Transcript of interview with Lynn Hirschberg conducted by WNYC's Bob Garfield on December 10, 2004


BOB GARFIELD: Recently, the New York Times Magazine tackled the globalization of Hollywood in a piece called "What Is an American Movie Now?" by Lynn Hirschberg. So I put the question to Lynn, was there a eureka moment for Hollywood when it understood that its future was not to export domestic films that did well but films actually conceived and designed for the global audience?

LYNN HIRSCHBERG: I think they just simply looked at the numbers and started to realize that there was this huge audience out there, and why not capitalize on that fact. Unfortunately, when you capitalize on that fact, you end up with worse movies, because they're less specific, less character-driven, less representative of anything that one thinks of when one thinks of great American films.

BOB GARFIELD: One of the more poignant observations in your piece is that filmmakers from other countries often explicitly aim to explore something about their national psyches, whether it's genital mutilation in Senegal, or bourgeois hypocrisy in France or whatever. But Hollywood goes out of its way to trade in fantasy, period pieces, cartoons that do everything but reveal the film's American roots.

LYNN HIRSCHBERG: I think that's absolutely true, and I think it's a tragedy, because the movies that do reveal the American roots are almost like foreign films made in America - a movie like Sideways, which is very specific to what's going on in the American psyche, will probably not even play overseas. [CLIP FROM SIDEWAYS PLAYS]

THOMAS HADEN CHURCH: They want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.

PAUL GIAMATTI: No, if anybody orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am [SHOUTING] not drinking any-- Merlot!

THOMAS HADEN CHURCH: Okay, okay. Relax, Miles. Jesus. No Merlot. Did you bring your Xanax? [SHAKES BOTTLE OF PILLS] All right. Do not drink too much. You hear me? I don't want you passing out or going to the dark side. [TAPE ENDS]

LYNN HIRSCHBERG: It probably will only have an American audience, and, at that, a very small American audience, because it has a limited release, and it's the best American movie of the year.

BOB GARFIELD: In a way, I mean just looking for a little bit of silver lining, isn't the rise of the global blockbuster as produced by Hollywood a sort of antidote to American cultural imperialism, because films like Matrix and Harry Potter don't impose our culture at all? Aren't they sort of the cinematic equivalent of the Ford Focus, you know, the world car? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]

LYNN HIRSCHBERG: Yes. Well, I think that's [LAUGHS] a fascinating point, but I also think that American culture is a great thing. So, interesting if we actually had something interesting to impose, as opposed to something that's bland and futuristic. There's increasingly strange things. For instance, the villains in movies now have to be acceptable to a global audience, so you have villains that are like the weather in The Day After Tomorrow, [LAUGHTER] or Spider-Man, obviously the villains are cartoon characters, etc, etc. You also have the situation where movies also become huge without even the benefit of quality or reviews. I suppose one could day that people like myself get sensitive about this point, but Alien vs. Predator, which was a movie that did really well this summer, was opened without any reviews, because I guess they figured, Alien vs. Predator, there was a built-in audience, and I think it's played very well around the world.

BOB GARFIELD: Lynn, frankly, you sound dis-spirited, [LAUGHTER] and, and I'm just curious whether you lay awake at night hoping that the first billion dollar blockbuster, the one that costs 400 million dollars to make and 600 million dollars to market so completely fails on a global scale that, that Hollywood is jolted back into the reality that film is an art form, not just a merchandising vehicle. Is that your fantasy?

LYNN HIRSCHBERG: In part. I suppose it's my larger fantasy, but the glass-half-full part of me also has a fantasy that I'll see a movie that costs all that money and all that money to market, and it's actually fantastic. I think part of me wishes, if they're going to go down this path, which is the path they're definitely going down, at least they should make some sort of effort to make the blockbusters have resonance in terms of what America is, in terms of what the country represents, and not just try and make them about the future or, in the case of Shrek, a green ogre, or some fictitious character that has no resonance whatsoever past momentary amusement.

BOB GARFIELD: In other words, a film that you can carry with you for the rest of your life.

LYNN HIRSCHBERG: Yes. Exactly. That would be the best. If you look at a movie, for instance, like Cabaret, which is a big movie, a big musical -- that movie had real resonance. That movie had larger weight than just being about people singing and a blockbuster-like mentality. The same thing's true of Jaws. I think Jaws has enormous emotion. I think Jaws was not made in a cynical fashion, and interestingly, Minority Report, which is a movie that Steven Spielberg did recently with Tom Cruise, I thought was an excellent blockbuster, and it didn't do well, because many people thought it was too intelligent.

BOB GARFIELD: Lynn, thank you so much.

LYNN HIRSCHBERG: It was great talking to you.

BOB GARFIELD: Lynn Hirschberg is editor at large for the New York Times Magazine. Her piece was titled: "What Is an American Movie Now?"


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