Funny (and enjoyable) though their level of obsession is, not least the seriousness with which aficionados frame the argument, there’s something desperately depressing about watching a man wearing a “he farted” t-shirt try to participate in a serious critique of an iconic movie. Occasionally, when someone makes a Freudian hand gesture, which speaks to you more directly than their argument, as in the case of the fan who contended that “the movie grabs us and shakes the innards” while inadvertently making a masturbatory flicking motion with his hand, there’s guilty laughter but also the notion that Phillipe’s camera has inadvertently captured an all pervading truth.
An unintended consequence of Lucas’ success was the substitution of movies made for an Adult audience for infantile fare aimed at young and adolescent thrill seekers; such films having dominated the box office ever since. Lucas, along with movie brat confederate Steven Spielberg, invented the summer event movie, and subsequently an entire generation of American filmmakers have had their creative mindset dial permanently set to ‘trying to replicate the sensation of watching those early money-spinners’. Hollywood is frozen in a ’70’s teen bubble, like a Nagasaki watch face following the atomic bomb. The history of mainstream American filmmaking over the last thirty years is a group of Lucas acolytes becoming filmmakers and attempting to replicate his serendipitous success, with less wit and less training in the story telling values of ’40’s cinema which served the brats so well.
Just as thirtysomethings growing up in Britain today are sometimes known as Thatcher’s Children, Lucas’ children (and their children) fill up multiplexes and have changed the face of film culture. Phillipe’s film reflects this, recording fan after fan telling us how Lucas stoked their imagination while surrounding themselves with merchandise and looking lachrymose as they recall how the new films failed to meet the expectation that they’d be identikit versions of the old. That’s the most extraordinary thing about The People Vs George Lucas – this horrible idea that the Modesto Merchandiser did a generation’s imagining for them and left these kids with a mortgage sized bill for services rendered.
It’s hard to pin down where Phillipe’s sympathies lie. The first sections of the movie paints Lucas as, in turn, a hypocrite following his campaign to prevent classic black and white movies being colourised, arrogant, a sell out to his dream of a independent filmmaking utopia and contemptuous toward a fanbase that audaciously claimed ownership of his work for decades, before he had the good sense of remind them who was boss (and fuck them if they don’t like it). On the other hand, the final section wants to forgive the Holy Father – and with the reliability of abused children, there’s the suggestion the fans themselves may be to blame. After all, they put the pressure on Lucas to make the new films, failing to account for his inability to deliver a golden calf. Lucas, it’s suggested, is a victim of his own success; trapped by a legacy. In popular culture, only The Beatles reforming in the ’80s to produce a new album would have come close to the expectation that saw The Phantom Menace indelibly etched into the annals of film history for all the wrong reasons.
The People… poses interesting questions about the nature of fandom, who ultimate “owns” popular art and the prerequisites for successful filmmaking. Independence is the dream of every filmmaker but Lucas’ fate reminds us that film, almost exclusively amongst the arts, is a medium where unchecked individualism can be reductive. Necessary economies, collaboration, clarity of purpose, happy accidents – this you feel, are what make good movies cook nicely, along with healthy spectatorship, naturally. In film as in life, to love is divine but you mustn’t ever lose your sense of perspective…or your merchandise rights.