Found 586 Resources containing: Hollywood (Film)
In 1967, the five movies nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards represented the winds of change in Hollywood. The Graduate, rejected by every movie studio, was an iconic film for a generation; Bonnie and Clyde gave a 1930s counter-culture sensation a 1960s sensibility; In the Heat of the Night captured America’s racial tensions in performances by Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the ultimate Hollywood “message movie,” was the final role for Spencer Tracy, the last of the Golden Age icons; and finally, Dr. Doolittle, a train wreck of a movie that showcased all that was wrong with the dying studio system.
Smithsonian.com’s Brian Wolly talked with Mark Harris, a columnist for Entertainment Weekly about his book Pictures at a Revolution and the Academy Awards.
There appears to be a returning theme in your book of “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” where quotes or passages could just as easily be written about today’s Hollywood. Which aspect of this surprised you the most in your research?
All I knew about Dr. Doolittle going into the book was that it was an expensive disaster, which I thought would make a great counterpoint to these other four movies which were not disasters and all put together did not cost as much as Dr. Doolittle. There were certain things about the way it was made that I thought really had not come into play in Hollywood until the 1980s and 1990s that I was surprised to see were alive and well in the 1960s. For instance, picking a release date before you have a finished script, not worrying that you don’t have a finished script because you just imagined the script as a variable that you didn’t have to worry about. Thinking about no matter how bad the movie is, you can solve it either by tweaking it after test screenings or a really aggressive marketing campaign. Throwing good money after bad, thinking, “Oh we’re in so deep, we just have to keep going and we’ll spend our way to a hit.”
One review I read complimented you on not going in-depth on what was happening in the United States, the protests, the politics. You only really made parallels where it actually fit, as in Loving v. Virginia. Was this intentional on your part?
I didn’t want this to be a year that changed the world book, there are a lot of those out there and some of them are really interesting. This was a book specifically about movies and changes in the movie business. But I don’t think its possible to understand why movies in 1968 were different than movies in 1963 without understanding what went on in the country during those years.
Maybe a simpler way to put it is, it’s less important what was going on in the civil rights movement than what Norman Jewison [director of In the Heat of the Night] was aware what was going on in the civil rights movement versus what Stanley Kramer [director of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner] was aware what was going on in the civil rights movement. Their different levels of engagement with what was happening in terms of civil rights both within the country and within the industry tell you a lot about why each of those movies came out the way they did.
One of the more astounding points laid out in the book, at least for someone of my generation, is that movies not only stayed in theaters for months, but that they stayed at the top of the box office for months as well. When did this shift happen? How did affect how movies are made?
I think the shift happened when aftermarkets were invented. Movies did stay in theaters for months in the 60s and 70s, and sometimes even for a couple of years if they were really big hits. The only chance that you would ever have to see a movie after it ran theatrically was network television, where it would be interrupted by commercials and where anything objectionable would be cut out. There’s not a lot of reason now to rush out to see a movie in a movie theater, and in the 1960s, there were tons of reasons.
In your book, there is a constant theme of the roles Sidney Poitier plays and how white and black America viewed race relations through him. But given the research you lay out, you seem to be more on the critical side, that Poitier played black roles that were palatable to white audiences. Is that a fair reading?
My feeling is that Poitier was facing an almost impossible situation in trying to serve his race (which is something that he very badly wanted to do), grow as an actor (which is something he very badly wanted to do), work entirely within a white power structure (which is something he had to do), and make movies. He handled it as well as anyone possibly could have. I think that there’s real sadness in the fact that by the end of the book, he reaches the apex of his career, in terms of box office success and critical acclaim.
Image by © Bettmann / Corbis. Warren Beatty produced and starred in Bonnie and Clyde alongside Faye Dunaway in a movie that was about the 1930s, but was written to be a movie about the themes of the 60s. (original image)
Image by © Sunset Boulevard / Corbis. Dustin Hoffman, in the famous scene from The Graduate, during his first liaison with Mrs. Robinson. The movie was rejected by every major Hollywood studio. (original image)
Image by © John Springer Collection / Corbis. Sidney Poitier starred as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night with Rod Steiger as two detectives solving a homicide in the Deep South. (original image)
Image by © John Springer Collection / Corbis. Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner starred Sidney Poitier as the future son-in-law to Spencer Tracy. It would be Tracy's last film; he died just weeks after production ended with his longtime partner Katharine Hepburn at his side. (original image)
Image by © Bettmann / Corbis. Rex Harrison was the cantankerous star of Doctor Doolittle, a 1967 flop of epic proportions. (original image)
Poitier had a stretch of four years in which he was in Lillies of the Field, A Patch of Blue, To Sir with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night, a string that made him one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. What happened to his career after In the Heat of the Night?
There was this moment that just as white middle America completely embraced him, black America started to have less use for any black actor who was that embraced by white America. There was this sort of suspicion that if he’s that popular, he must by definition have been too accommodating. What you see when you read about Poitier after that is the story of a guy who had become deeply disillusioned with the way Hollywood worked.
I love the Mike Nichols quote about who Benjamin and Elaine [the two main characters in The Graduate] became – their parents. Yet it seems the same thing could be said for Oscar voters. The “old academy members” are the scapegoat for each questionable decision cast by the academy…and this was true in 1967 and it’s true now.
Young movie fans tend to be much more rigid and doctrinaire, because they’re the ones who say, “Well, a certain part of the electorate is just going to have to die before things change.” Eventually, the people complaining about the way things go this year will be the establishment. There’s no question that the academy votership is older than the median moviegoer.
I tend to really reject theories as if the Academy, as if it’s a single-brained entity, makes decisions one way or another. I hate the word “snubs” because it implies a sort of collective will behind something, that I don’t think is usually the case.
More things that are called snubs are actually the result of the extremely peculiar voting tabulation system that any kind of collective will, on the other hand, its completely fair to say that Academy voters have certain areas of really entrenched snobbery. I absolutely heard Academy voters say this year, point blank, that they wouldn’t vote for The Dark Knight for a best picture nomination because it was a comic book movie. You can see a history where they’ve taken a really, really long time to embrace certain genres. It really took until The Exorcist for a horror movie to get nominated, until Star Wars for a hardcore for a spaceships and laser guns, sci-fi movie to get nominated.
You write about how the organizers of the Oscars ceremony had to beg and plead with stars to show up at the event. What changed to make the Oscars a can’t-miss event for Hollywood?
Definitely some years after the period covered in my book is when it happened. The Oscars sort of hit bottom in terms of celebrity participation in the early 1970s. It was considered chic to hate awards; George C. Scott rejected his nomination and Marlon Brando rejected his Oscar. The academy at that point, seeming so old Hollywood establishment, was being rejected by a generation of new moviemaking mavericks. For a little while in the early 70s, the Oscars seemed to be at this precarious moment where they could go the way of the Miss America pageant. Then, as these newcomers became part of the establishment, lo and behold, they actually do like winning awards. It’s funny, when you start winning them, you don’t tend to turn up your nose at them quite so much. I think probably by the mid 70s, late 70s, it had kind of stabilized.
Which of the five movies you reported on is your favorite? Which do you think has the most lasting power and would be appreciated in today’s environment?
This is always a tough one, and I usually say my favorite is The Graduate, and I think its because of, ironically, one of the things that made people complain about it when it first came out, which is it has this coolness, this distance, not just from the generation of Benjamin’s parents, but between Benjamin and his generation The Graduate still plays beautifully and its also just so astonishingly crafted scene by scene in terms of everything from the acting to the direction to the cinematography to the art direction to the soundtrack being on the same page. The first hour of that movie is a shot-by-shot master class.
I’ve done a bunch of screenings over the years since the book has come out, and generally, In the Heat of the Night is the movie that people are most pleasantly surprised by. In my head, when I started the book, I positioned it as sort of an old Colombo episode. The more I watched it, the more I really became impressed by the craft in every area. The way it’s edited, the way its shot, the way its directed…and how lean it is. There are very few wasted scenes or wasted shots in that movie. When I’ve shown it to people, they have been really surprised…they’ve expected this sort of antique parable about race, and instead you get a good movie.
I sort of wish I had done this interview last year, because this year’s movies are so subpar. Are any of the movies nominated for this year’s Oscars close to being as groundbreaking as those from that year?
This year? No. I have to honestly say no. I do think they could have contrived a more exciting set of nominees than the ones they picked. The parallel I would say between ‘67 and now, I think in ‘67, a lot of people in Hollywood were beginning to get the impression that they were at the end of something, but not aware yet of the thing that replaced what was dying out was going to be. I do feel that right now, the dominant thing that’s going on right now in Hollywood, without question, is economic panic. It’s how are we going to survive internet piracy, streaming video, and TV, and people wanting their DVDs sooner that ever, is the theatrical exhibition even going to last, and I think that kind of churning panic eventually breeds something very interesting on screen. But, we’ll know what that is probably going to be about a year or two from now.
“Are you drunk?” asks James T. Kirk in a scene from the 2013 film Star Trek: Into Darkness. Kirk is on the phone with his trusty engineer Scotty, attempting to ask him about a series of mysterious coordinates. The scene switches over to the loud bar in which Scotty is sitting. Next to him is a sleek, futuristic bottle of Budweiser beer—which is apparently still being marketed in 2259.
This kind of scene is no accident, contends new research being presented Tuesday at the 2017 annual Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting. Alcohol brand placement has nearly doubled over the past two decades, the authors find, and most of that is likely paid product placement.
"More than 80 percent of movies contain depictions of alcohol use," says Dartmouth University pediatrician James D. Sargent, who has been combing films for their depictions of violence, tobacco, drugs and drinking for more than 20 years. While this percentage remained relatively unchanged during those two decades, the presence of specific brands depicted on screen increased dramatically.
Sargent argues that the vast majority of alcohol depiction in films now is likely product placement. He found that roughly 44 percent of the 2,000 films studied showed real alcohol brands over the 20-year period studied. Moreover, the depiction of alcohol brands increased 96 percent in the movies studied, from 140 appearances in the top 100 films in 1996 to 282 appearances in the top 100 films of 2015.
The most-frequently seen brands were Budweiser, Miller and Heineken, says co-author Samantha Cukier, a public policy researcher who works with Sargent at Dartmouth, with the triad representing one-third of the total brands seen. "We assume it's being paid for,” says Sargent. While the alcohol and film industries have resisted efforts to disclose paid brand placement, for Star Trek: Into Darkness, Budweiser was a major partner in marketing the film.
For this research, two longtime professional viewers from Sargent's team looked at the top 100 earning films from 1996 to 2015, and watched them closely for alcohol use and specific brands. They found that more than 1,700 of those some 2,000 films depicted alcohol consumption. In total, 93 percent of R-rated films and 92 percent of PG-13-rated films released during those years featured alcohol being consumed.
It isn’t just adult films that are heavy on the booze. According to the research, 72 percent of PG-rated films and 46 percent of G-rated films surveyed featured alcohol use. While that number appears to have stayed steady over time, again, brand placements nearly doubled within the 20-year period. For instance, in the 2003 film “Elf”—described as a “good-natured family comedy” by the film review website Rotten Tomatoes—Will Ferrell accidentally pours whiskey into his coffee, and then starts the party at work.
"It can really deliver a lot of alcohol images to an underage group," Sargent says.
Sargent compares this trend to portrayals of tobacco use in movies. To stop a flood of lawsuits from states and people seeking compensation for illness and death from smoking cigarettes they had been told was safe, America's largest tobacco companies agreed in 1998 to a settlement that, among other things, put restrictions on funding product placement in movies. In a study last year, Sargent and others found the depiction of smoking and tobacco brands in movies dropped by roughly half in the years following the settlement.
If similar film restrictions were put on the alcohol industry, Sargent says, "I would bet that you would get the same kind of decline with alcohol." However, this is an unlikely proposition, as there there is no similar flood of lawsuits against alcohol companies, and Sargent says that the public and lawmakers generally tend to view alcohol as less malicious than tobacco.
"There's a substantial amount of research out there now" about teen drinking and movies, Sargent says. Much of this peer-reviewed research has been led by Sargent himself, and has found that the more movies with alcohol use a teen has watched, the more likely he or she is to try drinking. These studies surveyed students in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany and asked them which movies they’d watched and about their attitudes and consumption of alcohol.
Unsurprisingly to Sargent, they found that alcohol-infused movies appeared to encourage drinking among these adolescents. While no comparable study has been conducted in Europe, the prevalence may be even higher there: one study found that 100 percent of the most viewed European films in 2009 depicted or mentioned alcohol use.
"The alcohol industry has long figured out that they can get their brands out there in movies and they will not be monitored as closely as if they were doing commercials in the more traditional way," says Cristel Russell, a marketing professor at American University who was not involved in this research. "We know these companies are in the entertainment marketing business."
Russell's past research has found similar impacts of alcohol depiction in television shows on teenagers. In a study that is now being peer reviewed at the Journal of Health Communication, Russell developed mock television episodes with all details and characters the same except for one had a storyline where drinking led to positive outcomes (such as getting a girl or making friends), while another had drinking lead to negative outcomes (such as social awkwardness).
For the subjects, who ranged in age from 14 to 17, just one exposure to the “positive” alcohol storyline led them to express more positive attitudes toward drinkers.
"You're clearly having an influence on the views that teenagers have of the consequences of drinking," Russell says. Between experimental research like hers and content analysis research like Sargent's study, she adds, "there's no doubt in my mind that there's enough of a body of evidence out there" to prove that alcohol depiction in movies is a considerable public health problem.
While the average viewer can't do much to stop this, Russell says that increasing teens’ media literacy can help them resist these subtle messages, because teenagers often don't like to feel like they're being manipulated into liking something. "By merely being aware of these influences, you can counteract them a little bit," Russell says. One such effort is the U.S. government’s “Too Smart to Start” program, which creates resource guides and advertisements that encourage kids to be aware of the subliminal messaging.
Sargent is looking next to review more than 10 studies that have tracked the outcomes of roughly 50,000 young people to disentangle how exposure to alcohol in movies affected their lives. In the future, he hopes that the film industry will take a more active role in helping parents keep track of their children's viewing experiences, pointing out that the current film rating system used by the Motion Picture Association of America doesn't provide any warning for films that show drinking—even for movies targeted at the youngest viewers.
"If there's alcohol brand placement, they're not going to find out about it until they watch the movie," Sargent says. "That to me is a much more important component to the ratings than the f-word."
Russell Williams was interviewed as part of the NMAAHC Donor Oral History Collection. Mr. Williams donated a collection of artifacts and photographs representing his pioneering Hollywood career, including both of his Academy Awards, his two Emmy Awards, and audio equipment he used to record dialogue on the set of various films to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
In this oral history Russell Williams discusses his childhood in Washington, DC and his journey to becoming a successful Hollywood sound engineer. He talks about the challenges that face African Americans in the film industry. He also gives vivid descriptions of what it was like to work on the sets of "Glory" and "Dances with Wolves".
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Today, at the beginning of every movie, the Motion Picture Association of America provides you with a handy primer as to what kind of indecency you’re about to see on the screen. Sometimes these ratings can make or break a movie: an R rating can narrow the potential audience and cut into box office sales. An X rating is like a kiss of death. But movies didn’t always go through such a rigorous screening process. In fact, at the beginning of the cinema, directors could get away with a lot more.
The blog Let’s Misbehave: A Tribute to Precode Hollywood has a great collection of movies from before the MPAA existed or its predecessor, the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America, started enforcing censorship guidelines in 1934. Take this post on drugs in pre-code movies for example:
The most interesting use of drugs in film is the 1916 film ‘The Mystery of the Leaping Fish’ staring the famous Douglas Fairbanks. The comedy picture shows Douglas as a Sherlock Holmes like detective solving crimes while being addicted to cocaine. In the pictures below it is obvious to see the product cocaine and the use of syringes.
In the 1934 movie Murder at the Vanities, there’s a whole musical number about the pleasures of marijuana (sung by half-naked women).
Let’s Misbehave has more examples of drug use, and whole catalogue of other pre-code novelties.
The power of the MPAA in Hollywood was the topic of the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, where they long for the days before ratings. We certainly don’t get musicals about weed anymore.
More from Smithsonian.com:
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