Why Are the Movies Dying?

By | October 27, 2011 | 26 Comments

The other evening my wife and I went to the movies. We intended to see “Margin Call,” a film about the financial crisis starring Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, and Jeremy Irons. The cast is outstanding and the subject timely. But the film was playing in only one small theater in all of the West Side of Los Angeles.

The theater held only about 150 seats, and all but the first two rows were taken. So instead we went to another theater playing “The Three Musketeers.” This is yet another remake of the classic, but hyped up with swordsmen flying through the air, and a warship sailing aloft on a balloon. The special effects were childish, and there were barely 20 people in the 1500-seat theater.

Here in Los Angeles, the movie capital, many theaters have closed. In Westwood, the area around UCLA, theaters with 10 screens have closed in the last few years. A few films still make many millions of dollars, but the movie business is in trouble. Why?

Juvenile movies.

Adult films like “The Driver” play to good audiences, but are distributed to few theaters, so they appear to have mediocre success. The same fate may befall “Margin Call.” The unpopularity of adult-themed films may be a self-fulfilling prophesy. And by “adult” I mean adult, not raunchy.
Most moviegoers are young. Understandably, movie moguls aim films at this audience. But if they make films for young people, mainly young people will see them. Successful businesses strive to attract new customers.

When I was young, a frequent expression was “Grow up!” But today, we see middle-aged “boys” walking through the mall wearing shorts, baseball caps, and T-shirts with juvenile lettering. And we see middle-aged “girls” with see-through tops, tattoos, and navel rings. Only weeds grow spontaneously. Boys and girls must be taught to become men and women.

● The teaching used to be done by parents, who knew their job was to be parents, not pals to their kids. But now, middle-aged parents try to dress and act as young as their kids. Mothers run around in revealing clothes and tattoos. Fathers shave their legs in an attempt to look prepubescent. How can they be role models of adulthood?

● The teaching used to be done by teachers, who dressed and acted as adults. But now, many teachers dress sloppily and try to act “cool,” instead of modeling adult behavior.

● The teaching used to be done by Scoutmasters and ROTC instructors. But now, the Scouts and ROTC have been kicked out of schools. Now, schools teach “nonviolence.” Defense of self, family, and nation are no longer considered noble − or even acceptable. Boys no longer have master sergeants with combat ribbons as role models. They are left with “gangsta” rappers or real gang members to emulate.

● The teaching used to be done by movies. I watched Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” and saw a lawman face criminals alone while cowards hid. I watched Ward Bond in “Fort Apache,” and saw a sergeant who had received the Medal of Honor but didn’t wear it. He had the respect of his men because he earned it, not because he demanded it. I learned what it meant to be a man.

These men were middle aged, as were John Wayne and Clint Eastwood for much of their careers. And actresses like Maureen O’Hara and Katherine Hepburn remained stars well into their middle age. The worst effects of the media’s obsession with youth are not incessant ads for wrinkle removers. The worst effect is the removal of older role models for young people.

Instead of “High Noon” and “Fort Apache,” we have “The Hangover.” Instead of men acting like men, we have men acting like teenaged fools. Instead of adults being role models for the young, the process is reversed. Watching films like “The Hangover” and playing video games into one’s thirties is no way to become men and women − or responsible citizens.

Many moviemakers make films to please themselves – their own leftist, atheist, foul-mouthed, rootless, juvenile selves. Otherwise, they would be aiming at a larger audience, not a smaller one. They would be making films that depict our war on terrorists, and which show our Judeo-Christian values in a favorable light. But they don’t make such films. They prefer their narrow agenda to a wider audience.

Anti-American movies.

I used to keep a list of films that depict America as militaristic, imperialistic, greedy, racist, and generally despicable. I used to be able to recall the films that depict our leaders as corrupt or homicidal. I used to be able to name the films that show our military as crazed, murderous fascists, and our veterans as alcoholic, drug-addicted, divorced, unemployed, mentally unstable losers.

But there have been so many of these films that I lost track. For example, take the “Bourne” series. The hero is so disgusted with being an assassin for the CIA that he develops amnesia. He is so busy beating up and killing Americans that he has no time to fight America’s enemies. It’s not only Jason Bourne who forgets his own identity – it’s also the moviemakers who forget theirs.

I grew up watching “Sergeant York” and saw a pacifist learn that violent evildoers must be opposed by force, then go on to earn the Medal of Honor. I watched “The Fighting Sixty-Ninth” and saw the chaplain, “Fighting” Father Duffy, praying with wounded soldiers.

Instead, we now watch “Training Day” and see police as drug dealers who kill their own partners. We watch “Syriana” and see Americans as murderous money-grubbers, while the only sympathetic character is a Muslim suicide bomber. We watch “In the Valley of Elah” and see our troops murder their own buddy, then go out for a chicken dinner. We watch “The Da Vinci Code” and see Christian clergy as homicidal fanatics.

Now films teach that America is loathsome, our military and police are treacherous, and Christianity is detestable. Why should Americans patronize films that insult their values? Why should Americans patronize films that insult their family members in the military?

People all over the world see these films. Why should we support an industry that presents us in such an unfavorable light? Who knows how much anti-American feeling, or even terrorism, may have been provoked by such films?

Hollywood Lemmings.

During World War II, Hollywood gave us films that built morale. Even during the less popular wars in Korea and Vietnam, Hollywood gave us films like “The Bridges at Koto-Ri” and “The Green Berets.” What films has Hollywood given us since 9/11?

We have “United 93,” a docudrama about the brave passengers who fought the hijackers on 9/11 and prevented the plane from crashing into the Capitol or the White House. But omitted was the heroic Todd Beamer reciting the Lord’s Prayer with the phone supervisor, then shouting, “God help me. Jesus help me. Are you ready? Let’s roll!” All this is documented − why omit anything of religious significance?

And we have “World Trade Center,” which depicts police buried in the rubble. Americans are often shown as villains, sometimes as victims − but rarely as heroes. “The Hurt Locker” is conspicuous by its rarity. But it’s not a matter of money. The film cost $15 million and made over $49 million. In this economy, how many other investments made a 227% profit? No, it’s a matter of ideology.

There are films about heroes. But they are cartoon heroes like Spiderman and the X-Men, who fight cartoon villains. They don’t inspire; they merely entertain. I could try to emulate Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” but today’s kids can’t emulate Spiderman. They can only sit passively and watch.
Support us in our time of danger? No, that’s too “controversial.” If someone did make a pro-American film, he might not be invited to any more Hollywood cocktail parties, and that would be a fate too horrible to contemplate. Lemmings aren’t known for their individuality. They just go along with their group − even if it’s over a cliff. But we’re not following.

H. L. Mencken remarked that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But even he wasn’t cynical enough. Hollywood is in the process of proving him wrong.

 Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


  • SW says:

    Your points are well taken. What is certain is that a seemingly small feature to the notion of freedom is shaking the foundations of the Left worldwide. That is, people are quietly voting with their feet and their wallets. Walking away is the one phenomenon with which the Left has never dealt well. Socialism in its various forms is not a viable economic theory, but a successful political gambit of populism which has never played out in economic reality. As consumers make choices which sidestep the central planning of the self-appointed elite of the Left, the Left is experiencing shock in slow motion. Whether it be movie releases at which a potential audience yawns, a news channel which loses viewers, a church denomination which guts itself with its “moving forward,” or the massive foolishness of unsustainable government debt, the individual can be seen everywhere quietly walking away, making buying decisions which amount to the same or simply seeming to no longer participate in the Left’s delusion of control.
    There is always a tension between freedom and slavery, but the modern Left is experiencing a social phenomenon of decades in the making. People who could possibly consume a product are walking away from some, to the shock of those who demand consumption by fiat. Electric cars for too high a price? Movies attacking Western civilization? Liberal arts degrees without market value to employers, but having generated enormous “student loan” debts? In so many ways, we little consumers in the hundreds of millions are shaking the Left’s world by our quiet, little choices.
    My wife and I haven’t been to a movie theater more than once in a year now, I no longer purchase the Scientific Americain, most major newspapers or magazines, and many similar small decisions. We avoid being hectored by the lecturing Left day and night, and turn to walk away from protests, demonstrations and even pollsters. Are we so unusual? From a survey of our circles of friends, I think not.
    I think we are rather the norm. Dropping subsciptions rates would support this. Movies not earning much tend to support this. The miniscule number of electric car sales underpins this. While the Left wants to say they are both numerically and intellectually superior, one sees quiet decisions overwhelming them. Capital flight from some nations. Business flight from cities and states. Consumers slipping away from the presumed plantations of the Left.
    Your article is correct. Your conclusion — “we’re not following” — tells the tale.

  • I enjoyed your article. For the last 18 years I have been the editor/designer of the official Maureen O’Hara website ” Maureen O’Hara Magazine” and also her archivist here in the U.S. It has always amazed me that this site…which grew out of research I did for an article I published about her back in 1991, is that Maureen has a huge fan base. The other day some cable network ran “The Parent Trap” and we had 1,500 visitors to the site. So somewhere – deep down, there is still a longing for the good old days and stars like Maureen remain role models and/or icons.
    I received the following email from Jeanine Basinger, Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University. Jeanine has authored several books on cinema. I already have (and LOVE) “A Woman’s View – How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960, published in 1993 in which she expounds on Maureen’s ability to create an equality to her male co-stars without losing her femininity.
    In Jeanine’s latest book, “The Star Machine,” I was delighted to see she again has a very accurate take on Maureen O’Hara. Following are her comments from an email to me:
    Jeanine Basinger, Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University, has authored several books on cinema. I have (and LOVE) “A Woman’s View – How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960, published in 1993 in which she expounds on Maureen’s ability to create an equality to her male co-stars without losing her femininity. In Jeanine’s latest book, “The Star Machine,” I was delighted to see she again has a very accurate take on Maureen O’Hara. Following are her comments from an email to me:
    “I was thrilled to hear from you because from childhood onward I have loved Maureen O’Hara. I am pleased you’ve liked what I’ve written because I think she is both totally fabulous and underestimated…not that she’s hurting for loyal fans or appreciation….but she should have even MORE than she has. She is a fine actress, a stunningly beautiful woman (one of the most so in film history) a versatile performer and a real icon. As i say in my new book, many of the “legends” never appeared in as many films that are taught in colleges now as O’Hara did. To my students she is better known (and more loved) than Davis, Crawford, Garbo or many others. i believe that history is turning her into the legend she really is, and making a super star out of her! Just being in the John Ford movies…playing opposite Wayne as much as she did…or appearing in the annual showings of “Miracle on 34th Street” alone guarantees her legend.
    And there’s more. I have to stop here because I have to go to class, and could go on and and on. Please tell Ms. O’Hara that I send all my regards, my deepest appreciation, and my admiration and respect for her life, both professionally and personally. Jeanine Basinger

  • Jeff Wicker says:

    Amen! We long ago gave up on Hollywood. I don’t think I attend a movie in a year. Who in their right mind can stomach the idiot ramblings of a Sean Penn or Janeane Garofalo? Every time these spoiled, out of touch, anti-American morons open their mouth to pontificate on political or spiritual issues, I want to reach through the screen and slap their ungrateful mouths.
    Isn’t it an irony that the very nation, along with its capitalism, that has made them rich, they in turn run into the ground, supporting one fantastically stupid idea after another. I wish we could send them all off to, say, Russia, or North Korea, or Cuba for a few years. They are indeed todays brats on display.

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