Dark Films for Dark Times

I started writing in the 80’s and, being the kind of dark kid I was, most of the stuff I wrote was dark, even depressingly dark.  The 80’s was a horrible time for the arts.  At the time, things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse.  Who knew that they were just planting the seeds of the blandness to come.  

I was also a depressed economic time.  Unemployment was high and there was a general feeling that, despite Reagan’s optimism, most people were struggling.  At the time, the advice I would always get from seasoned professionals was: NOBODY WANTS DARK STUFF IN DARK TIMES.  They want escapism.  They want to be distracted from their depressing lives, not reminded of them.  They want comedies and happy endings.  If you look at the majority of the films that came out of the 80’s, that’s what they got.   When the economy turns around, they would say, then you can write your dark stuff.

The economy eventually changed, but by that time, the consolidation of the film business combined with their complete dominance of distribution which combined with a generation of studio heads that had grown up on this theory about dark films.  So by the time the economy improved and unemployment was down, the general feeling among seasoned professionals was, people still didn’t want dark films.  Happy endings made big bucks.  They changed the end of Fatal Attraction, made it happy, and it made tons of money.  Who could argue that this didn’t mean that it also made it a better film?   And this way of thinking became completely dominant in filmmaking, not only in America, but also in places where they tried to emulate Hollywood success, like England.

Now the economy is crashing again.  It looks like we’re going to have many years of high unemployment and everyone is going to be struggling.  It’s safe to assume that no one is going to want dark films again.  

I still like dark films.  I still write dark films.  Even the comedy I write is dark.  I like to watch dark films.  I can’t change my tastes.  But I don’t think I’m alone.  There’s plenty of people who want to watch dark films.  People who say that they just want escapism at the movies, that they just want mindless entertainment, they’re Palin-lovers.  That thinking makes me sick.  They’ve been unwittingly programmed to think that way because of years of being fed only those kinds of films, and being marketed only those kinds of films.  It’s like the kids menus in restaurants.  If your kid only eats chicken fingers, that’s all he’s going to like.  

I love films, and mindless entertainment is such a small fraction of what films can be.  People who make dark films these days seem to have forgotten how, as if actors brooding emotively and trying to win an Oscar makes a good film.  It’s like black and white film.  The art has been used so rarely that the craft has been nearly forgotten.   Dark films don’t have to be depressing.  You don’t leave WAGES OF FEAR feeling sorry for yourself.  Dark films make bucks, too, even if they aren’t big bucks.  They would make more, if the audience was a little more acclimatized to them.  My point is that according to most people, there’s never a good time to make a dark film, so now that the economy is going to shit, don’t listen to people who tell you that in dark times people don’t want dark films.  It’s a bullshit argument.  

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