The Darkening Light of Screen - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Darkening Light of Screen
by
Jimmy Durante, Ava Gardner, and Clark Gable at MGM 25th Annivesary Luncheon in 1949 (iCandyTV/YouTube)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree.
Where Alph, the sacred river ran,
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to the sunless sea
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan

Watching cinema inexorably die, of internal wounds, may provide continual fodder for my criticism, and considerable humor, but it brings me little pleasure. I dedicated most of my life to the art, first as an admirer, then a critic, finally as a fiction writer, and am still a combination of the three. Thus, when I read last week that 39 Regal theaters in the United States will soon close, on top of the dozen shut down since the parent company filed for bankruptcy, I lamented. Going to the movies enriched my life from infancy, as well as the cultural and social life of the country (and the world) for well over a hundred years.

Almost everybody older than 20, like myself, has precious memories of the tradition. I will never forget standing in a line around the block of the MacArthur Theater in D.C. with 48 friends, waiting to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Despite our thrill at the prospect of seeing a new Star Trek adventure after ten years of nothing but reruns, we wondered if it could recreate the magic of the TV series we loved (it did). Then a 50th friend came walking up the sidewalk to join us, and whistled the first few notes of the classic Star Trek theme, whereupon the entire block of people let out an enormous cheer.

I remember sitting in a darkened theater next to the first girl I ever loved, though we were not intimate, only half viewing The Karate Kid (1984). I had gotten my fellow Washington Post copy-aide, Laura, her first writing assignment — on the imminent closing of a historic Northern Virginia movie palace, and she’d invited me to tag along for the last picture show. Like countless boys before me, my right hand somehow found its way behind her neck to press her right shoulder. Laura turned her face to mine, sighed, then nodded, and leaned into me. It was a typical beginning to a marvelous romance (that inspired my novel, Paper Tigers).

Future generations will have no such memories. Because the venue for them will be gone. That the end of the line will come not from the consumer side, but the production source, makes this an American tragedy. Those now in charge of entertainment blame new technology for the collapse — the fact that internet streaming has become a convenient, cost-effective means of viewing films and shows. This lie absolves their folly and conveniently blames the audience.

Yet, mysteriously, on the rare instance a good, non-woke film comes out (see Top Gun: Maverick), massive crowds abandon their small screens to patronize it. For if the idiots now running Hollywood knew anything other than virtue signaling, they would note that computerization is not the first time a new technology threatened the industry.

The year was 1949, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the vastest, richest, mightiest film factory of all time, as reflected by the slogan, More stars than there are in the heavens. A newsreel of MGM’s 25th Anniversary Luncheon validated the motto. As the camera pans the tables, you can see a host of movie legends, all MGM contract players: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Errol Flynn, Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn, and many more. The war had ended four years earlier, and most of the male stars had fought in it — including the biggest, Gable. Now that they were all back (“Gable’s back and (Greer) Garson’s got him,” read the promo for Gable’s first postwar film, Adventure), MGM was gearing up for another 25 years of unrivaled growth and prosperity. Within five years, most of the stars had been let go, Gable too, and every studio was fighting for survival.

What happened, what few had foreseen, was a little video box with poor reception becoming the greatest threat to the studio system ever. Six months after the premiere of I Love Lucy (October 15, 1951), the hit had 11-million viewers, this with only 15-million television sets in the country. Soon, other series joined Lucy’s, and millions of once regular moviegoers started staying home.

But the studios did not die, in fact they thrived, if on a lesser scale than before. Because the men who ran them, unlike today’s self-aggrandizing Hollywoke buffoons, understood the screen trade, and put the audience above themselves. They hired the greatest artists of the cinema to save their industry, by creating a product that would make people want to leave their couches for theater seats, and for the most part they succeeded. That the majority had been around a while and knew how to tell wonderful stories in the best possible manner, even using the latest technical innovations, such as cinemascope, made all the difference.

Hence, the 1950s saw some of the finest works from the old masters, Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest), John Ford (The Quiet Man, Mister Roberts, The Searchers), Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, Sabrina, Some Like It Hot), plus veteran stars like Gable (Mogambo, Teacher’s Pet, Run Silent, Run Deep), Bogart (In a Lonely Place, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny, Sabrina), Wayne (The Quiet Man, The Searchers, Rio Bravo), and new ones too big for television, such as Brando, Mitchum, and Marilyn Monroe.

In 1958, with spiraling costs and lower revenue threatening to finish off MGM, despite its last great musical Gigi about to win the 1959 Best Picture Oscar, the new studio managers went for broke. They put everything they had on Ben-Hur, making it the most expensive film ever made ($15-million). Failure would have meant total ruin. But they did everything right to bring the bestselling Christian epic to the screen — from hiring William Wyler as director to Charlton Heston as the star. That Ben-Hur quickly became one of the biggest hits of all time, putting the studio well into the black, is a tale lost on Hollywoke mavens. They would go broke before making a religious crowd pleaser. What a shame their incestuous progressive stupidity is forcing better people than them, the hardworking theater owners, out of business.

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