothing. It has changed the economics of the industry, but “movie stars like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Laura Linney, Claire Danes and Sigourney Weaver” do not open movies. Only a couple of them ever did. Gorillas In The Mist is great… and grossed $25m domestic. Do you still want to mock Ben Affleck’s numbers, asshole?

3. There is some convoluted bit about genre pieces doing well and superheroes doing well overseas. How is this a creator of weakness in movies? Cieply must know that no one greenlights a movie of over $30m these days (with the exception of a few heavily-domestic comedians) without expecting a significant percentage of the revenue to come from overseas, right? Is that bad? Avengers doing $1.5 billion makes it less culturally significant?

Again, I am fine with a conversation about why Avengers feels a lot less sticky than Batman or Spider-Man or Indiana Jones. But I don’t see how massive success at home and abroad is a weakness for movies… at all.

4. “But the number of films released by specialty divisions of the major studios, which have backed Oscar winners like Slumdog Millionaire, from Fox Searchlight, fell to just 37 pictures last year, down 55 percent from 82 in 2002, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.”

Do you mean to lie to people, Cieply. You know full well that Warner Indie, Miramax, and Vantage are all out of business since 2002, right? So 3 of the 6 Dependents are gone and instead of analyzing why, you claim it as proof of something bad being afoot? That is cynical and lazy and simply embarrassing. The New York Times means something to me. This work is contemptible.

Moving on, Cieply cites Denby, whose “get off of my lawn” drivel about the end of movie culture has been gunned down by everyone with a brain… and “Henry Schafer, an executive vice-president at the Q Scores Company” (you know, the people who told you how hot Erik Estrada was), and Daniel Tosh… oy… are you kidding me? You quote a joke about Tosh hating McFarlane, which is a slap at the TV show first and foremost and has nothing to do with any of this.

Also, Bob Gazale and George Stevens Jr…. who are very nice, intelligent men, but whose AFI has done everything it can to whore out its school’s credibility for some more celebrity profile and fundraising.

And don’t forget Colorado State University’s “Allison Sylte, a student journalist,” whose great insight is that The Academy going with King’s Speech over Social Network pushed kids away. And by the way… King’s Speech outgrossed Social Net by 40% domestically. But let’s not bother with editorial consistency.

Amateur hour.

I hate the personal-belief-based journalism that this kind of thoughtless, lazy piece represents. I am guessing that whoever sent over Sharon Waxman to attack the movie industry by any stats necessary – creating this stupid obsession with tickets sold—is still putting Cieply and Brooks “Huh?” Barnes through their attack paces.

And what I fear is that if a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes perceived as truth.

I expect that from TMZ. I don’t expect it from the New York Times.

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22 Responses to “While Others Run For Shelter From The Storm, NYT Pisses On Film Biz From On High”

  1. Popcorn Slayer says:

    I wince every time I see Cieply’s name in print. One of the biggest hacks in the business.

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks David, spot on. Rare that an article both makes me laugh so much (ending with quoted exchange from the student – unreal!) and so angry.

  3. Rena Moretti says:

    While the article’s writer is not very good, what he is saying is the truth.

    Movies ARE culturally irrelevant. Nobody quotes lines from movies any longer, because they’re not quotable and people have forgotten those bad movies a week after seeing them (if they bothered at all).

    The studios also lie about their box-office (The Avengers failed to increase Disney’s revenue even though it was supposed to be the second biggest-grosser of all time) and cannot hide the sad truth even doing that.

    They have made bad writing (David Koepp – Roberto Orci), bad acting (Ryan Reynolds, Scarlet Johanssen) and bad directing (Michael Bay, Peter Berg) into must-haves and are stupefied people don’t care any longer.

    I find it hopeful that for once the press is not helping hide those facts under a barrage of “we make countless hits and everyithng is A-OK” articles.

  4. cadavra says:

    I think what he was trying to say–and failing miserably–is that whereas movies once were adult entertainment that was, with some exceptions, suitable for kids, movies today are largely geared to children and dumb teens, leaving adults out in the cold until it’s Oscar time.

    Of the ten top-grossing films of 1971, seven were adult fare: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, DIRTY HARRY, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, SUMMER OF ’42, and SWEET SWEETBACK–five Rs, two Xs. Only two family films: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS. And only one PG, which was also the only sequel: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.

    Forty years later, the Top Ten were ALL sequels or remakes, all family or teen-oriented, and only one R (HANGOVER II). Not one was a serious, “adult” film like MAN FOR ALL SEASONS or GODFATHER.

    So, yeah, there has been a sea change. He just didn’t know how to state it clearly.

  5. molly'sdad says:

    Great examples, Cadavra. One other difference, a subtle one, is that in 1971, there weren’t 30 movies opening every week. (Check out last Friday’s New York Times film section.) I used to see three of four movies a week. Now I see one or two a month, mostly at WGA screenings. The studios (with the Weinsteins and Fox Searchlight excepted) release what is basically software. Mindless “product” made for non-English speaking, worldwide consumers. Or as a buddy of mine says: “Fourteen-year-old boys in Jakarta.” These lousy new movies are unlike films made during any of the Golden Eras, including the early 1970’s (that list of the top ten grossing films from ’71 is, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS withstanding, mouth-watering) because the earlier films were made by studios that were generally run by individuals, and not corporations. Zanuck, Cohn, Mayer, Jack Warner, etc. Even into the early 1970’s. Artistic people, or at least people with artistic goals, made the decisions. Now everything – EVERY SINGLE FREAKING DECISION – is made purely on whether or not the film will make money. Thank God for Harvey W. and the folks at Fox Searchlight, for often giving us movies for grown-ups. And every once in a while, a studio makes ARGO, SOCIAL NETWORK or LINCOLN. I was an actor and still make appearances at film conventions. All the fans, many of them in their twenties and thirties, tell me they are sick of CGI and loud, childish movies. They quote endless dialogue from classics, many from the 70’s and ’80’s. They want movies with clever witty dialogue, characters they fall in love with and stories that make them feel something. They are tired of explosions, cartoonish plots, bad acting, ADD editing and movies they can’t remember the name of by the time they get back to their cars. Maybe that’s why films ARE culturally irrelevant. Maybe that’s what Mr. Cieply should have written about.

  6. PcChongor says:


    Eh… I find that when spouted, this tried and true aphorism usually just points to a distinct lack of effort made on the part of the “wanter.” Case in point, here are three (somewhat) recent films that would positively skull-fuck into oblivion the minds of most “ho-hum, Michael Bay and ‘Taken 2’ sux” passive aggressive cynics:

    1. “Survive Style 5+”
    2. “Let The Bullets Fly”
    3. “Tears For Sale”

    It isn’t the un-unoriginal content that’s the problem, it’s the way in which they’re being distributed (or not) that builds up the audience’s metaphoric blue balls.

  7. cadavra says:

    LET THE BULLETS FLY is indeed a pisscutter of a film, as Sam Fuller would say, but it’s a 130″ Chinese western with subtitles. Yeah, the mallrats are gonna line up for that one!

  8. PcChongor says:

    But that’s kinda my point. They piss and moan about “originality,” when in fact all they’re really doing is trying to chase that elusive and geeky dragon of their youths.

    Fuck ’em. With as much amazing stuff out there readily available for consumption, there’s absolutely no reason to be complaining about the state of filmmaking, Hollywood or otherwise.


    I’ll go on the record and say that the ratio of “Good Films” to “Bad Films” is far more positive today than it ever was during the supposed “Golden Age.”

    Case in point:

  9. palmtree says:

    Anyone who has lived in the world of poetry, classical music, and any other supposedly dying art form is familiar with this argument. It’s the curmudgeonly fist shake at the fact that they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

    Well, even though it’s partially true, it’s also true that there are some aspects of it that are better. I think what Coppola was talking about with the democratization of film has more or less come to pass. What’s important is not whether it’s worse or better…but just simply that it’s alive. Rumors of its death have been exaggerated.

  10. PcChongor says:


    *starts a slow clap*

  11. Rob says:

    There’s no way to quantify “cultural irrelevance” and it’s embarrassing to watch traditional media (of all things) try.

  12. hcat says:

    “movies today are largely geared to children and dumb teens, leaving adults out in the cold until it’s Oscar time”

    Adults go to the kids stuff willingingly. Say Pixar around these parts and listen to the heavens open and the heralds sound their horns. Were people around here not excited about Dark Knight Returns? and aren’t we representative of the ‘adults’ who watch ‘Oscar’ movies?

    This is indeed a grumpy old man arguement, you have a huge variety of films available to you at all times from around the globe. Does it matter if they top the charts? Yes that wonderful glorious time of the seventies had films that were actual art and box office triumphs, and by the end of the decade people were so fatigued by the Midnight Cowboy type films that they ended up flocking to Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit, Grease, and Animal House.

    All those R rated movies you listed represented something new, a push of the envelope in violence or sexual frankness. This was something people had never seen before (the R had been around for what 3 or 4 years at that time?).

    Is the publishing industry dead because of Twilight? or are there still plenty of great books being written that simply do not sell in the same league.

    Is Television a lost form because Breaking Bad does not garner the same ratings as Two Broke Girls?

    If you think the film industry has lost its artistic merit, it simply means you are watching the wrong movies.

  13. hcat says:

    And do you know what Cieply’s 1971 equivelent was probably writing about? How all the movies were geared toward blood lust and quick cuts for the younger audience. “Look at the top ten list” they would lament “not a Bridge Over the River Kwai, or Magnificent Seven or Top Hat amongst them, Gene Kelly wouldn’t use such language and then drop his pants.

    And its interesting you take 71 since including the surrounding years would have brought the names Airport, Earthquake, Posidien, and Towering Inferno into the mix.

    Not to mention (and I know this is sprawling and disconnected but I am just tossing these out while working) that while you complain about the studios chasing a buck today, thats exactly what they were doing back then. Carnel Knowledge had big star Nicholson teaming up with Mike Nichols whose Gradute was probably one of the top ten of all time at that point, Last Picture Show was produced by the team that made Easy Rider a big hit for Columbia, putting Eastwood in a violent movie wasn’t done for the sake of art but for box office, Bond always paid off, Bedknobs was the sequel Disney couldn’t make for Poppins, and Fiddler was a huge broadway show when that was still relevent for film adaptions.

    This is largely the same behavior, its just that today’s audience is searching for different things.

  14. Heisenberg says:


    If anyone is curious about the history of “film is dead” analysis, check out Gilbert Seldes’ “The Great Audience,” written sometime in 1949.

    He does an excellent job hitting on “why movies [back then] are only made for kids and teenagers, and why so many sequels and remakes are being commissioned,” “how television use is on the rise and will affect theater revenue,” and single handedly destroys the myth of the “Golden Era” of studio filmmaking without even realizing it.

    Fact is, this is a sixty year old argument that, while mostly valid, is still incredibly boring to see crop up every couple months from some clueless and self-righteous critic.

  15. storymark says:

    “Were people around here not excited about Dark Knight Returns?”

    Yes, and it generated so much more excitement than the average superhero flick… because they approach the material from a more adult perspective.

    Yes, its a grumpy old man argument – but that doesn’t mean its incorrect – or are you saying most movies today are NOT aimed at teens, or that films of the 70’s weren’t aimed at adults???

  16. hcat says:

    I think what we might be argueing over is the definition of adult. It was people in their early twenties and thirties that drove the grosses of the early seventies its just that the people in their twenties and thirties today prefer lighter fare.

    And its not that I find the conclusion wrong, just the reasoning behind it. When Hollywood made French Connection and Godfather they were chasing a buck, when they make Avengers and Spiderman they are also chasing a buck. The audience responds and votes with their dollars and the studios follow the trends. The ‘discerning’ adults that Cieply pines for either gave up going to the theater in the age of video or are perfectly happy going to the latest comic book movie (and for all the excitement for DNR, the Avengers did a bit more business and its a perfect example of the disposable blink and you’ve forgotten everything matinee blockbuster).

    And there are plenty of movies out there for the French Connection Crowd, it takes a little more digging to find them and you will more likely than not see it on your television screen but there is still amazing work that finds its way. Bay doesn’t make movies for me, Fuck it, Rudin does. And because they aren’t in the top 5 earners of the year is more of a reflection of the audience than the industry. Thats what makes this a grumpy old man arguement. Simply because the current tastes does not reflect your (our) own it doesn’t make the industry “culturally irrelevant”. Its an arguement a daffy co-worker who wont listen to any band that started recording after 1978 would use.

    Also, even with that line-up journalists in 1971 would probably be calling it a down year since there was no Love Story sized blockbuster that led the pack.

  17. cadavra says:

    There’s nothing wrong with chasing a buck; it is, after all, show business. But it truly doesn’t cost any more to make a good film than it does a bad one.

  18. YancySkancy says:

    PcChongor wrote: “I’ll go on the record and say that the ratio of “Good Films” to ‘Bad Films’ is far more positive today than it ever was during the supposed ‘Golden Age.’”

    And I’ll go on the record as calling b.s. on this 🙂 (though I agree with your earlier point about distribution being more of an issue than un-original content). The ratio of good to bad is pretty much constant. Most things created by humans are not very good. Thank God for the rest of it.

    My general take on the topic is that of course just as many great films are being made today–but rarely by the studios. If greatness happens to result from their commercial imperatives, it’s just a nice little bonus (unless there’s no profit). The so-called Golden Age saw the studios making a broader range of product for both general and niche audiences, within the censorship restrictions of the time, of course. Profit was still probably the biggest motive for the old moguls, but they also wanted to be proud of at least some of their films, and could be pretty shameless about chasing awards. Today, the studios have mostly ceded “quality” to the indies.

    The art of film will go on; the art of the studio film may already be an oxymoron.

  19. LtotheG says:

    Blah blah blah…. It’s a pretty airtight theory that after age 30 and definitely after 35, the average white man checks out of pop culture so much, that their taste in anything from there out is suspect.

    Movies aren’t as much a young man’s game as music, but the theory holds… You hit a certain age, you’re crotchety, swoony about the past, particularly about whatever you saw at age 12-17… and nothing “new” is ever gonna compare. I’m sure this hits women and other colors and creeds too, but there’s nothing NOTHING like the white 40-plus’ grip on his formative pop culture signifiers. Pretty much no man over 35 or 40 is ever capable of giving proper credit to the new.

    Just think about a Leonard Maltin, still swooning over The Stooges or Huntz Hall or whatever, and to this day incapable of stretching out the glad hand to half the Scorsese or Kubrick filmographies.

  20. movieman says:

    I know that it’s dumb to second guess Harvey, but does anyone else think a wide release for “Silver Linings” on November 21st is in the movie’s best (Oscar) interest? Wouldn’t a limited Xmas Day release–say, NY’s Sony Lincoln Square and LA’s Arclight– w/ an expansion timed to the nominations make more sense?
    When was the last film that opened wide the day before Thanksgiving and was (a) still in first-run theaters; and (b) dominating awards chatter on Xmas Day?
    (“The Descendants” doesn’t count since it never went “wide” until late January.)
    “Terms of Endearment” maybe?
    Along w/ the mystifying (seeming) dump of “Killing Them Softly” on November 30th, stuff like this is beginning to make me question Harvey’s awards-sensor acumen.

  21. YancySkancy says:

    Lex: True (though I always like to think I’m an exception). Most guys who say there’s no good music anymore base their opinion solely on what crosses their radar while flipping past radio stations that play current hits. They hear snippets of three hip-hop songs and declare that “melody is dead.”

  22. cadavra says:

    Then: Sinatra. Now: Bieber.
    Then: Hitchcock. Now: Bay.
    Then: Hepburn. Now: K-Stew.
    Then: Playhouse 90. Now: Real Housewives.
    Then: Groucho. Now: Tosh.

    Sorry, Grumpy Old White Guys FTW.

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