Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008

Great Depression II: Footloose

By David Luhrssen
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It’s a time of upheaval and uncertainty: the values of recent years have been exposed as without value, debt is no longer cool and consequence free, our captains of finance are crooks, our polished philanthropists are arrogant chiselers. Headlines are dire.

In this climate, when America goes to the movies, it doesn’t want the glum depression favored by some film festival programmers or even serious-themed Hollywood pictures such as Changeling or Australia. Of course, neither Changeling or Australia—or much of what’s on the film festival circuit—are great movies destined for classic status. But the main problem is the public wants laughter and escape. It happened during the Great Depresssion, the time of Busby Berkely and the Marx Brothers, and again in the 1980 recession when Fame and the Zucker Brothers were tops at the ticket stand.

Is it happening again? Witness the success of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Four Christmases and HighSchool Musical 3: Senior Year. Even Twilight and Quantum of Solace, which could be considered dark and serious, are lots more fun than watching CNN or the shrinking value of your 401k. Vampires and 007 offer escape.

As usual, Hollywood will follow the money. When industry insiders aren’t talking about a gear-slowing screen actors strike, gossip turns to family comedies, romantic comedies, buddy comedies and other easy sells. Film rights have been purchased for the stage musical Rock of Ages. Under way is a remake of Fame and plans are being drawn for a new version of Footloose. Everything old is new again.

Well, as pundits console us, our economic collapse won’t be another Great Depression. No kidding. Back then, a dime bought an entire afternoon at the bijou, including a feature film and a B movie, cartoons and a newsreel. Popcorn was cheap, too. Nowadays too many trips to the multiplex might lead to bankruptcy court.

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