I was watching Public Enemies yesterday and I thought, I guess it is true that Hollywood just can’t make these kinds of movies anymore. It’s simply not functioning in a way that has any relationship to quality. As I was watching Public Enemies, I kept thinking of earlier Michael Mann movies and how great they were, and older gangster films and how great they were, but never was I thinking that this film was anything but a bland, overdeveloped corporate anomaly.
As I’ve said before, Hollywood has already gotten out of the business of making films for grown ups, so just the fact that this film got made is something of a miracle. I kept thinking of parallels between Hollywood and Detroit. Think of a car like the Mustang, a classic in 1966, undeniably one of the great American cars. Ford still makes the Mustang, only it is no longer one of the great American cars. It’s just another bland, inefficient American knock off of its own brand. It is a distant echo of its original design. It is nothing to get excited about, and Americans aren’t buying it anymore. They finally realized that they were being had. They were paying for a Mustang of 1966 and getting something else.
American films have gone the same way. We long for the golden years of cinema from the 50’s or the 70’s, truly wonderful years of American films. Today’s films are, sometimes literally, cashing in on that brand of excellence from the 70’s. The only difference between Hollywood and Detroit is that Hollywood hasn’t had to deal with any competition from Japan, or anywhere else.
So Public Enemies is only a shadow of Public Enemy, or Heat, or Dog Day Afternoon. You can see glimpses of it in the design, but that’s all they are, glimpses of an old Hollywood.
Hollywood isn’t structured to make films like this because of its corporate mentality. So Public Enemies, which takes place in a 1930’s where hardly anyone smokes or drinks because it is impermissible for a corporation to be seen as endorsing that behavior. It may seem like a little thing, but think about a development process where this type of thing gets discussed and you start to see the comparisons with the car industry where good ideas get watered down all the way down the chain until the consumer gets the blandest possible result.