Thursday, August 18, 2005

Old Hatreds Never Die...

In a few weeks, Hollywood executives will sit down and try to figure out what went wrong in the Summer of 2005. Summer is when Hollywood makes most of its money at the box office, and the period between mid-May and Labor Day is critical for the studios bottom line.

As you probably know, box office receipts were actually down for much of the summer (when compared to the same period in 2004). And while business has picked up a bit in recent weeks, it seems clear that 2005 will not be the blockbuster summer that Hollywood had hoped for.

Several theories have been offered to explain the decline in box office receipts, including the impact of DVDs and movies on demand, available from most cable TV and satellite providers. Hollywood has also been hurt by the lack of a Shrek-style mega hit that appeals to broad demographic groups, and generates $300-400 million in business.

But let me advance another theory. I believe that a large number of movie-goers are simply fed up with a Hollywood that mocks their values, and has lost any connection to mainstream America, the region they referred to derisively as "Jesusland" after the 2004 election. Hollywood is a place where middle American standards are routinely mocked, and its icons are held in contempt and scorn.

A good example of this recently occurred at a retrospective on the work of director Don Siegel, who specialized in hard-boiled crime dramas, and is best remembered for his films that starred Clint Eastwood. As a part of the retrospective, Siegel's 1964 film The Killers was screened for the Hollywood swells. The Killers is hardly Siegel's best work; today it's best remembered as the last screen appearance of Ronald Reagan (playing against type as a criminal) and his on-screen "slap" of co-star Angie Dickinson.

According to John McCaslin of the Washington Times, when Reagan's name appeared in the opening credits, the audience loudly booed. When Reagan's character was threatened and pushed from a speeding car on screen, the audience erupted in cheers. There was more cheering and applause later in the film, when Reagan's character was shot and killed.

The open contempt and vulgarity of those gestures is stunning, even by Hollywood standards. Never mind that Mr. Reagan survived an actual gunshot wound 17 years later; served two terms in the White House, set the stage for the fall of communism and became one of our greatest Presidents. Never mind that Mr. Reagan has been dead for more than a year, and retired from public life a decade before, after learning he had Alzheimer's. Never mind that he had a long career in films and worked tirelessly for an industry he loved, including two terms as President of the Screen Actor's Guild.

None of that mattered to the Hollywood swells gathered for the Siegel retrospective. Reagan's appearance in The Killers gave them a chance to express their hatred for a man who became the anthises of the values that Hollywood openly embraces.

And they wonder why their box office is down.

Note: Rush Limbaugh discussed the article at length during a recent broadcast, but there hasn't been a lot of additional coverage of this event, either in talk radio or the blogosphere. Rush wondered openly if "liberals have lost their soul?" If the antics of the Hollywood crowd are any indication, I think we know the answer to that one.