Did you ever see one of those old-timey “behind the scenes” tours of movie studios, the type of advertorial content a movie company would put out to show how wondrous and magical the business of show business actually was?
Everyone was happy and hard at work. Big stars rubbed shoulders with everyone else at the studio cafeteria. Every lot was filming some wonder of the big screen, from epic spectacle to weepy melodrama, all at once.
It was, of course, all a big lie, or at best, a cheery gloss over what was a cold, cutthroat world of battling egos, crazed business decisions influenced by any number of mind-altering substances and a general feeling that if any art actually escaped a studio movie lot, it was entirely by serendipitous accident.
Still, at least they were trying, back in those halcyon days of old.
Now, they don’t even try to disguise how little they care about the “content” they produce.
Warner Bros., one of the oldest and at one highly respected of the original Hollywood studios, is in the midst of yet another merger, having been shunted from one bridgegroom to another in the usual game of corporate profit chasing. This time, the wedding is with Discovery, which has installed a new CEO who wants to cut costs and maximize revenue, no matter how many bridges he may burn along the way.
He’s currently in the midst of gutting HBO Max, the successful streaming service Warner Bros. spent millions establishing as a player in the crowded market, canceling projects left and right. One of those decisions drew particular attention, as he canceled the release of a nearly-completed “Batgirl” movie shot especially for HBO Max. Not only did he decide it would not get a theatrical release, as had been briefly considered, it would get no release at all. They’ll bury it in the vaults forever so they can take a tax writeoff on it.
That’s right, a movie based on a popular superhero — supposedly the only thing Hollywood makes anymore — starring several big stars, including the return of Michael Keaton as Batman, will never see the light of day. Instead, it will languish in limbo forever so the new CEO can prove his ruthlessness by getting rid of the old regime’s stuff and show off to the investors how he’ll make them money. Not art.
Movie studios don’t usually make art anymore. We’re lucky they release movies at all, when all they want is to find new ways to put money in stockholder pockets, not release any artistic statements. Would “Batgirl” have been any good? Who knows? But it sure would have been nice to find out. Instead, Warner gets a suspect tax break and we get nothing at all. Just another day in Tinseltown.
Stephen Milligan is news editor of The Walton Tribune.