This is not a rant about high and low cuture. It is a question about quality. I just went to see a film I thought was very good: Dirty Pretty Things. I don’t put a lot of credence in movie reviews, but it seems other people think it’s pretty darn good as well. So far, it’s made a bit over a million dollars in revenues, after being in theaters in the US for several weeks.
In less time, Gigli has made over five million. Once international rights and DVD sales are brought together, the film will bring in a substantial slice of money, especially in comparison.
And so, my question is why? The biggest reason seems to be the advertising. It was hard to turn on a TV without seeing a trailer for Gigli in the weeks before it opened. They are selling anticipation. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good preview. I don’t mind at all that they now show five or more previews before the features. But there is something basically wrong with the way the system works when a great film (or at least a very good film) like Dirty Pretty Things goes basically unnoticed, while formulaic disasters like Gigli and Uptown Girls dominate the attention of the public. (To be fair, I haven’t seen either of the latter, and have avoided them only due to word of mouth.)
Of course, there are always the breakaways; films like The Full Monty or Princess Mononoke. But by and large, American audiences are not exposed to good films that they would probably enjoy, because they are seen as “art house” or foreign films. I have a feeling that if the cycle of advertising could be broken, people would choose the good stuff.
I’ll return to the high/low thing. I’m not saying everyone should listen to opera rather than rap. This isn’t a question of “fine cinema” versus “popcorn flicks.” Many of these films are simply well acted, beautifully shot, and compelling. Why is it that Kill Bill will open to a multi-million dollar weekend, but no one is even screening the Princess Blade anywhere between the coasts? Why? Because one has the backing of a huge advertising budget. It has that backing before it is ever shot, because movie executives know that a big enough advertising campaign can make people see a movie, even if it is no better than mediocre.