Monday, 15 February 2016

Impertinent Perception #3: Greed Is Good (Sometimes)

What is art? This is a question for wise men with skinny arms, and not one which I'm going to definitively answer in this blog post but typically, people think of art as a form of pure expression. Bringing across an idea to an audience, so that they can accept it, reject it, or interpret it in their own fashion. Somewhere along the line, art became muddled, and artists noticed that creating something which attracted a lot of people was profitable. Audiences became markets and people became patrons. Of course, this meant that the art was no longer pure, something to be packaged and sold for a dollar rather than the artist's real emotions. However, I'm not entirely convinced that finance is the root of all evil.

Try not to imagine this as you picture an out of touch studio executive.

But Damian, you ask, surely you're not suggesting that a movie can be good when it's made purely for the sake of money? Well sure that might not sound like a recipe for fine art, but of course that all depends on the artist. Yes, big budget movie studios these days are more interested in known properties than anything else, making it difficult for artists to thrive in such a competitive environment. The idea being, a known property has an audience already attached to it and has less work to do to convince them to go to the theatre and is low risk with high reward, with an unknown artist's screenplay being the exact opposite. But just because it's not original, doesn't mean it's devoid of creativity.

A good example of this is Marvel Studios and their cinematic universe. Marvel saved the superhero genre after a number of mediocre films in the mid 2000s that reeked of studio interference, with decisions that seemed to be completely unrelated to the good of the film. Each of their connected films has a director that most called a big risk, like Joss Whedon who had done only one other feature film before Avengers, or James Gunn is the phrase "left field" personified. Both of the Marvel films directed by this pair were commercially and critically successful.

'Weird & Weirder' Coming soon to a theatre near you.

Then there's of course the merchandising aspect, where studios make decisions based on how easily they can sell toys and such to kids. The biggest sinner in this department is Star Wars, which has a merchandising value of 17 billion, more than double what it makes at the box office. This isn't really a problem per se until you get a character like Captain Phasma. She is in 'The Force Awakens' for all of 8 minutes, does nothing, but exists because she's a shiny stormtrooper with a cape and that's a thing to collect. That's Star Wars though which is known for being derivative, unlike the original creative geniuses at Pixar, who made as many Toy Story and Cars films because...they sell a lot of Toy Story and Cars toys. Though there you have the good and the bad. Toy Story has maintained it's quality and has told meaningful stories despite the soulless motivation. Cars has given us Larry the Cable Guy as a tow truck. 

Iron Man 3 actually is a case of both good and bad. In that movie Tony Stark has not one, but 36 new Iron Man suits, all because they wanted to sell as many figures as possible. It works because after the events of 'The Avengers' it made sense for the character to need to have a contingency for every possible situation, and helped his arc for the overall franchise, as a constant innovator. That's why he has a new suit in every film, because he's always thinking and because they need a new toy on the shelves.  It doesn't work, because in re watching Iron Man 3, in the earlier scenes you can't help but think why Tony doesn't call his army of suits to help him when his house is attacked by the Mandarin.

Watch this to see what I'm talking about

What I'm trying to say is, yes there are times when a big budget property is just a product and is made based on the name alone to sell tickets to and sell toys, with no artistic merit, but there are also times when the financial side of things can help out the creative process. For a prime example, look no further than 'Deadpool'. On the face of it, that film looks to be made entirely in a creative vacuum with no interference from the studio. It even makes jabs at the studio itself within the movie, and there was even a moment during production when the already low budget was cut down by 7 million dollars. But remember how tight that movie felt? Well paced, focused, fat trimmed? That was because under budgetary constraints, the filmmakers were forced to use what really worked and realised the things that didn't. Compare that to $120 million on Fant4stic and the joy that film turned out to be. It's not binary. Sometimes the two can work in tandem.

Thanks for reading. You can leave a comment with your thoughts below and if you want to know my thoughts on 'Deadpool' you can read and listen to them here. (It's pretty good).


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