Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Starring Hugh Grant as...Hugh Grant

Mornin’ all. In the absence of anything better to write, here’s my film studies homework. We’re working on a past exam paper – unfortunately, we’re not allowed to answer question 1: “In what ways do you think films influence people’s lives?”. Pity, because I can throw heaps of information at that.

Basically, these exams are testing your movie trivia. OK, they call it revision of facts and case studies, but that’s more or less the same thing.

We’ve got a mini article about Julia Roberts which I am not not not going to type out for you, and the question…drumroll…

4 - “What does the above information tell you about the significance of stars in modern Hollywood? In what ways is this similar, or different from, Hollywood in the time of the Studio System?”
Isn’t that wonderfully open ended. He expects us to get three whole sides out of this!!! Anyway…

In the earliest days of the studio system, actors were never credited for films – only production companies. However, as the audience became familiar with certain performers, their names were used to help sell the movie. Mary Pickford, named “Little Mary” by fans, was an popular early star. Similarly, Julia Roberts’ image is used to promote her films. Though artistically Erin Brockovich might have received good reviews, its financial success rests on Julia Roberts’ presence. The growth of stars helped free the early film industry from constraints placed on it by the MPPC. At the time, to aid competition, all films had to be the same price and length. This was undermined when big name actors started demanding higher paychecks.
Erin Brockovich was made as a collaboration between three different studios. Under the studio system, vertical integration meant the production, exhibition and distribution of a film would all be controlled by one large company such as MGM (this control was eventually broken in 1948 by the Paramount Decrees) Studios would also have very tight control over the actors themselves – Julia Roberts would have worked for only one studio during her career, instead of a variety as shown in the article, though occasionally stars would be loaned from one studio to another.

An studio would carefully manage an actor’s entire image – they controlled where they went, what they wore, and how they were perceived by the audience. Buster Keaton’s contract reputedly [note: reputedly means that it actually didn't according to Snopes, but I needed a good example] held a clause forbidding him from smiling in public. Studios went to even more morally dubious lengths to get exactly the performances they wanted on screen: when Judy Garland appeared in The Wizard of Oz at the age of 16, MGM had her on various drugs to make her alert on set, and when these affected her sleeping patterns, began also drugging her to ensure she slept at night (this early addiction contributed to her death at the age of 47)

Erin Brockovich represents a small departure from Julia Roberts’ usual romantic comedy roles. In the past, a studio would have total control over the projects an artist would be involved in to help regulate their image. For example, when Bette Davis refused to appear in God’s Country and the Woman, Warner Bros. took away her leading role in Gone with the Wind, and served a successful injunction against her when she attempted to make two films in Britain.

Today, actors have much greater artistic freedom. However, many choose to maintain their image through certain roles in much the same way the studios would have done. A star’s roles have a symbiotic relationship with their overall image – Julia Roberts is famous for nice-girl roles in non-challenging films, such as Notting Hill and Runaway Bride. Similarly, while Russell Crowe is notorious for causing fights off screen, he also gets roles based on this audience perception – Romper Stomper, L.A. Confidential and Gladiator are all affected by this image.

Though Erin Brockovich is more of a serious movie, Julia Roberts is still playing an admirable and sympathetic character. Very few actors ever break away from their typical mould. Hugh Grant, for example, has never departed from the genre which made him famous – though his role in Bridget Jones’ Diary is unconventional, it is still a romantic comedy, and even Sense and Sensibility shares traits with the genre. George Clooney is an example of an actors who has successfully escaped his image – moving from early roles, like Out of Sight, which traded on his charm, into more serious, issue based movies such as Three Kings and Syriana.

After conducting an audience survey, I discovered that over ¾ people think the cast is the most important consideration in choosing a film, and Julia Roberts was voted one of the most popular actresses. However, to a certain extent, audiences pay to see actors appear in the same kind of roles. For example, The Mexican – a film Julia Roberts accepted a vastly smaller salary to be in, and a drastic departure from her usual work – was unsuccessful, despite her presence. Actors are discovering, as did the studios in the so-called “Golden Age” of Hollywood, that it is better financially to appear in many similar pictures, than take advantage of their artistic freedom and experiment with different roles.

Well that's what I handed in to my teacher anyway. What I was really thinking is actually, to be fair, Hollywood hasn’t changed that much. It’s still all about the money. Foreign and independent films still rarely stand a chance. And stars haven’t changed either.

Unlike the under the studios, they have artistic freedom – they can pick any film they like. But how many actually do? Can you remember Robert Redford ever playing a bad guy? I mean properly-Michael-Corleone-bad. He was a bandit in BCSK, a con man in The Sting, vaguely disreputable in The Great Gatsby and a tad pervy in Indecent Proposal but his redeemable qualities always outweigh the bad ones. The closest he’s come to being truly naughty is Spy Game, and he wasn’t that convincing. He’s still taking very good care of his image, in exactly the way the studios would have.

My dad claims Steve Buscemi has only ever played the same role. I haven’t seen that many of his films, but it honestly wouldn’t surprise me at all.

In fact, how many actors do break the mould? Off the top of my head:…Robin Williams (comedy genie to creepy creepy in 24 Hour Photo)…Jim Carrey (comedy Mask to sensitive and quiet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)…George Clooney (heartthrob to serious issues man, via some weird stuff along the way)…that’s all I can think of. Not counting the shock departures from type – Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West?! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Did anybody believe Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind? Almost – he was fantastic after all – but my mental image of him beating Guy Pierce to a pulp kept getting in the way.
There’s this symbiotic relationship – the film changes the perception of the star’s image, which changes the perception of the film etc etc. After all, Robert Redford’s character in Indecent Proposal could have been a total scumbag. Played by anyone else, he’d have been all slime and no charm. But we all know and trust Robert Redford.

Let’s put it this way. You’re stranded in a dark forest, and suddenly two cars draw up to offer you a lift home. One of them has Robert Redford in. The other one has Jack Nicholson. Which one are you going to get into the car with? Which one is less likely to chase you about with an axe? Or...say you needed a bodyguard: would you prefer Hugh Grant or Samuel L. Jackson?

What about the deliberately canny casting in Memento? The basic premise is that as Lenny has a five minute memory, he can’t ever really trust anyone fully. Teddy is this guy he meets along the way, who claims to be a friend. The cleverness is in the casting – Joey Pantalionio (pardon for spelling this wrong, not time to check imdb) has played a lot of baddies, and the moment we see him, we immediately distrust him. ‘Cos naturally, he’s gonna be a bad guy again, right?

The thing is, artistic integrity is one thing, financial security is another. All the most successful actors are the ones you can immediately claim cliché on. Paul Newman will be remembered for the blue-eyed-twinkle – never mind Road to Perdition. Clint Eastwood’s the cowboy guy. You don’t go to see Halle Berry in a hard-hitting-social-commentary. Some people might be interested in the film itself, but the Halle Berry fans will give it a miss and wait for her to get back into a bikini [end broad generalisation]. You will always inevitably earn more by sticking to “what you do best”. Perhaps it’s not entirely the actor’s fault – if you’re in a successful rom com, naturally you’ll be offered heaps more.

Our film studies class have taken part in a shoot-an-advert competition. Pretty cool - Ridley Scott says adverts are the best practice you can have for The Real Thing. We developed a story board, and today we went and shot it. Proper camera...proper camera man...proper moniter and boom. The only problem was there was five of us, and directing is not a team job. Now in our group, there were definitely two egos - mine, and this other lad who I honestly don't grudge at all. I actually made a conscious decision that, for the good of the project, we didn't really need more than one of the egos at work. So I took a back seat and spent the day watching someone else do my dream job. I know I did the right thing, but I still went home and cried. Probably not really cut out for this industry, eh XD

This fantastic day of fun was evened out by accidentally winning an unfairly flash new toy. It's got 40GB of room for music, photos or *drumroll* movies. My prayers have been answered!

PS - Saturday, Friends 3 and 4 have invited themselves around to watch RDogs. Honest they did! Well, I might have encouraged them a little...but basically, they actually want to come. Naturally I'm looking forward to this very's gonna be total torment. I'm going to spend the entire time worrying whether they're enjoying it (they've heard great things about it after all) or getting overly unpleasanted out by the blood and swearing. Especially as they've no idea what they're letting themselves in for (i.e. most people can tell you at least one fact about most famous films, even if they haven't seen it...but they don't) I can tell you quite candidly that Friend 3 is the one of the nicest person you'll ever meet and certainly not a natural Mr Blonde fan, and Friend 4 has about the same terror threshold as I do: not high. It will be eventful...

At this point, me and Friend 3 are going to go to the cinema (nothing against Friend 4, she just doesn't want to come) to see Blood Diamond. Why? Well, partly bcos Friend 3 wants to see it. And partly to live by my own rules. I am a great believer that everybody should try things they don't know they're gonna like. By which I mean trying quirky and offbeat movies instead of blockbuster tat.

Of course, as I already like quirky and offbeat films, I don't need to bother. Hypocritical. Now I don't like real-lifey movies, I don't like issues movies and I especially don't like things set in Africa. Not that I've anything against Africa mind, just the moment I hear it's about Africa I get bored instantly. Very hypocritical - I do love Zulu. Anyway, I figure Blood Diamond's meant to be good, and I should be more adventurous with my watching.


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