Neil Genzlinger from the New York Times reviews two new books on Hollywood’s “blockbuster” economy, Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer, by Tom Shone, and The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood, by Edward Jay Epstein. Based on Genzlinger’s review, I’m curious to read both books even though some of the material mentioned in the review, especially on the role of blockbuster films, has been well-documented by film scholars such as Justin Wyatt.
Both Shone and Epstein, for example, emphasize the role of marketing in driving the “success” of Hollywood films, with Genzlinger highlighting the huge box office bonanza for critical lemons such as Godzilla. At the same time, the review notes Hollywood’s notoriously creative accounting practices that make any real measure of box office success impossible, with Genzlinger characterizing Hollywood’s accounting practices as a “high-stakes hall of mirrors,” which might make the climactic scene of Lady from Shanghai the ultimate metaphor for Hollywood business dealings. Although I think it’s worth noting here that contemporray manifestations of this practice are generally intensifications of existing practices and nothing entirely new. Epstein, in particular seems to note that film audiences and box office no longer “matter,” and in fact, a prolonged theaterical release can even get in the way of the more lucrative industry of DVD sales and rentals, news that may not be surprising for a film scholar but might be for a more general audience (although I kind of doubt it).
What seems to bother the reviewer most is the underlying cynicism with which film audiences are being treated. At one point, he comments “It’s a disillusioning notion–all that advertising, all those awards shows and low-cut gowns, sustaining a fiction. A suspicion arises when reading Epstein’s somewhat dizzying book: these corporate giants don’t actually need us at all, whether in the theaters or in the video stores or in line at Disney World.” I’m a little puzzled here: Genzliner didn’t realize that the Oscars are sustaining a fiction? Again, I’m not sure that knowledge is entirely surprising. But the review’s emphasis on Hollywood’s cynical regard for its audience does make me curious to read both of these books.