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June 17, 2005

Adults and Moviegoing

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The good showbiz analyst Anne Thompson provides some enlightening perspective on the movie audience in this Hollywood Reporter piece about adults and moviegoing. Sample passage:

Through the late 1970s, [the frequent-moviegoing category] was dominated by adults. Movie critics wrote their reviews for adults. TV, radio and print ads were targeted at adults. Movies were constructed by adults for adults. Sure, there were always youth-market movies, but they were always ancillary, not primary.

Then came the wide-audience marketing revolution. With each succeeding decade, the Hollywood studios, driven by the relative ease of selling their movies to the dominant demographic (young men under 25) that showed up on opening weekends, increasingly aimed their movies at less demanding kids. Slowly but surely, they decreased the number of movies for more discerning grown-ups, leaving that headache to the likes of Miramax Films' Harvey Weinstein, who specialized in building the drumbeat of year-end accolades that accompanies an Oscar campaign.

Not so long ago, most movies were made for adults -- hard to believe but true.

Which makes me wonder: what do movies represent to you? I don't mean generally speaking, but in terms of your own personal history? I wasn't a moviewatcher until I hit 14, the same age when I started to wake up to the charms of girls and French art. ("Claire's Knee," sigh.) And as a result -- surprise, surprise -- movies have never meant "action," "party-time," "spectacle," or "kiddie fun" to me. Instead, they've always meant adulthood, sex, art, and women. There isn't enough of that package around these days.



posted by Michael at June 17, 2005


Through college, I was primarily a rock music fan, and only started caring a lot about movies in my early 20s.

The movie industry has done a great job of taking young audiences away from music, but whether that was good for the movies is another question.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on June 17, 2005 4:54 PM

As one who spent his teen years in the 70's, I don't remember any movies that catered to teens as teens. OK there was Grease and American Grafitti, but even those (I am trying to remember here) didn't seem to be for teens as much as nostalgic adults. There were no Linday Lohans or Ashley Simpsons or Britney Sprears to speak of. Sure, I had Valerie Bertinelli to dream about, but "One Day at a Time" was driven by adult issues and concerns so I didn't watch it much.
Even the movies I would find interesting, Posideon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Jaws, the Love Bug, had pretty much all adult casts (you think that would happen today? Nope.) . What was a teen to do? Maybe my memories have faded with age, but I don't remember any teen movies in the 70's like todays "Ten things I Hate", Teenage Drama Queen, American Pie, etc, etc.

Posted by: marc f on June 17, 2005 4:59 PM

Growing up in the 80s completely different experience with the advent of VHS. I remember my dad getting bootleg copies of Indiana Jones and Star Wars and watching those growing up. In fact suffering from a learning disability that affected my hearing, I loved TV and movies since I was able to follow along quite well.

So, I got a steady stream of classic Disney works, HBO muppets shows, plus some classic popular 70s films like Star Wars and Jaws.

By the time I was a teen I was getting into some better films (Exorcist and the like) and by High School seeing films like Heat (Michael Mann version). In college it got better as Ann Arbor Michigan was great for catching Independent films and the like (and also seeing more foreign and animated films).

I was however forced and dragged to films by my friends like Independence Day, Waterworld, MIB, and the usual popular drek.

The new Batman film is rather good I think, thanks to great acting and a rather competent director in Christopher Nolan.

Posted by: khh on June 17, 2005 5:19 PM

It seems to me that I've always loved movies. When we were little my parents would dress us up in pajamas and take us to the drive in, figuring that we'd fall asleep sometime during the second show. But I always stayed up and watched. I can also remember going to the movies every Saturday or Sunday when I was in junior high. We'd see whatever was playing. And just like the teens who saw Titanic a gazillion times, I saw Zeferelli's Romeo and Juliet at least 10 times. The Godfather, too. As a teenager, I'd stay up all night watching old black & white movies on the late show, the late, late show, etc. I'm not sure what they represent to me--escape perhaps? Nothing is quite so transporting as a good movie on a big screen in a darkened theater.

Posted by: Rachel on June 17, 2005 6:52 PM

I'll be the exception here. I've always hated movies. Just hated them. Movies are too intense for me. I can't put a movie down, like a book, to get some reflective distance. It moves on, inexorably, dragging me with it. When the movie finally ends, I am exhausted both intellectually and emotionally.

Perhaps the potent combination of light and sound, that is, visuals and narrative with music in the background, proved too much for me. I prefer to eat my entertainment in courses -- music as appetizer; narrative as the main course; art as dessert -- and not have them mixed together in some sort of mental stew.

Also, I find it difficult to stomach movie actors and the cult of personality that seems to follow them. Standing in line to buy groceries is coerced exposure to the magazines that glorify entertainment and entertainers. Their petty antics, amoral relationships and stupid comments don't exactly make me want to see them again. In any context.

Of course, having four college dates in a row take me to the same damn movie, (1982) Blazing Saddles?, was the final blow. Who wants to watch men fart?


Posted by: Kris on June 17, 2005 8:08 PM

I think you're seeing that the answer to your question depends on what decade was the person's formative years. Movies definitely changed in the 1980's. If there wasn't a young cast, an older star was teamed up with a younger star. Teenagers wanted to see themselves on screen. The idea that you would go to the movies to learn about adult life seemed to disappear. It was also the era when cable and VCRs exploded, so adults could watch adult content on home, leaving the theaters for the teenagers. There was a lot of junk in the 1970's, when I grew up, but I always thought I was learning about adult life when going to the movies. I also saw my first pair of breasts in "The Godfather," and the scene with Al Pacino and his new Italian wife are etched in my memory.

Posted by: Neil on June 18, 2005 9:40 AM

Movies started out big and glamorous for me---Going to one of the last big fancy movie, velvet draped movie theaters to see "My Fair Lady" when I was about 3. That was spectacle, and getting to go someplace glamourous with my parents. Then movies absolutley became about learning about adult life, and in my case, learning about Robert Redford. The Way We Were, Electric Horseman, All the President's Men. Also, others, like The Godfather and Annie Hall. Then, my freshman year in college brought Animal House, and the local theater played Ricky Horror Picture Show at midnight---those were the first movies that ever seemed directed directly at me and youth. Then movies sort of rocketed past me---all the early eighties Breakfast Club and Last American Virgen stuff---it was like they were directed at people six to eight years younger than me all of a sudden. We in the late seventies/early eighties did not get much time in the sun! But then there was a brief rennaissance in the later eighties--Working Girl, Broadcast News, My Left Foot, Dangerous Liaisons---where the adult came back.

And since then, I've kinda lost track!

Posted by: annette on June 20, 2005 9:49 AM

The first first-ren movie I saw in a theater was Lady and the Tramp, which I just looked up and was released in 1955. I was gobsmacked and remember every bit of it including waiting in line.

I also have vivid memories of The Deadly Mantis (1957), perhaps because I was forbidden to go, but more likely because it scared the bejesus out of me. Forbidden Planet made me determine to become an astronomer until I learned that one had to be good with numbers.

In high school ('62 to '66) I spent a few years as an usher and found I could watch a movie, almost any movie (Torn Curtain, Mad, Mad . . .World, Roustabout) 20 or 30 times with benefit.

I college I did the art house thing and found myself in smokey rooms watching Croatian and Finnish festivals while drinking nasty coffee.

Today I'd just as soon watch stuff getting blown up, plausibly, as be led into the heart of humanity. I can watch, enjoy, and take something away from almost any movie. Occasionally a movie will make me mad (Japanese Story was the last one I can remember) but I still remember it and enjoy talking about it. I'm far more forgiving of movies than I am of books or theater. Perhaps because, despite watching 6-12 of them a week, I just don't take them that seriously. It's fun. No matter what the intent, to me it's just fun.

Posted by: Sluggo on June 20, 2005 1:09 PM

My initial movie experiences were movies broadcast on TV, primarily the old stuff like Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Martin and Lewis (and later just Lewis), the monster movies, and then the big entertainments like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" - whatever cable would show. So from the start, movies were and could be anything. Serious, funny, scary, sci-fi, and all of the above.

I didn't start attending newly released movies until Jr. High, which was the early to mid 70s for me. And then it was just more of the same. When I finally was able to attend "R" films, again, more of the same except there'd be breasts, bullet holes that would explicitly spray blood everywhere, or someone would drop the f-bomb a few times.

To me, the quota of general audience/kid flicks/adult flicks has appeared to be largely constant over the years. The only new trend I've noticed is the movies made explicitly for teenage boys that have more in common with video games - in terms of visuals, characters, and plot - than they do with a standard narrative. ("Fast and the Furious" and the "xXx" flicks come to mind.)

Like the commenter above put it, to me movies are mostly just for fun, and it's a bonus if they move me or give me food for thought.

I feel sorry for the poor soul who finds movies to be an ordeal they can't shut off. I can't begin to imagine what that must feel like in the same way I can't imagine what it would be like to feel weightlessness for hours on end as astronauts do. I advise that person to purchase a DVD player ASAP and skip the theatre experience altogether.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on June 20, 2005 6:12 PM


You write:

And as a result -- surprise, surprise -- movies have never meant "action," "party-time," "spectacle," or "kiddie fun" to me. Instead, they've always meant adulthood, sex, art, and women.

Given the time of life during which you discovered movies, are you sure you don't mean adolescence, sex, art and women? It's been a long time, but I don't remember anybody in "Claire's Knee" who had what I would consider now, at 51, an adult attitude toward sex or women.

In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen a cinematic treatment in any detail or depth of what it's like to be entering your nth decade of happy marriage. It's a bit too subtle a topic to lend itself to detailed examination on the big screen, or something.

Have you?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 20, 2005 7:10 PM

Movies for me started on videotape - 3 or 4 years old, Marx Bros., Star Wars, and Amadeus. Moviegoing started in earnest when I moved to the city and could walk to a theater with movies worth seeing.

Friedrich: Interesting observation. Happily-ever-afterism? Perhaps no one in the film industry has sufficient experience with an nth decade happy marriage to pull it off convincingly... or even wonder what it's all about. Look at Woody Allen, he's still making movies about finding the right person. To the modern artist, is it akin to thinking about the logistics of life in heaven? Does something that already exists as fiction for most people need to be fictionalized?

Is the audience not interested? What's the conflict/action/resolution/denouement? If the conflict does not occur in the marriage then the marriage is necessarily external to the story, no? I could see a film taking the form of a collection of shorts like Kurosawa's Dreams, but no one goes to movies like that anyhow.

Does a detailed account of longterm marriage exist anywhere in the arts?

Posted by: Rob Asumendi on June 21, 2005 1:55 PM

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