Pauline Kael on the Lackluster Quality of Movies (1980)

“The movies have been so rank the last couple of years that when I see people lining up to buy tickets I sometimes think that the movies aren’t drawing an audience – they’re inheriting an audience. People just want to go to a movie. They’re stung repeatedly, yet their desire for a good movie – for any movie – is so strong that all over the country they keep lining up. ‘There’s one God for all creation, but there must be a separate God for the movies,’ a producer said. ‘How else can you explain their survival?’ An atmosphere of hope develops before a big picture’s release, and even after your friends tell you how bad it is, you can’t quite believe it until you see for yourself. The lines (and the grosses) tell us only that people are going to the movies – not that they’re having a good time. Financially, the industry is healthy, so among the people at the top there seems to be little recognition of what miserable shape movies are in. They think the grosses are proof that people are happy with what they’re getting, just as TV executives think that the programs with the highest ratings are what TV viewers want, rather than what they settle for (a number of the new movie executives come from TV). These new executives don’t necessarily see many movies themselves, and they rarely go to a theatre. If for the last couple of years Hollywood couldn’t seem to do anything right, it isn’t that it was just a stretch of bad luck – it’s the result of recent developments within the industry. And in all probability it will get worse, not better.”