Daniel Johnson: To make a film has always needed the traditional virtues of faith, hope and charity, but the real gods of the cinema these days seem to be money, sex and celebrity. Was it always thus, or have things got a great deal worse?
Philip French: Well, people who make films have always been interested in money. Those who see them have, for much of the history of the cinema, gone to movies to be entertained, taken out of themselves, given a kind of pleasure that is not available to them in their daily lives, and sometimes something a good deal better than that. In the last 30 years or so, the audience has become - and this goes for the critics too - less interested in the quality of the movies, or indeed in the movies at all, than in the money that is made from them, the money that is spent on them. Oscar Wilde said that a cynic was a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Nowadays, you would say that a movie buff is a person who knows the gross of everything and the value of nothing.
Peter Whittle: There is definitely some truth in that. What we should always bear in mind, though, is that, particularly when it comes to American films, as I think Pauline Kael said, the essence of America's cinema is "kiss, kiss; bang, bang". And it always has been, I think, about sex and stardom.
The big mistake that's made now is to assume that the audience is more sophisticated. You hear this a lot, people say that audiences are more sophisticated now, but in my experience they're less sophisticated than in my parents' generation, in that they can't and they don't want to stay with a story. They want the visual sensationalism, which in some ways goes right back to the very beginning of cinema, doesn't it?
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