Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The strange business of Hollywood and its seasons

When knocking up the Autumn movie preview for tomorrow’s Ticket, I was again struck by the way Hollywood stubbornly insists on thinking in seasons. That is to say a certain time of the year is regarded as suitable for a …

Thu, Sep 15, 2011, 16:51

   
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When knocking up the Autumn movie preview for tomorrow’s Ticket, I was again struck by the way Hollywood stubbornly insists on thinking in seasons. That is to say a certain time of the year is regarded as suitable for a particular type of film. This is a classic example of William Goldman‘s Nobody Knows Anything syndrome. The urbane screenwriter explained that the studios repeatedly ¬†convince themselves that, if something works once, it will work forever more. Sounds sensible. But the problem is isolating that “something”. Until 1975, Hollywood tended to favour low-budget schlock in the summer. Then Jaws broke and, ever after, summer became the season to release big-budget event movies. Never mind the fact that in countries where air conditioning is not commonplace in cinemas — or at least not highly desirable — ¬†the hot season has never been a particularly busy time for movie-going. The moguls have decided that summer is superhero time.

We are currently drifting into Oscar season. It has become a commonplace that Academy voters — being such old fools, you see — can’t remember anything that happened more than three months ago. So, all the supposedly classy films emerge in the late autumn and early winter.

Now, there are certain rules that make sense. Releasing kids’ films during school holidays is obviously a smart idea. Films whose plots are firmly tied to a season — the upcoming New Year’s Eve, for example — seem a bit stranded when released away from that period.

But the other rules are surely self-fulfilling prophecies. Of course, most films that win the best picture Oscar are released in winter. Most films that are — as we’ve explained — likely to win that award emerge in the gloomy months. The same logic undermines the summer blockbuster dictum.

And yet. The Hurt Locker, winner two years ago, came out in June. Alice in Wonderland, currently the ninth biggest film of all time, was released in March. America, despite its great tradition of freedom, can be a very hide-bound place. Try and buy a deck chair in October and you will, most likely, leave the mega-store disappointed. Entire lines of clothing are shuffled into the warehouse during supposedly unsuitable months. Patterns help the world make sense. When you are running a multi-billion dollar industry, the last thing you want to consider is a world that fails to abide by easily digestible rules.

Expect the seasonal nonsense to continue for some time to come. Nobody knows anything.

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