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Filmism.net Dispatch March 19, 2012

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This week I want to talk about the President of Hollywood. I think his name's Rosenberg, and he sits at a desk in a corner office on that round building on Electra Court that looks over the Fairfax district. From there he smokes cigars, rants about 'the pictures' and issues missives about the perceptions filmgoers, producers and studios will have about this or that star, his decisions filtering down through the studio system and the film press to form the amphorous consensus of the film industry and anyone connected with it – right down to the lowliest ticket buyer.

Of course that's not the way it really is. There's no president of Hollywood. The building on Electra Court is a private residence (apparently built by an Internet billionaire, but I haven't been able to figure out who owns it at the moment). It did stand in for Lou Ferrigno's house in I Love You Man, but that's not important right now.

The point is that because Hollywood executives, producers and stars are no smarter than you or I, they make movies like most of us raise kids; slapdash, constantly pasting over the gaps and hoping for the best. If great movies and carefully directed careers were as easy as we think, there'd be a lot more of them.

Opinions and perceptions within a given cultural institution (like the movies) are a lot like the water at the bottom of a waterfall. They churn over and through each other, every which way, unshakable in force and then dissolving just as quickly. Sometimes they come from the moviemakers, sometimes they come from the press, sometimes they arise spontaneously from the way an audience responds to a film. They can be the opinion of a single reporter, actor or producer and influence a subsequent project that can go on to cement something we 'know' about an actor.

Consider the example of Liam Neeson, and how many people are talking about his having replaced the void left when the 80s-era action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone moved on, spending the 90s and 2000s in politics and obscurity respectively.

A few films like Taken and Unknown started the chatter, The Grey is galvanising it. As a result many of us now think Neeson is the likely candidate to take over the mantle 'action star' because he's been in a few Euro-flavoured thrillers with slightly more brains than Cobra or Raw Deal. And as we think it it's making it true because producers read the same stories and listen to the same party banter we do, and they think of him when they're casting their next Besson-esque action film.

The same thing happens with movies themselves, incidentally. Consensus opinion arises over a movie and sticks, and any time you go on to talk about it you feel the pressure to acknowledge the wisdom of judgment cast by the mob. Take Pearl Harbor, Michael Bay's almost universally reviled movie about the day the US joined World War 2. Say what you like about the jingoism, flag waving and mecha-porn scattered throughout all his movies like croutons over a Caeser salad, the central attack sequence is technically nothing short of brilliant, and the whole thing has some of the best production design and camerawork ever.

So by all means take note of the blogging, the talk and the editorial comment about a star, movie or genre. It's neither right nor wrong, it's just the result of the spontaneous mass expression that underpins all human culture. You're part of it, and every time you open your mouth or rest your fingers on a keyboard to talk about the movies you're doing it. You are the influencer in the giant house on the hill overlooking Hollywood.

Another great example is the career of Leslie Nielsen, who enjoyed a series of very straight laced lead roles until three brothers from the midwest acted on their conviction that there was a fine line between stern drama and hilarity. They cast Nielsen as Dr Rumack in Flying High, and the rest was comic history.

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