Venice, Sept. 2: Spike Lee and George Clooney used the Venice film festival to attack the once iconic areas of popular culture in America: Hollywood and television news.
Lee, the world’s foremost black director who made films such as She’s Gotta Have It and Malcolm X, said cinema-goers were weary of the “same, formulaic, tired, tired, tired stuff”, such as sequels and remakes of television shows like The Dukes of Hazzard.
Clooney, who has just directed Good Night and Good Luck, which is about CBS television news in the 1950s, said he grew up with three network broadcasts, all professional operations that allowed him to judge what was going on in politics and in Vietnam.
Now, with the onset of cable television and “130 different channels”, the quality of news was “fractured”, with each network, like Fox, playing to audiences with “specific belief patterns”. Viewers had to switch channels continually to discover what was going on in the world.
The pair spoke out yesterday as a record 11 new American films were screened in Venice, but none in the blockbuster category.
Lee, who was promoting Sucker Free City, about white, black and Chinese gangs in San Francisco, said the cost and risk involved in making movies had made the big studios wary of “more adventurous material”.
He added that Hollywood was suffering “one of the worst summers on record” for box office takings after a flurry of big-budget flops.
Lee said: “The industry is worried. It seems DVD has made a great impact on the theatrical release of films. What with the price of tickets, popcorn, parking and the need to get a babysitter, a lot of people would rather just stay at home and wait for the video or DVD.
“But I love cinema. I don’t think that you can replicate the sensation of watching a film on a big screen in a theatre with people around you as a community.”
Clooney’s film chronicles the 1950s conflict between the broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy, the chairman of the House un-American Activities Committee, whose witch-hunt for communist sympathisers split the nation. While Clooney and the actors David Strathairn and Robert Downey Jnr play journalists and network executives, the senator is featured in film clips from the time, with his speeches intact. Patricia Clarkson, the only woman in the film, plays Shirley Wershba, the wife of Joe Wershba, a CBS reporter, who is played by Downey.
Clooney recalled his father was a television anchor for many years but “he eventually stopped because news was becoming more and more light entertainment”. He added: “The danger is that most people get their news from television ' and it’s been a long time since Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow were the most trusted men in America.”