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Hollywood’s recurring dreams — about itself

La La Land

Why is it so hard to think of fresh and original premises for a story or movie? Is it that writers don’t have much imagination? Or is it that publishers and filmmakers are wary of stories that deviate too far from the standard themes that have made money in the past?

Sometimes, when browsing for movies on Netflix, while reading those two-line blurbs that are supposed to give you some idea of what a movie is about, I marvel at the tiredness of the themes:

After a public breakup, a once-perfect Texas belle has a hard time going home again. Maybe a hunky old beau will help. (Hope Floats)

Try some ice cream, too.

A throbbing EDM scene is awash in fateful chance meetings, forking life paths, and six strangers seizing their moments. (XOXO)

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

He defied all his limitations to turn the tide for his college team. Because the heart of a champion won’t be denied. (My All American)

Sounds like a very nice person.

Their environment is vast, deadly, and coursing with passion. A loveless marriage can twist many ways. (The Painted Veil)

And good luck to you both.

A house of grandeur is really a house of delusions, and a hack screenwriter gets in deep. Is he ready for a closeup? (Sunset Boulevard)

Probably not.

A swaggering youth wants out of his blue-collar ‘hood. Can disco dancing be his ticket to a better life? (Saturday Night Fever)

Wow. Let me know how it goes.

They both have careers to think about. It’s too bad that pesky thing called parenting is getting in the way. (What Maisie Knew)

Sounds like an au pair would be just the thing.

But when a Hollywood screenwriter really runs out of ideas, then that’s the perfect time for a movie about Hollywood, or about screenwriters. Here’s a list of the 25 best movies about Hollywood. And here’s a list of some movies about screenwriters.

This week, the online media are all excited about a new film starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It’s about Hollywood:

An aspiring actress and a dedicated jazz musician are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts.

Try some dancing and singing. That usually works.

I think that one of the reasons I am so uninterested in here-and-now stories is that, most of the time, they recycle the same old themes. They are set in the same old places, with the same kind of characters. Why do we impose such limits on our imaginations? Hollywood has the means to take us anywhere, if only somebody will come up with the story. And while we’re at it, can we have some new actors and actresses? There must be hundreds of them in a place like L.A., hot and talented, living on credit cards, struggling to survive in noisy neighborhoods. Suspension of disbelief is far easier with faces that we’ve never seen before. You’ll want to keep those shirtless pictures of Ryan Gosling coming, though.

Lots of people complain about stories that are “not realistic.” Is that what this market is about? In my world, to want stories to be “realistic” is to completely miss the point of what stories are for. I don’t know about you, but I want stories that take me away from all this.

The theme song for “La La Land” is “Audition”:

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem

I’m all for dreaming, but haven’t we had that dream before?


  1. Ken wrote:

    You’ve struck a nerve.

    I’d add too that the Academy has committed the grave sin of patting itself on the butt too many times when it comes to dishing out awards to itself. Here’s a list of three Best Picture winners in the past five years that either have to do with acting and movies and are set in LA or NYC.

    Birdman (2014)
    Argo (2012)
    The Artist (2011)*

    This problem isn’t exclusive to film. Here’s a partial list of HBO series from the past ten years that are about the entertainment industry:

    Curb Your Enthusiasm
    The Comeback
    Doll and Em
    Hello Ladies
    The Newsroom
    Life’s Too Short
    Flight of the Conchords

    I despise how many movies are set in affluent NYC and California. Are we really that fascinated with the lifestyles of the rich and famous or is their just a scarcity of original writers out there? How do these movies apply to our lives?

    There are 48 other states and plenty of great “here and now” stories to tell. Off the top of my head:

    Junebug (2005,rural NC)
    Nebraska (2013,rural Nebraska)
    Sling Blade (1996, rural Arkansas)
    Another Year (2010, rural/suburban England)

    *None of these Best Picture winners, IMHO, deserve this special honor, though I’d say The Artist was a pretty damn good movie. Movies about movies are fine (film is, after all, an important part of our culture), but the quantity of shows and movies with these themes and set in these places are appalling.

    Thursday, September 1, 2016 at 9:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Henry wrote:

    I recently read an article about the movie Young Frankenstein, after Gene Wilders death.
    The studios didn’t want to make the movie because they thought it wouldn’t sell…so Mel Brooks got the money from a friend and it grossed $100 mil+…so much for the experts

    Friday, September 2, 2016 at 12:14 am | Permalink
  3. Jo wrote:

    Your posts and the comments are very interesting. A good film, like a good book,can be enjoyed more than once.

    Sunday, September 4, 2016 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

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