Timing Is Everything, Even In Films
When a film fails, it’s amazing how often the distributor or producer says that it couldn’t find its audience because the release suffered from poor timing. Interestingly, this proves not to be the case with Clint Eastwood’s ‘American Sniper’, a smash hit in the US which reaches screens just as Chris Kyle’s murderer goes on trial.
Dame Edith Cavell said; ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.’ Whether you think that the 84 year-old director’s biographical film is well-intentioned patriotism or offensive (it’s certainly well-made, but keeps its enemy voiceless), its timing feels inappropriate and has resulted in increased anti-muslim feeling.
One of the problems is that certain POV shots unconsciously duplicate the footage we’ve now seen from Wikileaks in which a van of civilians is fired upon. After the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and its Copenhagen fall-out, with Fox News bizarrely claiming that Birmingham is a muslim-only city, it’s surely insensitive to celebrate a life quite so dedicated to killing. It can be argued that Eastwood’s film is about a certain type of man who sees the world in simple terms and therefore makes a perfect soldier, but the real reason for its existence is the bestselling status of the book in the US, so in its domestic market the timing is right.
Another problem arose with Oliver Stone’s ‘9/11’, which was simply too soon and not very good. The director brought it to London flanked by two of its firefighter heroes on-stage, which effectively stymied any balanced discussion at post-screening Q&A.
‘Too soon’ can be one problem. ‘Too late’ can be another. Tom Shankland’s excellent thriller ‘The Children’ is set at Christmas, but in the UK Pathe chose to open it with a seasonal poster in late January, killing its box office chances. The film version of ‘Rent’, set in New York during its first HIV/AIDS crisis, arrived many years after the passionately written play was first workshopped in 1994, and failed to engage audiences. Zeitgeist movies have to hit a sweet-spot of public interest, otherwise they miss their target.
When the first ‘Sex And The City’ film hit, its stars were already getting long in the tooth, but an ending to the series made sense. The ill-advised sequel proved a disastrous, offensive mistake. That boat had sailed.
Films go through such a long development process that it’s hard to keep topical subjects relevant, which is why so many mainstream films have to be bland. But lately a certain amount of healthy cynicism has crept into family films, from ‘The Lego Movie’ making fun of over-optimism in its theme hit ‘Everything Is Awesome’ to ‘Into The Woods’ (from Disney, no less) daring to suggest that Happy Ever Afters are flawed and problematic. The new movie ‘Black Or White’, which explores racial issues in California, is painfully timid but at least avoids too much sentimentality, and race is always a hot topic.
Novels present an even greater problem of timing. They say that by the time you try to jump on a bandwagon it has long passed, but that doesn’t stop a lot of crime writers from trying. The TV series ‘Babylon’ attempted to reflect the change in British policing but failed to engage audiences, who don’t want to see coppers in desk jobs discussing performance targets.
But there are books which catch national moods – the idea of marriage made duplicitous by endless Facebook profiling was realised by Gillian Flynn in ‘Gone Girl’, and struck a chord with readers.
The solution, is seems, is to stick with broader national interests rather than trying to zero in on nano-fads. Here today is Gone Girl tomorrow.