Hollywood Is in the Information Wasteland

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 90

Hollywood Is in the Information Wasteland
Chris Hemsworth and Goran D. Kleut in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) Picture - © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.


ON THE HOLIDAY, we went to see a midday matinee of George Miller's Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. The theater didn't seem especially full, but it was hard to get a feel for how big the audience was, what with the widely spaced seating. Miller's compositions of ruddy wasteland and crashing vehicles and flamethrower bursts and tumbling airborne bodies looked fantastic up on the screen, and the sound swelled from all around, and it certainly felt as if he had spent the entire $168 million budget on bringing the public into his particular vision of reality. It wasn't Mad Max: Fury Road, but nothing else in the entire history of action movies has ever been Fury Road, either, except Fury Road

But the weekend movie-industry coverage of Furiosa had it as a big flop, either tying with or barely beating The Garfield Movie with about $32 million, or less than one-fifth of what it cost to make. There were lots of theories, the New York Times explained: interest in the Mad Max franchise wore off in the nine years since Fury Road; interest in the character of Furiosa wore off because people would rather watch Charlize Theron than Anya Taylor-Joy playing a younger version of Charlize Theron; interest in actors fighting in a desert wasteland wore off after Dune: Part 2 came out. Could be! 

What stuck with me about the GarfieldFuriosa box-office duel, though, was that I had no idea The Garfield Movie existed until I saw the poster on the side of the movie theater on my way in to see Furiosa. Even then, I half-formed a theory that it was some sort of repertory showing of Garfield: The Movie, from 2004. I had heard nothing about it whatsoever. 

And this was a $60 million movie from Sony Pictures, based on an incredibly well marketed cartoon property, with Chris Pratt and Samuel L. Jackson doing voices. Earlier this month, in his Dinner Party newsletter for New York magazine, Choire Sicha talked to film critic Bilge Ebiri about theatrical releases and public awareness of movies. Ebiri said: 

When it comes to the film industry, the real crisis right now is not with movie theaters or movies or even movie critics (though none of those are doing well) but with movie marketing. It’s actually pretty hard for people to know what’s coming out. Once upon a time, people saw ads in papers, ads on billboards, ads on TV, trailers in theaters, articles in magazines, etc. But all these avenues have been depleted in significant ways. Not a lot of people watch TV commercials anymore. Or read papers (which don’t have significant movie listings/ads anymore anyway). Digital banners and take-overs are just annoying and people tune them out. Those eye-popping numbers of “views” you see on trailer releases are mostly bullshit. And people forget about them not long after. Etc. Basically, you kind of need to know what’s in theaters and when it’s coming out before you can, you know, decide to see it. 

Furiosa was an unusual case for me because, unlike the hypothetical movie fans of the Times, our household had a live and strong interest in Fury Road, so when we started seeing posters for the prequel, we looked up the actual release date and made a point of planning to see it. But there's a poster at our subway stop for The Fall Guy, too, and I missed that it had come out until I started seeing stories about how bad its box office was. And it seems hard to blame Anya Taylor-Joy's lack of superstar power for Furiosa's slow sales if Ryan Gosling couldn't put his movie over, either. 

Not that I'd ever planned to see The Fall Guy! What Ebiri reminded me, though, was that I used to know all about even the movies I didn't want to see. I spent half or two-thirds of my life walking around with a roster of current attractions in my head, not because I was constantly deciding whether or not to go to the movie theater, but because it was background cultural knowledge. I've only ever bothered to watch about one Tom Cruise movie per decade, on average, but the Tom Cruise filmography is totally familiar to me in principle, the same way the Gateway Arch or the McRib is familiar to me. 

Now the matrix in which that knowledge was formed has dissolved. From sitting through the trailers before Furiosa, I am now aware for the first time that Kevin Costner has a two-part, $100 million Western due out later this year. There's a decent chance that I'll forget about it before then, or I won't notice when it does come out. 

I don't really care if I know about the Kevin Costner project, in itself. But would-be epic movies are only one thing that's lost in the breakdown of mass consciousness. Last week, a Harris poll run by the Guardian found that 56 percent of Americans said the country is in a recession, 49 percent said unemployment is at a 50-year high, and 49 percent believe the S&P 500 is down for the year. 

People have been arguing passionately about how good or bad the economy is under Joe Biden, whether the pain of inflation is being cynically amplified to discredit the strong employment market, how real ongoing precarity intersects with broadly positive growth numbers, and so on, but the poll was about factual claims, not vibes. Unemployment is low, not high. The markets are up. 

These sorts of things used to be a matter of baseline public awareness. I consume unhealthy amounts of news, and I know perfectly well that we're not in a recession, yet I didn't realize the Dow had touched 40,000 earlier this month. It's Biden's job to sell a success story if he wants to get reelected, surely. But it's Hollywood's job to tell people what movies it's made, too. And the industry can't even figure out where the people are, to tell them. 

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Mostly wispy clouds against a nice blue sky

New York City, May 27, 2024

★★ The sound of the rain took over from the sound of the air conditioner somewhere in the early morning. After the first set of showers had passed, a breeze came up the cross street from the Park. A careless person might have gone out without a rain jacket, umbrella, or waterproof shoes, but despite the sunlight, the top of the nearest ultratall was still lost in low clouds. Water trickled through sodden garbage into the grate between the subway rails. The stairs back up and out gleamed; the rain and pollen had worked together to leave the parked cars grimy. After the matinee, the light out the movie theater windows was the green-gray of the next wave of storms, and rain was pounding on the street below. Ten or 15 minutes' waiting improved the radar picture, but only a little. The scaffold frame outside the lobby, promising a moment of transition and preparation, turned out to be open to the still-pouring sky. The paper sack of late lunch got wet enough that the handles couldn't be trusted, so it had to be held in the arms all the way back uptown. 

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CLICK ON THIS box to enjoy today's Indignity Morning Podcast:

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 282: No signs of changing.
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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of a sandwich (serve before the soup) selected from Mrs. Ericsson Hammond's Salad Appetizer Cook Book, by Maria Matilda Ericsson Hammond. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at archive.org for the delectation of all.

Sandwich de Caviar a la Hildur Alexandria
For Six Persons

Six slices of bread, three spoons of butter, one half pound of smoked salmon, two green peppers, two hard-boiled eggs, three tablespoons of caviar, cayenne pepper and salt.

How to Make It. Slice the bread in even slices and cut it out with a large biscuit cutter. Chop the salmon very fine, chop the whites of the eggs and yolks separately. Stir the butter to a cream; mix part of the butter with some of the salmon and spread on the bread. Make a cross on the sandwich with the caviar leaving about a quarter of an inch for a border. Next to the caviar put a row of the white of egg, next to the white of egg put a row of salmon, then fill the rest of the space with the chopped green peppers. Press the yolks of the eggs through a fine strainer; mix it with the rest of the stirred butter. Put it in a paper bag that holds a ribbon tube and make a ribbon of the yolk around the sandwiches. Put them in the ice-box covered until cold; drip some cold aspic over the sandwiches. Arrange them on a platter in the form of a ring and garnish with parsley in the center. Serve before the soup.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to indignity@indignity.net. 

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Supplies are really and truly running low of the second printing of 19 FOLK TALES, still available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the gathering heat with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the thunderstorms start.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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