July 20, 2006

Art, Entertainment, and a Quest

Posted in Celebrities, Movies, Writing at 9:40 pm by Calico Jack

©JSDC

I think much of what passes as “art”–both visual and aural–in today’s culture is not art at all, but rather a measured attempt to manipulate the audience into appreciating something of both low quality and little intelligence. I especially hold little respect for the contemporary art scene; paintings such as this and this are but a candle compared to the magnificent inferno that describes a work of art such as Albert Bierstadt’s Among the Sierra Nevada, California. Yes, I know art is largely subjective; but without some objective measurements, our culture will lose any sense of what is good.

Christopher Tollefsen of Right Reason has an excellent article on the degredation of art in our society. He makes an important distinction between art and entertainment. Art can be entertaining, but it does not have to be. And popular entertainment should not always be regarded as art, though it may be of high quality. I really enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but I would never dream of calling it art as some critics have done. Instead, I found it an entertaining, technically proficient studio film that gave me two-plus hours of fun, during which my brain could refrain from thinking about anything deep or introspective. Tollefsen articulates well the function of popular entertainment:

Trash is what good popular entertainment should be. Essentially a form of rhythmic play, whether in music, movies, fiction or the visual arts, trash does not seek to instruct, but simply to entertain. This does not mean it is unskilled: far from it. Good trash takes work, often considerable technical skills, and an awareness of what one is doing. Entertainment is, it seems to me, also what the beautiful enables, so we must see something of a continuum between the popular arts and the high arts (a different high low distinction than that between the low and the high emotions). As Pauline Kael writes in her essay “Trash, Art and the Movies,” to which the concept of trash here owes much, “Movie art is not the opposite of what we have always enjoyed in movies, it is not to be found in a return to that official high culture, it is what we have always found good in movies only more so.”

Cynical trash, by contrast, which is the fourth spot on my taxonomy, attempts to do the work of trash, while taking advantage of people’s manifest need and desire for entertainment, and their willingness to settle for what is poorly made, pandering and cheap. Hollywood’s sequel mentality is largely a consequence of a commitment of cynical trash rather than good trash. One familiar quasi-technical term to designate this branch of the taxonomy is “crap.”

Unfortunately, Hollywood produces far more crap than it does worthy trash. For every Serenity, we have a Fantastic Four (sorry, Captain Morgan.) Worse still are the pretentious films that aspire to greatness yet fall far, far short, like Sin City or X-Men: The Last Stand. Yet audiences eagerly gobble up what is fed to them by the studio conglomerates and their executives, who pander to those people that dislike thinking about what is put in front of them. Rather, they would prefer to be fed easy, quick, flashy answers to complicated questions. Why would anyone take the time to digest what they have just seen, when the next hyperkinetic blockbuster is merely a week away?

That was a rather lengthy introduction to the main part of my entry, but it is important to realize that however dire things may be now, all hope is not lost. Enter Jessica Stover, the lovely lady whose picture graces the top of this post. Jessica is a screenwriter and actress residing in the cesspool of cynicism, Los Angeles. (I’m allowed to say that, since I lived there for over fourteen years.) I have been reading Jessica’s blog for over a year now, and I’ve been consistently impressed by her commitment to bring back quality and art in Hollywood. It isn’t easy for a writer outside of the studio system, but Jessica has been persistent…and she has provided us with an candid look at her efforts along the way.

Jessica has written a big-budget, epic fantasy trilogy codenamed TSL. I have an idea of what the acronym stands for…but I’m most likely horribly wrong, so I won’t reveal my hunch here. Anyway, she has been pitching her idea to various executives, and the feedback has been quite good. But the studio system is unwilling to take a chance on an “unknown.” Those of us who know Jessica and read her work know that what she has is exceptional. I don’t use that word lightly.

Because TSL is a film that requires more than an indie budget, we need to go about making this movie in a non-traditional way. Thankfully, there is an excellent opportunity to show Hollywood that not all of us willingly buy into their idea of what is art. Eventful is a website that allows we, the movie-going public, to let the world know just what we want. And what we want is Jessica’s movie. All you have to do is go to this link and demand to have a showing of TSL in your hometown, or one nearby. It literally takes two minutes to sign up; you have no excuse for not doing this. By clicking the “Demand Me!” link, you’re saying that you are willing to take a step of faith and believe that we can do the impossible…and that makes us mighty.

To get the studios’ attention, we need 100,000 people to say “Yes, we believe.” It seems like a lot, but word of mouth can spread extremely quickly; and every demand is momentous. Jessica has a post about Eventful here, if you’d like more information. I’ve also added a link to the demand on the sidebar; just click on the picture to sign up.

This grassroots campaign can–and will–work. I was an active part of the community that didn’t give up on the cancelled television series Firefly until it became a big-budget movie. Believe it or not, the powers that be actually do listen to their audience if they complain loudly enough.

This is our quest. Here’s our chance to make a difference. Are you in?

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9 Comments »

  1. Peter said,

    Very,very well put.

  2. Excellent points. Excellent article.

  3. JM said,

    Indeed: I have received a lot of mail about this article. Thank you. 😉

  4. Martin said,

    Great article. An accurate portrayal of Hollywood’s “system.”

    Although, I admit some of the aforementioned movies entertained me. I like a good popcorn munching film every once in a while.

  5. Bill said,

    Although I agree with most of what was said here there is one big BUT. No matter how good a story is Hollywood can screw it up when it comes time to put it on the big screen. A HUGE disappointment to me was “Dune”, heart plugs, please! I’ve stopped seeing movies if I’ve read the book, just isn’t going to happen again. Stupid stuff like that, one on top of the other just plain ruins what might have been a good movie.
    I would love to see TSL on the screen as long as you know who, doesn’t screw it up and make it into crap as they have so many others.

  6. mr skin said,

    The Fantastic Four movie with Jessica Alba really was a let down for me. I loved the cartoon as a kid, but the remake pretty much just sucked.

  7. kabababrubarta said,

    Cool Site! kabababrubarta

  8. Joel Garcia said,

    I have demanded and greatly support the chance to see TSL on the big screen. From the readings and Greg Martin’s concept art, I’m anticipating that this will blow all movies aside and push to create a greater wave of film development.
    I wonder how many of the 100,000 she has already…

  9. […] in Movies at 11:51 pm by Calico Jack I’ve talked before about my friend Jessica Stover, how her commitment to excellence in Hollywood — something oft […]


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