Public autism

Alexandr Rodnyanskiy, Vedomosti  22 April 2012 13:01  31510359 010680
Public autism

Speaking of movies, I do not want to talk about money once again. But, unfortunately, it is exactly money that is used to measure interest of the audience for films, and a box office becomes a ‘sociologist’, which is never mistaken as for the audience ratings.

America. ‘Servants.’ A modest film without any megastars. About the relationship of black maids and their white mistresses, ‘Rublevka girls’ in an American style... And at the box office it collects incredible $ 170 million. That speaks eloquently: the theme of race relations does not lose sharpness in the country that has elected a black president. But, perhaps, that is exactly why he was chosen, since all these 60 years they shoot this kind of movies and try to find answers to complicated questions about the social structure? And perhaps a film has contributed to America no less than courageous African-American seamstress Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to give a seat to a white passenger in a bus and marked the beginning of an open civil resistance to racial segregation?

 And now - Russia. We haven’t certainly got less ethnic conflicts and stress points than the U.S., but the film on the similar subject would not collect any money at the box office, and what is more it wouldn’t even reach the box office. I say this with confidence as a person who has been engaged in cinematography in Russia for a long time.
In the U.S. the interest of the audience is a barometer of a public mood. Judging from the movies which can boast of a box office success, especially if these are not blockbusters but films with a medium and small budget, you can determine what kind of life the country lives and what people in it thinks.

The film ‘Rocky’, which broke box office records back in 1976, measured the depth of the depression, in which, exhausted by the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, America sank. A simple and optimistic story of a boxer who was able to overcome the hostile circumstances, became a national session of psychotherapy. Even the members of the Academy, who gave Stallone an ‘Oscar’, were touched,  but at the same time ‘Taxi Driver’ by Martin Scorsese, ‘All the President's Men’ by Alan Pakula and 'Television Network,’ by Sidney Lumet were nominated for Oscar.

Only fairytales

What does our barometer speak about? What kind of public pressure do they have in Russia? Who are the kings of cash and what does their success speak about? The most recent example is ‘John Carter’, a science fiction film adaptation of the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. We have a phenomenal film distribution result, in three days it raises $ 16.6 million and two weeks in a row it is ranked first at the box office. Meanwhile, at home, this new giant starts with the meager $ 30 million ($ 53.1 million for two weeks), that is with a bigger number of screens than we have, which is equivalent to failure, after all it cost the Disney company nearly $ 350 million, which is an approximate cost of a new terminal in Kiev airport ‘Borispol’ or the Far East telecom operator NTK.
So why has the Russian audience reacted so differently to the same movie, ‘promoted’ by the same advertisement and billboards? $ 16.6 million in first weekend - this is one of the best starts in recent history of a Russian film distribution, besides the one that took place without the advertising carpet bombing by the ‘First Channel’. But in fact it is not a surprise that such luck befell the film about the Martian adventures of the hero from past history.

It is terribly distant from the people, who got carried away with it. And all the champions of our last years’ film distribution are connected exactly by this - the categorical distrust of the reality in all its manifestations, its autistic rejection. Only fantasy, fiction or animation break the box office records. Everything that you can somehow relate to the real life of the country and people is completely ignored by our people once they come to the theater. Everything connected with the social, with real rather than melodramatic relationships, even if it reaches a big screen it immediately fails.

However, in general, movies, reflecting on what is going on in reality and reacting to it are  an integral part of the cinema repertory around the world. Drama, human stories, stories of overcoming, stories that reinforce the belief in life - we have little of them, and it is not surprising: even having appeared, they languish without attention. Touching, easy to comprehend, brilliantly made film ‘King’s Speech’ raises in our neighboring Poland $ 6.1 million - more than ‘Transformers 3’ ($ 3.4 million). We have the opposite situation: ‘King’s Says’- $ 1.6 million, and ‘Transformers’- $ 45.5 million.
Of the variety of products our compatriot will always chose a fairy tale. The same applies to the national movie: the flow of primitive (on the verge of vulgarity) comedies, supposedly draws in the crowds has no link with reality either.

Canned time

It is believed that the flow of time in different countries is not the same. There are countries that are mentally in the 21st century, but there are those which are still in the 16th. If to speak about popular films we are still living in the Soviet Union, and all of our box office victories are associated with it. On the day of election, the unique number of the audience show the soviet movies ‘Moscow does not believe in tears’ about the Soviet Cinderella, and some days later ‘Office Romance’ about the Soviet Sleeping Princess. These films mothballed Soviet times, they bear an image of that world, which is comfortable for people in its own way: you were not responsible for anything, you were not a master of your own fate, and therefore you didn’t face the worst of the dangers - the danger of a choice... And all this is highly appreciated by a modern audience.

Recently in France a great comedy drama ‘The Untouchables’ was released. It brought unimaginable for French cinematography $ 240 million. A touching story about the relationship between a black guy from the working outskirts with a paralyzed billionaire, whom he works for as a nurse. The obvious topic of the film is social inequality. It clearly shows the social context. It is about the real human drama and contains a critical look at the state of society. And all this is in spiritually lifting package. Americans in the face of sensitive Harvey Weinstein, one of the major producers in Hollywood, immediately bought the rights to the film remake. I thought: would a Russian version have the prospects? But there is nothing to think about: of course not. None. Any genuineness disgusting for our audience. And it's certainly an alarming symptom. In best case it’s a symptom of an absolute depressing apathy.


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