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Talk About…Are Films Too Depressing? Part 2

Shootout hosts Peter Bart and Peter Guber continued their crusade against the cascade of depressing films from Hollywood. (Read the start of the crusade, here.)

Seventy years ago, said Bart, the great movies in production in Hollywood’s “best” year, 1939, included  Gone with the Wind , Stagecoach , Wuthering Heights , The Wizard of Oz , Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Babes in Arms.  “There were musicals, comedies… Audiences were given such a wonderful palette of pictures…It wasn’t all dark and depressing and Iraq,” said Bart.

The main culprit seems to be the bevy of smaller, speciality films driven by younger directors. These pictures land major stars who agree to work below their usual fees so they can make films that will be perceived as serious and important.

Bart and Guber respect these efforts.  But, said Guber, “So many of the films are really depressing…Why would an audience turn out–unless they (are going to buy) vodka and razor blades when they leave the theater. It doesn’t mean (a film) can’t be thoughtful and it doesn’t mean there always has to be a happy ending, but it has to be emotionally fulfilling.”

Where are these films coming from?  "You wonder why they got made.  Who propelled their production?" asked Guber.

Studios need to mandate films that will "fill out the palette," argued Bart. "You really need a Walt Disney or a Louis B. Mayer or someone in the front office to mandate: ‘We’re going to make a musical or…a series of comedies.’"

Meanwhile, noir is not playing well at the box office, even when major stars are added to the film.   The speciality audience is down this year, said Guber, even while major blockbusters are "gigantically up."  Lions for Lambs with Tom Cruise and Robert Redford pulled only $9.7 million at the box office. John Cusak’s Grace is Gone grossed $36,000.

Guber propsed creating a "razor blade and vodka award show" for the most dour and depressing film that "left you nauseous."

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