Wednesday, August 3, 2016

DO WE STILL HAVE MOVIE STARS? A MODERN DAY ANALYSIS OF THE VALUE AND LACK THEREOF OF THE STAR SYSTEM IN MODERN ENTERTAINMENT CULTURE IN LIGHT OF DWAYNE JOHNSON BECOMING THE HIGHEST-PAID ACTOR IN HOLLYWOOD.

Do we still have stars? I mean, I know we do, but-, um- hmm.

Well, okay, I don't know if anybody caught this, but there was a bit of uproar over Forbes recent list of highest-paid celebrities, I generally don't look at these things, but a couple things have come up lately that have spruced my interest in this. Essentially what this, supposedly means is that, whoever the highest-paid actor is, is ergo the biggest movie star in the world, 'cause hypothetically the biggest star would require the bigger paycheck, and presumably, they're presence will insure that the movie will make money, so the fee is worth it, yada,  yada, yada. So in terms of the business of Hollywood, it's still kind of a thing, although-, well, we'll talk about that, but-eh, let's see the announcement from Forbes, who is the highest-paid actor right now?



http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/dwayne-johnson-the-rock-highest-paid-actor-forbes-100-a7135411.html

Um, okay, I did not expect there to be that big of an ovation for that, or for that matter, that large an audience waiting to hear this. Still, um, small criticism, Forbes, that seemed like a bit overkill, in terms of a simple announcement, didn't it? The lights and the music and the graphics and video package and the-, Jesus Christ, it's just announcing who's at the top of a list. Jesus, it's not like your People magazine or anything, Jesus.

Okay, clearly that wasn't the actual announcement, but I couldn't help myself there, but yes, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is listed as the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. Apparently people, voluntarily went to see "San Andreas" despite my warning, but okay. I'll- I'll be honest, these lists have never made much sense to me, but then again, I really have never cared and frankly, I'm usually baffled by what actors people go see in movies. Or, to be more precise, will go out-of-their-way to see. For one thing, I don't do that, I don't watch a movie 'cause an actor I like is in it. I consider Nicholas Cage to be the best actor working today, but I haven't voluntarily sat through a movie of his in years, because, by nearly every account I hear, they're usually shit and yeah, a lot of times they are. Hell, I give him credit for making most of those movies, somewhat interesting, or at least he's trying to most of the time and dammit that's talent.

Anyway, enough about Cage, we're not actually talking about "Actors" here, we're talking about "Stars". Now don't get me wrong when I say this, but those are two very different things. That's not to say some of are biggest stars aren't some of our greatest actors, many times they actually are, but for these purposes, stars are different than actors. The idea of the Movie Star has been around as long as movies have been around, but basically, it's nothing more than a promotional tactic. At it's core, it's basically the idea of through, promotion, casting, etc. the idea of pushing an actor/actress as the major reason to go and watch a movie. This, this really hearkens back to an era when the studios basically controlled everything, It's pretty much been dead since the end of studio contracted talent, so, early-to-mid '60s, approximately, but that's only in the technical aspect, movies are still sold all the time based on the actors involved and certain actors in a movie mean, at least hypothetically that that movie will make huge money at the box office. Now, Forbes list is of interest, but if you check, Vulture.com most recent rankings, which is 2015, last year, but still, they've got Dwayne Johnson 5th. behind Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey, Jr. and number one was Jennifer Lawrence. You can see that list here:

http://www.vulture.com/2015/11/vultures-most-valuable-stars-of-2015.html

Now they use a different method, one that's based on a FiveThirtyEight.com designed method, which, take that for what you will, in my experience that sight's been very reliable over the years, so. (Shrugs) Anyway, you can go through the internet and find, dozens of these sorts of lists, and they're mostly the same people you should be thinking of at or near the top. I bring this up, because there's a couple things that have interested me lately, involving the concept of stars, but let's get to the relevance question first, "Do we still have stars?" or more importantly, "Is the star system still relevant in today's culture?"

Well, it's definitely less relevant than ever before. The idea of a star-vehicle film is, almost laughed at these days, mostly because most of those films are usually comedies where there's mostly audience members not laughing at them, but also because, I don't think, the majority of people, in and outside the film industry, really look at films that way. "The majority" being the key phrase there, and yes, before I go on, let me state for the record, I don't look particularly kindly on fans in general, but I gotta confess, I'm particularly baffled by this trend. Not that I think it's bad to find some people more talented than onself and try and watch and study what they do and as a technique, or even admire their work, but yeah, people who watch movies because of the actor/actress that's in the film? Yeah, that's something I think everybody should do their best to avoid, (And if you do do that, dear god don't brag about it.) First of all, there's a really small amount of actors who, actually get to pick their projects continuously, so unlike when the studios had control over actors film projects, (autonomous control over them) most actors don't get to really shape or mold their image the way they used to in the past, secondly, dirty little secret, moving pictures is a terrible art form to determine whether an actor is truly talented or not. It really is. I mean, it's still a great skill, acting in a film is a whole different level of skills but it's still mostly an edited out performance from oftentimes dozens and dozens of takes until they get it right, that one time, if they can, and if an actor, for some reason, can't get it exact, they can usually edit around an actor to construct what seems like a great performance out of them. That's not a criticism, it's just fact, and it's still difficult to act in a film, but there's a reason I always list the Director's name next to a title of a film when I review it, Film is the Directors' medium, Theater is the actors', television is the producers' medium, although I think I could argue that's becoming a writers' medium, and a writers' medium is, I don't know, books probably. Basically everything else that isn't painting or sculpture.

Thirdly, well, there's so many talented actors, you have no idea. You may notice that I rarely criticize acting or actors directly in a film, and that's because, from my experiences and knowledge I happen to know that, most actors working regularly, are really good actors. Even most of the ones you probably think aren't great actors, they're probably really good actors who just haven't been able to show off just how skillful they are. I won't name names, but I've met a few known actors in my life, even occasionally worked with one or two of them, and even still, the ones who I've worked with that aren't household names, and are frankly lucky to get work in Tampon commercials, they're pretty damn good actors. There's an overload abundance of talent in Hollywood, and unless you're actually one of the few major stars who's name means guaranteed box office, and that list is smaller and smaller everyday but we'll get to that, unless you're that, you can pretty easily be replaced on a film set. I'm serious, most of the names on that Top 100 list, they can replaced tomorrow, if, you know, it turns out they were complete and utter assholes or something. And from everything I've ever hears, complete unprofessional behavior, not showing up on set on time, or prepared, or at all, those are the big sins in Hollywood, and not being a courteous and pleasant person to be around, those are the big sins in Hollywood. Most everything else, you know, you can say, people have demons, okay. Lindsay Lohan is not blackballed right now because she's a complete drug-addicted fuck-up, she's blackballed mainly because she's unreliable. She didn't show up on sets on time, she wasn't always prepared, etc. etc., and she's not box office enough to get away with that shit. It wastes money and time for actors to not be prepared or on-set on time, and doing that consistently, that's the big sin. If you're a prick or an asshole to everybody and they can find somebody to do your job and not be like that, then, you'll be out of the job, pretty damn quickly. I know, we all have heard a few horror stories about certain people in Hollywood who still are working, and yeah, there's always a possibly of people working again, still though, there's a line, and once that line is passed, there's no real need for anyone in Hollywood to put up with too much bullshit. So anyway, generally, when somebody asks how a celebrity is like, it's pretty normal for most everyone to say that, generally, "Eh, they're a nice person," ,'cause they usually are, at least enough to work on a film set with.

Anyway, no I'm not big on idolizing anybody, especially stars. You know, I know a lot of people don't like "TMZ" and I do kinda get why, they can be grating at times, especially how much they probably over-focus on stuff about celebrities that they probably shouldn't, but I said years ago in a famous blog that they're the only entertainment news show I actually think is watchable and I still stand by that, because, at least they're more interested in humanizing celebrities and stardom. And I think, that's essentially how we should look at celebrities, not with an eye of glamour and desire but with an analytical admiration of their talents. Look at them, the same way, we'd analyze people working at, well any other job really.

Okay, now that's why I'm not in favor of a star system, or any of the fandom that's spurned through it, but do we actually have stars now? Well, if Jennifer Lawrence has her way, she'll probably get paid as much, if not more than "The Rock" and probably deserves to, but she's Katniss Everdeen, so that's why she's big. Robert Downey, Jr. is "Iron Man", so he's big. Bradley Cooper, well, he has "The Hangover", so he's also got a franchise, although granted, that one's a little-, oh wait, he's also got "Guardians of the Galaxy", so two franchises. He's also in a lot of J-Law's films. Dwayne Johnson, he was in those "Fast & Furious" movies, he didn't start in them, but they're big, for, um, reasons? (Seriously, why the hell do people watch those?) Oh, the "San Andreas" movie, is actually, getting a sequel. Wh-yyyyyy? And there's two more "Journey to the Center of the Earth" films, again a franchise he didn't start in, but has apparently taken over. Okay, Dwayne Johnson, can we all agree, has one of the absolute strangest filmographies in the history of cinema? Oh, he's also starring in a filmed version of "Baywatch" and a remake of "Jumanji". Who else, let's go further down the list, Tom Cruise, was big for years beforehand, and now he's Jack Reacher and Ethan Hunt. Eh, Hugh Jackman, oh, he's Wolverine! Channing Tatum, he's got "Magic Mike", he's also got the "Jump Street" films. he's also joining the "Kingsmen" franchise. Scarlet Johansson, she's Black Widow. Okay, I guess you're wondering where I'm going with this? Well, here's the thing, nobody goes to the movies to, see these actors. I mean, they do, but that's not the primary reason, they're going to see the characters they place, again not because they're great parts played by these great actors, although they often are, they're seeing them, because they're either already apart of a popular franchise, or, they were in a major film that then, became a major film franchise. In the top ten, only Leonardo DiCaprio is not in a movie that one could call a major franchise, unless tomorrow they announce he's starring in "Titanic 2: Waterlogged". I mean, you could argue, well he's starring in a few films that also have some established history and fanbase, "The Great Gatsby" comes to mind, that's a huge book, and had been made into a movie three or four times before DiCaprio epitomized Jay Gatsby, but yeah, no disrespect to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it wasn't exactly as big as say, "Fifty Shades of Grey" was at the time. Even Sandra Bullock, who hasn't been in a major franchise for awhile, did do two "Miss Congeniality" films, and the more you go down the list, it becomes harder and harder to find actors who are not most famous or known, because of their involvement in these major blockbuster franchises. These tentpole films that everyone sees and is forced down our throats.

That's the thing, there really aren't that many actors who, sell the movie anymore. More and more, it's Hollywood, trying desperately to get their hands on these guaranteed money-making those projects, turning them into overblown franchises that last movies and movies, and that's what's selling. That's what I mean when I say that there really aren't "stars" anymore, and I think that's another reasons that bugs me about how much they do get promoted as stars, they're really not. They're actors, now, more than ever. Hell, that's why when I first heard Dwayne Johnson was now the biggest star in the world, my second initial thought was, "Well, that makes sense." He's one of the few actors, even though he is in several franchises, he's basically one of the few actors around who you go to see the movie, mainly because he's in it. I mean, that goes back to the last time I remember people really talked about Hollywood stars as though they were analyzed critically through the prism of their selected works, the 1980s. Seriously, go watch a bunch of old "Siskel & Ebert" reviews from the '70s and '80s, as much as you can find of them, and it's shocking how much they bring up, people like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Eddie Murphy or Sylvester Stallone or Richard Pryor even, and how much they really discuss their work almost as though they were the real artists of their fame and fortune and work. You just, don't do that now, unless, maybe you're a major action star, and only a major action star, or maybe Adam Sandler, but they talk about it quite frequently back then. Other than that, I'm almost amazed anybody ever brings up something about the skills of an actor, positive or negative, unless they're trying to praise or trash some franchise they labor needlessly over. Now, internationally, that's probably why people may gravitate towards certain "stars" like a Dwayne Johnson in that vain, especially in some places where they still have some form of the Star System, but generally, I think America has moved past the star system in all the modern contexts we associate with that system and anything that hasn't just feels like they're beyond outdated to any modern sensibilities.

And you know how I really know how outdated the star system is now? Well, because Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is now the biggest star in the world. Not because he's bad or good or a guaranteed box office or anything like that. Did you see I just said that my "second initial thought" about him being named that... well, it was my first thought that really brought that into focus to me. My initial thought was:

"Huh, that's interesting. The biggest star in the world is a TV star." And no, I wasn't thinking, WWE either.



Okay, you'll all have to forgive me, I am trying to catch up with as much television as possible for the upcoming Emmys, but I haven't actually gotten around to "Ballers", but it's in it's second season, it's reviews seem reasonable, it's on HBO, which is pretty prestigious although, no we're not talking network programming, but still, I don't think it's been talked about from this perspective just how major a shift in "Stars" that this is. There is no scenario, ever where somebody who had a currently running, regular television show, even one that's only as moderately well-known and watched as "Ballers". Seriously, this is really a major moment, a complete shift in the dynamic of what a star is. On the whole, the television stars vs. movie stars dynamic, has been shifting for years and now suddenly, it's not at all uncommon, unexpected or un-anything right now for the literal biggest movie star in the world, to be on a regular television show. Basically, just to simplify it, television has more prestige than movies do at the moment, and since not all actors strive to be movie stars and they are actual people who truly do care about occasionally doing works of quality and prestige, they're going into television, despite their successful film careers. And yes, that includes, of all people strangely, The Rock. (Shrugs) So, what is more prestigious now, film or television? Hell, how weird is it that somebody can be huge in one medium and basically an also-ran in the other? Actually that's not uncommon at all. Hell, let's go back to that list, one more time. Bradley Cooper, did "Wet Hot American Summer", last year, Chris Pratt just finished doing "Parks and Recreation" only recently, he was like the fifth or sixth lead on that series, but already a major up-and-coming Hollywood star,  Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar the same year he got an Emmy nomination for "True Detective", Melissa McCarthy became huge, not from "Mike & Molly" but from doing "Bridesmaids", and continued to do her series for years afterwards while becoming the biggest female comedy star on this list, Mark Wahlberg, at the height of his popularity and critical acclaim, had a reality show about him and his family, running a burger franchise. Shailene Woodley was on, Benedict Cumberbatch is "Sherlock", enough said there. Shailene Woodley, you can even argue, she became huge off of "The Descendants" not so much on "The Secret Life of an American Teenager". You can keep going up and down the list, but there's more examples than ever before on this list. It used to be when John Travolta got an Oscar nomination for "Saturday Night Fever" while he played Vinny Barbarino every week on "Welcome Back, Kotter", it was consider a fluke, an anomaly, especially since he only got his first Emmy nomination, a couple weeks ago, (Yeah, I was shocked too when I looked that up.) but it's happening more and more every year. Adam Driver to some is new Darth Vader, or whatever his character is in the "Star Wars" films, to others he's Hanna Horvath's messed up boyfriend on "Girls". There's also plenty of major Hollywood stars going to television, and not just, as the only cliche used to claim, because they weren't/aren't able to get regular work in movies anymore. They're getting work in films and they're big box office still, they're just choosing instead to take a more interesting, television project.

Yeah, maybe this is a one-year anomaly, who's sure if "Ballers" will even last that long, it certainly doesn't seem as viable as some of HBO's other more popular shows at the moment but I have a suspicion this is the beginning of, not a trend, a seismic shift over the next few years. As movies because increasingly the domain of the Marvel, DCs and whatever else catches the focus of the American public, or at least the ones that get books from the young adult section, assuming there's still libraries in a few years, and there better damn well be, and as television expands to the internet and becomes more and more the domains of the creative writers and producers who are getting more and more freedom to create whatever they want, don't be surprised if more and more high-profile actors, suddenly start taking parts on television, instead of doing that fifth or sixth superhero film. Just saying, the Star System as we know it, might be dead. Or at least, continued to change, from what we used to think of.

Maybe TVQ ratings should now be included as factors in those biggest stars lists....



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