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Baldwin: Those lazy, hazy film days of summer

By Rick Baldwin

Greetings, my fellow cinephiles of Winchester!

With the temperatures on the upswing, we all have moments when we seek the comforts of a cool, dark, air-conditioned room to escape the heat and sporadic storms.

The cinema is always a steadfast safe haven in protecting you from the elements for a couple of hours as Hollywood is serving from their annual menu of summer blockbuster movies promised to excite or bore the viewer (the price is the same no matter how you feel).

Summer blockbuster season is the almost weekly release and onslaught by Hollywood with big budgeted films starting Memorial Day and ending Labor Day, each and every year. The summer blockbuster is a genre within itself known for astronomical budgets, heavy reliance on eye candy for the screen in terms of special effects and explosions resonant of a theme park thrill ride, sometimes minus the thrill.

The summer blockbuster was born in 1975 with the highly successful Steven Spielberg film, “Jaws.” It was mainstream Hollywood’s response to the lucrative business plan that raked in heavy profits for B-movie/exploitation producers during the 1960s and 1970s.

“Jaws,” as great as it is, is nothing more than a B-movie homage to the successful low budget flicks that screened at close to 5,000 drive-ins (SAVE the SKYVUE) at the time.

“Jaws” was produced on a budget of approximately $9 million and employed a temperamental mechanical shark (named Bruce) for its scares. It took “Jaws” no time to cash in $100 million at the time of release. That shark had a lot of bite as it bit into 1200 screens at one time!

Though “Jaws” really started the summer blockbuster business model, George Lucas and company perfected this financial formula in 1977 with “Star Wars.”

Releasing it to as many theaters as possible reinforced with a major advertising campaign, merchandising, toys, franchise tie-ins and sequel potential, is what brought in heavy grosses and seem commonplace in our contemporary world.

“Star Wars” was produced on an approximate budget of $11 million and has brought in over $400 million. Hollywood and Lucas definitely used the force.

Spielberg and Lucas were the saving grace to the suits of Tinseltown as they were straight-laced filmmakers who could be trusted. They helped return power to the studios after several years of New Hollywood calling the shots after the successful release of “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), “Easy Rider” (1969) and “Midnight Cowboy” (1969).

With the fat cat wheeler dealers back in power at the studios, their capitalist goals were identified for mass commercialism in order to control the marketplace to guarantee a huge return on their cinematic investments. The artist was dead, the businessman filmmaker was born and the summer blockbuster changed Hollywood forever and its mission statement.

So, this summer when you are struggling to decide to throw your money towards our current lineup of summer blockbusters or a new itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini., go with the swimwear.

This year’s summer lineup is stale and lacks the excitement in titles to generate the buzz associated with a real blockbuster. Instead, read a book, take a hike or rediscover an old summer blockbuster circa 1975-95.

I’m sorry, but this season there seems to be no cure for the summertime cinema blues.

Have a FILMtastic day!

Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker and film/music historian. He is president of the Winchester-Clark County Film Society. Find more from Rick on Facebook at facebook.com/ricksrhetoric/ and online at theintestinalfortitude.com/category/reviews-editorials/ricks-rhetoric. He is on Twitter @rickbaldwin79 and can be emailed  at rickbaldwiniii@hotmail.com.