Hollywood and the University

Why are the newspapers full of articles about the same dumb movies while the really good ones cry for attention and never get it? One perspective on the problem.

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A memo I recently received from my University press office, followed by my reply.


Hello. I have had a couple of media calls about upcoming movies, especially those that were shot locally. I would like to put the film faculty out there a little more as experts about summer movies.

Can you let me know if you will be around to do this? Ideally I would need your home number as well, so I can call you and see if you're around to take a query. Please let me know as soon as possible, and if there's anything in particular about this summer movie season you can comment on.


"Hillary, the University Press Office" (name changed to protect the innocent)


Dear Hillary:

To avoid wasting time in the future, please place this note to my file:

I really can't ever help you with pop culture or junky entertainment flicks—whether they are called "summer movies," "winter movies," "spring movies," "fall movies," "Star Wars sequels," "vampire movies," "Matrix movies," "Oliver Stone movies," "Spike Lee movies," "Titanic movies," "Spielberg—please take me seriously—history movies," "Blair Witch shakeycam movies," or Hollywood trends, demographics, and business calculations of any sort. I am a serious scholar of film as an art and a form of personal expression, and am only interested in meaningful, valuable films. In three words: works of intelligence, insight, and truth-telling.

Frankly, I am appalled at the obsession of press flacs and reporters with Hollywood schlock, trash, and garbage, but even more appalled at the willingness of University press offices and University professors to participate in the whole idiotic process, promoting junk as if it were important, pontificating on the latest piece of meretriciousness as if it mattered, inviting mediocre actors and directors into their classrooms to speak to students, giving awards to men and women who sell their souls for money. Media whores all.

Do you call the English Dept. to ask their opinion of Tom Clancy, Steven King, or the latest Harlequin novel? Do you write the Music Dept. to see what they think of Janet Jackson’s concert tour? Does the Art Dept. study the work of commercial artists in the classroom? But maybe all that does go on. I'm so clearly out of touch, I wouldn’t know. Such is the dumbing down of America, and, even more dismayingly, of the American university.

Meanwhile, in film, a stony silence shrouds the real masterworks, the small songs of the soul, the quiet personal expressions of conscience or feeling. Works of genius and sincerity are produced year after year and never merit a single column inch in the newspaper or a minute on radio and television. While the press chases after the fad of the day, they remain unknown and undiscussed.

My areas of interest should be abundantly clear from the preceding, if only by contrast. I would love to help when something really intelligent and important is at stake. But I'm not holding my breath until The Boston Globe or The New York Times takes an interest in it, until it snaps across the synapses of their reviewers' brains (to use the term loosely).

All best wishes.

Ray Carney, Prof. of Film and American Studies

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© Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.