Time to Skip Down the Yellow Brick Road

A recession might be inevitable, but for the gilded film industry, this slump in the nation’s psyche might be good for business.

A recession might be inevitable,
but for the gilded film industry, this slump in the nation’s psyche
might be good for business.


Last week, Reuters and the
AP connected a troubled economy with a well-fed box office. “Hollywood
thrives when the economy dives,” David Germain of the AP wrote.
Germain also quoted figures from the National Association of Theater
Owners, according to which box office revenues have gone up during five
of the past seven recessions.

It could be due to post-writers
strike and post-Oscar jitters, but the industry is certainly feeling
optimistic. In his keynote address at a theater owners’ convention last
Tuesday, MPAA chairman Dan Glickman beamed about the four percent growth
in box office profits between 2006 and 2007–an all-time high, he said.

“Everywhere I go, I see
the rifts in our world. But I also am reminded just how much movies
bring us together, whether challenging us to face significant social
issues or simply encouraging us to lighten up and share a laugh with
our neighbors,” he continued.


Laugh being the key word these
days. If 2007’s box office figures are any indication, Americans certainly
seem to crave escapism. The top-grossing releases of last year
were Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers,
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
and Harry Potter and
the Order of the Phoenix
–in that order. Films that scored Oscars
this year were bleak in theme almost across the board, and, perhaps
consequently, generated relatively little box office buzz. Juno
is the only best-picture nominee to have crossed the $100 million mark.
In a cruel twist, Worst Actor Razzie-award winner Norbit has
grossed more in ticket sales than four out of the five films nominated
for Best Picture (its box office tally is more than double of There
Will be Blood

Perhaps the most widely quoted
example of film industry success and overall recession is the depression
of the 1930s, during which movie theaters sold several billion tickets
a year (2007’s equivalent figure was 1.4 billion). Screwball comedies
and musicals paved the way for unforeseen spectacles: 1939’s The
Wizard of Oz
and Gone With the Wind.

World War II and film noir
were to follow, of course. But since our generation would rather watch
the extracted intestines of Saw IV than the subtle dread of
Michael Clayton
, it’s tough to imagine what we’ll be watching when
we are finally gravitated back to realism.