Friday, January 13, 2006


The Name Game

Columbia Pictures once owned Tri-Star Pictures, then Sony bought them both. MGM long ago purchased United Artists, then Sony bought them both. The Weinstein brothers had a vision of a mini-studio with Miramax, until Walt Disney Pictures bought it. Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberger had a similar vision for DreamWorks SKG, but Paramount Pictures just gobbled them up. So Sony now owns Columbia, MGM and United Artists. And DreamWorks is a subsidiary of Paramount, even though it grew up on the Universal lot. There was a time when a studio name mattered. Universal gave us monster movies. MGM gave us the musicals. Columbia provided Frank Capra and the screwball comedies. Back then, Disney was a baby, but it was clear what it would grow up to be: the studio of family films. But Hollywood has become so homogeneous now, none of this matters. (Even the once world-renowned icons associated with the studios seem to have lost their luster.) It means nothing to be "A Paramount Picture," or for Universal to "proudly present..." Likewise, Columbia releases no longer generate expectations for audiences. These are now just names, long removed from the executives, the filmmakers and stars who made them matter. I guess in an age when craftsmanship and unique boutiques have given way to mass production and chain mega stores, it's not shocking that Hollywood would follow suit. If Spielberg, arguably, the most influential man in the industry today, could not make a go of an independently run, self-contained studio, the concept is finished. Some might argue the concept was finished in the 70s as maverick filmmakers dismantled the old studio system, but at least then the majors were entities unto themselves, and a healthy competition existed among them. Even that is gone now. Why does Sony keep the names of the studios it bought? Who knows? The brands mean nothing any longer.

I think they're simply trying to create the illusion of diversity, running scared from the public's distrust of the very homogeneity these few big conglomerates have wrought.

Wanna start our own little studio? That'll be the next wave, I'm pretty sure. Ministudios, digitally equipped.
Really, the studio 'branding' that you're talking about went away, with only a handful of exceptions, half a century ago. And good riddance.
If film is in any respect at all an artform, as opposed to a product, the work should reflect the filmmakers' vision for each film, not a corporate brand.
Is The Godfather really reflective of the Paramount brand identity or Taxi Driver Columbia's? Does The French Connection really reflect the 20th Century Fox attitude? Should Warner Bros. have vetted Mean Streets and Badlands for their relationship to their corporate image before deciding to pick up those films?
The studios, fortunately, are mostly companies that make prints and advertising and hide profits from profit participants. Today, they're also part of bigger distribution and vaster money-hiding networks. Thank goodness.
Movies are shitty enough these days--forced to appeal to entertainment loving focus groups -- without having their stories further molded to fit some corporate identity.
(For being so surley, I'll click a few extra times. How's that?)
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