Meridian Magazine posted Kieth Merrill's short commencement address to the graduates of the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications. It's a nice point of departure to ruminate a bit on Hollywood and the movies. If video killed the radio star, what killed the movie star? Hollywood, maybe.
But first back to Merrill and his remarks. Merrill won an Academy Award in 1973 for the documentary The Great American Cowboy and was nominated for a second for the documentary Amazon in 1997. He also wrote, produced, and directed the two LDS films Testaments and Legacy. So he has the right sort of life experience to say something fittingly insightful to the assembled BYU grads. Here's a one-paragraph excerpt:
Today you march into the raging flames of popular culture. Media in all their marvelous manifestations are the most powerful and important influence on culture, humanity, politics, religion, morality and ultimately the future of civilization. It is a bold and brutal battle for the hearts and minds of men and women — and increasingly, our children.
Obviously, Merrill isn't too pleased with the steady descent of Hollywood into its present obsession with sex, violence, sexual violence, violent sex, and just plain old death and destruction. He calls on graduates to glorify virtue rather than vice, celebrate beauty rather than ugliness, applaud true heros, and "to speak the truth rather than spew rhetoric tainted by political correctness." He's also putting his own advice into practice, having recently formed the Audience Alliance Motion Picture Studios production company. Hard to tell whether that's going to pan out, but it only takes one hit, I suppose.
Two recent events make me give a little more credence to Merrill's opinions, which one might be tempted to dismiss as simply the predictable view of a practicing LDS director and producer. First, I just read Michael Medved's Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values (1992). Medved is a noted movie critic who burned a lot of bridges writing this book. It chronicles how completely Hollywood has embraced a worldview so out of step with most of its viewing audience and how deleterious that move has been for both popular culture and for the movie business as a whole (which is steadily losing its viewing audience). The chapters have titles like "Maligning Marriage," "The Addiction to Violence," and "Hostility to Heroes." And things have gotten worse, not better, in the 15 years since the book was written. So it's not just LDS observers who lament what's happening in Hollywood.
The second event was I watched Flags of Our Fathers on DVD. I wasn't impressed. If even Clint Eastwood can't make a good war movie anymore (hey, it's not a demanding genre, folks), there is simply no hope. Yeah, I know Clint is noted for creating anti-heroes, but I was still expecting something different based on the promotional spots.
So I guess I'll end this unfocused post with an open question: What's your most recent Hollywood disappointment? Or your most recent pleasant surprise? I did like The Illusionist.