Book Review: Shoot It!

In college, I took a bunch of film studies classes. It was clear from the beginning that my professors did not like Hollywood or Hollywood movies, favoring instead to teach us about the French New Wave, cinema vérité and experimental documentaries. They would rebuff or refuse to answer questions pertaining to Hollywood studio movies. Their unspoken feeling was clear: commercialism and art do not and should not mix.

I was reminded of this when reading David Spaner's Shoot It!: Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film, just published from Arsenal Pulp Press. It's clear that Spaner has somewhat of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Hollywood movies, favoring anything independent over anything forged from the major studios, and he makes little effort to bury his disdain for Hollywood in the book (the first part is subtitled: Why Are Movies So Bad These Days?).

After a rather biting forward laying out the mission of the book, the bulk of Shoot It! traces the history of the movie business from the rise of the Hollywood studio system, to the creation of the unions, the Production Code, the dark Blacklist period all the way to the present. Throughout Spaner keeps his focus on independent filmmakers, and how the ever-growing reach of Hollywood studios affected their ability to make and market their films. The second half of the book explores filmmaking outside of America--Europe, South Korea, Romania--sharply contrasting their artistic approach with the corporate machine of Hollywood.

As a history lesson of movie production from the beginning of Hollywood through the present, Shoot It! is comprehensive and well researched. But Spaner's anti-Hollywood point-of-view fills the spaces between the facts while not effectively weaving them into a cohesive argument. In the first half of the book, Spaner seems content to let his history lesson make his case for him. (After 152 pages, Spaner never directly answers his own question "Why are the movies so bad these days?.") In the second half, Spaner's argument becomes clearer when he examines the independent films outside of Hollywood.

I respect the opinions of David Spaner. But as a long-time lover of Hollywood movies, I don't agree with him. It's true that there are a lot of Hollywood movies that are bad. But there is also good. For every Transformers, there is a Hugo. For every Hangover 2, a Bridesmaids. I do not have issues with Spaner's judgment of the landscape of film. There are many different types of movies for many different types of moviegoers. As much as film is dominated by the Hollywood corporate factories, I believe that there will always be room for independent film. The landscape of movies is constantly and rapidly changing and I have confidence that independent artists will continue to make films and find ways to get them to audiences.

If you're a film scholar interested in reading a detailed history of independent film, you should check out David Spaner's Shoot It!. But if your movie tastes run towards the multiplex, this may not be the book for you.

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