That swinging sword of Damocles has finally dropped. Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, the co-chairmen of New Line Cinema, are no more; Time-Warner president & CEO Jeff Bewkes has officially folded the independent studio into Warner Brothers, which becomes that much bigger a major studio. Shaye, the founder of the studio, and Lynne, his lawyer-turned-longtime partner, are stepping down; in a memo to their staff they wrote that doing so "was a painful decision, because we love New Line and the people who work here have been like our second families. But we will be leaving the company with enormous pride in what all of us at New Line have accomplished together." Does Shaye regret selling his boutique studio to Ted Turner (and thus Time-Warner) in 1994? That seems likely. For all of the mogul's peculiarities and Lynne's distemper, New Line did indeed contribute great films to American culture. There was the great leap of faith that became the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but Shaye also backed the visionary Paul Thomas Anderson and the early work of David Fincher, allowing the former to keep 'Magnolia' at its gloriously unmarketable length, and the latter to keep Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box in "Seven." Losing another independent outlet for film is much to be regretted in an industry where there are precious few places to grant a green light. At left is the pair pictured at the Britannia awards in the fall where they were recognized for their contribution to film. It was the kind of recognition that Shaye -- who despite a legendary temper has seemed to get more sentimental with each passing month -- had kept hoping and angling for in this, the landmark 40th year of his studio. Instead, it was a valedictory moment. I, for one, will miss his voice in the raucous free-for-all that is Hollywood.
February 28, 2008
A blogger-friend asked me the other day for my read on the dismal ratings this year at the Oscars. This is what I wrote him, at www.billlucey.com: "I thought the Oscars were about as good as could be expected with a week to prepare, and a group of movies that most viewers had not seen, and won't. I don't believe that "No Country for Old Men," despite being covered in glory, is going to see a huge box office bump in the manner of "Shakespeare in Love." The disconnect between the awards and what audiences actually turn out to see in theaters is an entrenched problem in Hollywood that isn't going away. For years now, the Oscars have been dominated by small movies made at independent studios or the indie divisions of big studios (last year's Best Picture, "The Departed," made at Warner Bros, being a noted exception). The studios don't want to make Oscar-worthy films. So here's where things are, at a standoff: our annual ritual to celebrate America's passion for going to the movies is confused by the disconnect between audiences and the movies that Oscar celebrates. No wonder we prefer to look at the dresses. And no surprise, then, that the ratings for this year's telecast went from a long-term downhill slide to a precipitous, thudding drop of 20 percent."
It seems the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came to the same conclusion. In an interview today with EW.com, the executive director of the Academy, Bruce Davis, says this: "Some of these movies are just too difficult for a mass audience, frankly. And if we have moved into an era where there's this dichotomy between big popular studio movies and smaller pictures for more specialized audiences, we may just have to get used to smaller audiences [for the Oscar telecast.] This could be a one-year blip but it doesn't look like one. It looks like something that has been developing over the past few years. It's as if the National Book Awards had to make a choice between giving awards to very serious fiction or to the most popular bestsellers. We've come to that point where there are two kinds of movies, and we're focusing on the ones which, almost by definition, aren't going to be blockbusters."
He also says that ABC, which airs the telecast, did a focus group and found -- to its amazement -- that most people who watch the Oscars had not seem the films nominated for Best Picture. Instead, they were tuning in for all the non-movie things: the dresses, the jewelry, the red carpet gossip and who brought their mother this year. An interesting q&a, you can read it here.
February 15, 2008
Los Angeles has a new acronym, and another new artistic mecca -- BCAM, The Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a gift to the city by real estate billionaire Eli Broad and his wife. The musem, opening this Saturday, sits just beside the L.A. County Museum of Art, but could not be more different in style and tone than the mother ship. Designed by Renzo Piano, the new museum is recognizably the work of the man who gave the world the Pompidou Center in Paris; the materials used at BCAM are more durable, perhaps, but the shape of the museum from the outside, with its steep escalator on one side, and its zig-zagging staircase on the other, is familiar. Inside, the space is airy and light, well suited to the monumental pieces on display -- mainly on loan from the Broads, not donated, as was originally hoped -- by the signature contemporary artists of the past 50 years. The work of Jeff Koons -- pictured above in the shape of a shiny, neon blue balloon - dominates the top floor, along with that of Andy Warhol and John Baldessari. The opening show essentially takes you on a star-studded tour of contemporary art from the 1950s forward, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Cindy Sherman. Not to be missed, however, are the permanent mastodons on the ground floor, the incredible, undulating brown steel mazes by Richard Serra. They are fearsome things of grace and power. Glad to know they're here to stay.