"What Makes A Box-Office Hit?"

Film The Media History Digital Archive collects together related link to the Internet Archive, specifically issues of ancient film and movie journals and magazines. There's far more than any human being could read in a lifetime, but worth bookmarking if you're looking for contemporary material related to films that have fallen into relative obscurity, like the amazing collection currently screening on BBC Two during the early weekend mornings.

Amongst the treasures is this collection of 1947 issues of Cinema Magazine which have hidden within columns by Igor Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau, a set visit to The Treature of the Sierra Madre and short pieces catching first sight of the avant-guard and British Film Society Movement.

 But its all introduced with a fascinating article, "What makes A Box-Office Hit?" in which various luminaries answer the question. Here's what Terry Ramsaye, the critic and editor of the Motion Picture Herald has to say on the subject. I'll quote it in full to save you from having to look for it:
"The picture which is to be a box office hit will in important degree serve an audience of persons of both principal sexes in the age bracket between the later teens and earlier twenties. It will supply them with some basic satisfactions through vicarious experience, and with some eagerly sought information on the processes of loving and living. In that sense, and that chiefly, the motion picture of the entertainment screen is educational. That is enough, and all the customers want.

"No matter what the top-lofty persiflage and dressing of the merchandise may profess, the hit picture must be concerned with the service of human concerns which arise from sensory mechanisms and controls south of the navel, all done with both decor and decorum but with precise accuracy. That is decent, proper, fitting. No discoverable challenges to thought or intellectual processes may be profitably involved. Psychology is nothing, physiology is everything. That is because intellectual capacities and interest in abstractions, even though slight, are rare indeed, while nearly all of the customers have acute biological interests and attributes. The motion picture is far too expensive for the service of the minds of the few, while the instincts of the many are yearning. That is not at all deprecatory, but plain business sense — economic determinism is the word for it. The pabulum delivered on the screen is properly to be as elaborately decorated as the bridge club's luncheon salad, or the wedding cake, but the stuff inside must be the time proved McCoy. It is proved because it is both right and correct. That is inevitable because the typical human organism, which is to say the customer, is born so soon and dies so young, having commonly little capacity and never ever time enough for concerns much beyond the requirements of the re-production cycle.

"The hit picture must achieve the indicated approach despite the frosting on the cake, by simple devices of narration. The bad characters must be bad, the good must be good. The writing is to be done in black and white, even if the rendition is in color. It is almost impossible to make the picture too simple, or too obvious, and that is most proper. The persons of that great buying-power-majority do not go to the theatre to reflect and study, to concern themselves with anything save their immediate personal interests, which are even more plainly defined by the content of the newspapers' cartoon pages.

"All this is normal, healthy, adequate. A picture which adequately and gracefully serves the indicated audience and its wishes is a genuine work of art. The best producers do it that way with conscious skill, or, in some instances, with unconscious skill. Anyway it is skill.

"If you would rather read a book and dream your own pictures, that's your business. Pictures are made for customers and they have the authority."
Isn't that something?  Not much has changed in sixty-five years and however apparently more sophisticated "blockbusters" are, the result tends to be the same.  The point about them being "educational" is interesting though I think in this context it simply means "experiencing something new" rather than to actually learn something.

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