The James Clayton Column: Good reasons to make a movie
With American diplomats rescued by a CIA-produced fake film in Argo, James thinks of a few other good reasons to make a movie...
Argo is a science fiction fantasy film based loosely on the novel Lord Of Light by Robert Zelazny. It’s not a real film, but is in fact a fictitious front concocted by the CIA as part of a mission to rescue American diplomats trapped in Iran. This in itself is all happening in a fictionalised movie based on true life happenings also titled, confusingly enough, Argo.
“The movie was fake. The mission was real” and I’m getting mixed up between fiction, non-fiction and non-fiction fiction here. I’m also getting those impossible desires inspired by all films about making a film - I end up wanting to see the fake features that the characters are working on within the movie.
So it was with Bowfinger and its alien invasion gonzo B-pic ‘Chubby Rain’, The Artist and George Valentin’s jungle melodrama ‘Tears Of Love’ and the socio-realist Wallace Beery wrestling picture that the titular screenwriter’s typing up in Barton Fink. I’m just glad that we actually got to see zombie mystery ‘The Case’ (an excellent Romero rip-off made by kids) in the closing credits of Super 8.
‘Argo’ of Argo is just the latest unreal feature to add to the list. I consider it a great shame that I’ll never be able to enjoy this sham space opera because late 70s sci-fi adventures are very much my cup of tea.
Still, I won’t begrudge the makers of Argo (both the real Argo and the unreal ‘Argo’ within Argo) because their hearts and minds are in the right place. They have a good reason for making and not-making a film, and for that I salute them, because in showbiz such integrity is rare. Essentially, it comes down to humanitarianism and Ben Affleck and his cohorts are driven by a belief in freedom and helping those in need.
It makes a refreshing change in an industry dominated by egotism, vanity and greed. As a film enthusiast I observe the workings of Hollywood from a distance and sometimes what I perceive saddens me (to the point of histrionic despair on occasions).
There are times I survey the scene and see a realm ruled by commercial concerns when creativity and invention should be king. I’m an idealist carrying romantic notions that cinema is art, and that money shouldn’t be the sole motivation to do anything. It troubles me then when the ‘Dream Factory’ operates more like a ham factory and pumps out substandard innutritious offal instead of soul food, because its main intention is to shift units and yield profits.
But this is the cinema - a sacred cultural space - and not a supermarket. Motion pictures shouldn’t be produced by focus groups and marketeers, pushed out simply with the goal of scoring a big box office haul alongside other financial incentives like advertising and merchandise.
I’d like to take a moment to challenge wayward movieworld movers-and-shakers whose actions are driven by avarice or a boxed-in business brain. I’m going to grab ‘em before they blindly greenlight another unnecessary sequel or ill-conceived remake or before they get back to flogging another long moribund franchise simply because that’s the way things are done and that’s the way we keep money rolling in.
I’m holding up Argo as an example to these jaded spam fritters and asking “why don’t you make a movie for altruistic or purely artistic reasons? Have you ever considered using your influence and talents to, perhaps, save some hostages from a perilous political situation on the other side of the globe?”
Forget about commercial concerns, I say, and focus on producing movies simply because there are excellent screenplays that need translating to screen. If that and other artistic fundamentals of creative will and desire aren’t enough, here are some other very good reasons to make a film...
To make a passion project that’s been burning in your heart forever
See nine-year-old Peter Jackson watching King Kong for the first time, and forming his life ambition to direct films and eventually craft his own Kong feature. Also see spaghetti western connoisseur Quentin Tarantino making his own Django movie, comics geek Joss Whedon getting a crack at The Avengers and Frank Miller whose childhood encounter with The 300 Spartans drove him to draw up the 300 graphic novel which ultimately became a groundbreaking action flick itself.
Why am I producing this movie? Because I’ve loved Star Wars since I was a little boy and have all the required fanboy enthusiasm and expertise!
To meet the demands of die-hard fans
See Quentin Tarantino teasing film fans by talking up his unrealised spaghetti eastern epic, his ensemble war masterpiece and his Django reboot only to then leave us hanging for eons. Fortunately, QT eventually pulled his finger out (I dread to think what he pulled it out of) and got behind the camera to film Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained before frustrated throngs punished him for not producing such spectacular-sounding dream projects. See also Joss Whedon, back by popular demand to direct the Avengers sequel that the public wants.
Why am I producing this movie? Because my legions of fervent fans want me to see my Star Wars film!
To build a film industry
See Peter Jackson turning the overlooked, unfashionable islands of New Zealand into a movie production powerhouse. As he’s progressed from low-budget splatstick flicks to epic Tolkien adaptations, he’s established Weta Digital as the world’s leading special effects outfit, recreated Middle Earth in outer Australia, generated a thriving creative atmosphere and boosted the Kiwi tourist trade.
Why am I producing this movie? Because East Lancashire needs to thrive as a motion picture production hotspot and the home of the new Star Wars trilogy!
To give forgotten cult heroes work and a fresh chance to shine
See Sylvester Stallone launching The Expendables franchise simply to give his old buddies a gig and a fresh excuse to play action überheroes just like back in the day. See also other iconic figures consigned to the cultural scrapheap rising to screen prominence once again in their own star vehicle like, say, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Pam Grier in Jackie Brown and Rutger Hauer in Hobo With A Shotgun.
Why am I producing this movie? Because Billy Dee Williams deserves another moment in the spotlight leading the fresh Star Wars trilogy!
See Quentin Dupieux’s surreal psychokinetic possessed tyre film Rubber which acts as a feature-length homage to ‘No Reason’. “Life itself is filled with no reason” it claims, and therein lies a vital point that it’s sometimes good to do stuff for no reason at all. It’s certainly better to make a movie for no reason than for commercial ones.
Why am I producing this movie? No reason.
(Of course ‘no reason’ may simply be a phony reason to distract from the secret service undercover activity. You best not question this or challenge me when I allude to the Star Wars feature I’m working on with Billy Dee Williams. Innocent people’s lives may be at stake.)
You can read James’ last column here.