Friday, June 05, 2015

Can an 'Unknown' Polish Director Save Hollywood?

By André Pachter

America's Memorial Day weekend is behind us and the official summer of blockbusters is again underway. Seasonal observations seem in order....

Perusing the front pages of The Hollywood Reporter in the last few years one could get the impression that one is reading an endless list of obituaries. No matter how the media spin doctors try to dress it, even a child can understands that “a soft opening”, “below expectations”, “gets buried”, “underperforms” mean only one thing––– A FINANCIAL FLOP! The question, then,  is why so many major studio high budgeted concept film fail at the box office.

One train of thought would suggest that perhaps the ticket prices had lately became too steep for the pockets of (what remains of) the middle class. But if the answer was so simple the studio brass would’ve quickly lowered the prices to make everyone happy. What they would’ve lost on price they would’ve made up in volume. So ticket price isn't the answer.

Another school of thought would say that perhaps with shorter attention spans mass audiences got tired of so many franchises and can no longer distinguish one film from another.

Be that as it may, this much is clear: With a break even point of five to one or higher (a film has to gross five times or more to return its initial investment) and budgets approaching a staggering $200 million, in order to attract huge audiences a film needs to create a clearly recognizable identity for itself. But with so many sequels, prequels and remakes accomplishing this is at best a likely lost cause.

Perhaps the financial woes of major releases can be attributed to the ever changing technology of entertainment delivery. Who wants wants to drag a family to a cinema on the other side of town if  he or she can see the same thing for less money from Netflix or Hulu--delivered directly to the living room? Delivery must be the answer! The Internet is killing The Business!

Another industry disrupted by the endlessly disruptive medium--if only The Real Answer could be this simple. But I suspect it actually lies elsewhere--in the storytelling itself. The expansion of technology has made access to content much easier. But the narration of storytelling has not kept in step. Visual special effects that require huge screens and sophisticated sound systems for the audience in order to get the full value of what is being presented is just another expense--and no substitute for great cinematic storytellers.

Where are the new Billy Wilders, Preston Sturgeses, or Alfred Hitchcocks? One Quentin Tarantino is not enough. Signature directors with idiosyncratic humor or visual style seems the way of the past…

Recall the revolution that Jacques Tati created in Europe in the mid-1950s. After years of doldrums, an eccentric Monsieur Hulot suddenly became a huge hit… What was so unique about him?

Since the technology and story itself were traditional, Mr. Hulot was himself unique. Hus movements were farcically exaggerated; his walk, hesitant and Max Linderesque; his pipe, hat and cane, instantly recognizable… In his day, for his time, Mr. Hulot was The Answer.

Which brings me back to my search for The Answer, which I think that perhaps I have found--in Poland--in the person of a Mr. Krzysztof Pulkowski, a director not known in the United States. He has actually tried something really new, combining a traditional story with a grotesque (very much like Tati) acting technique and a totally new approach to production design and visual storytelling.

Starting with an empty space, the screen fills up in front of our eyes with minimalistic items barely identifying the purpose of it all--in this case a bank. With a stroke on an electronic pen, judging from the behavior of the characters, it could have been a ... brothel. Really!  What a surprise! I will not divulge any more of the story; the readers can see it for themselves at:

PS Perhaps the movie business has come full circle: the industry--Hollywood!--created by Polish immigrants can be saved by a new talent from Poland.