It's been a funny old summer in Hollywood. It's also likely to be a record one with the summer movie releases already grossing $3.6bn, and likely to beat the all-time high of $4.3bn before the season is out. Nothing very funny about that.
What is odd is that four of the five biggest films, Transformers 2, Star Trek, Up and The Hangover, had no real star names. At the same time, films with the likes of Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell and Jack Black did badly. And John Travolta and Denzel Washington couldn't save an ill-advised remake of the Seventies thriller The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
These and other summer oddities were examined in detail by Variety magazine this week, with the implication that things might never be quite the same again in the changing film industry. It also questioned the importance of critics, noting that Transformers 2 has been the year's top grossing film, taking $819m, despite receiving the year's worst reviews. Add to that the fact that the producers of G.I. Joe, starring Sienna Miller, didn't even bother to give critics a screening and opened to a take of $54.7m, and no caring parent is going to advise their little one to be a film critic.
The diminishing importance to box-office takings of stars and critics is of some interest, though I suspect the next cycle will find both back in vogue. What struck me of far greater, and more lasting, importance concerned the fate of our very own Sacha Baron Cohen's film, Brüno. It had a good opening day on the Friday it was released in America, but the next day suffered a 39 per cent drop in takings. Gone it seems are the days when studio executives could calculate the whole opening weekend takings on the basis of Friday's numbers.
The reason is word of mouth. People who have seen the film are telling friends who haven't whether or not to bother. That always happened, of course, but it used to happen more slowly. Now Twitter, texting and Facebook mean that the word spreads within minutes of the movie finishing. The tweets about Sacha should have made his ears burn, as they must have been pretty awful.
I think I'd rather be John Travolta than Baron Cohen at this point. A movie star with a bit of nous can always blame the critics for putting off a potentially large audience. But when the reviews are reasonable and the opening night audience is good and the next night's is dismal, who do you blame? Blaming your regular movie-goers for having the gall to give their opinions to their friends doesn't look too cool.
Hollywood is in some ways just waking up to what has been evident for a few years now with texting and Facebook, though the rise of Twitter must have accelerated people power, and contributed to the bafflement of studio executives.
It marks a turning point for the film industry: one of the great technologies of the 20th century at the mercy of the technologies of the 21st century. Hype, marketing and publicity will count for less and less. People will decide whether or not to see a film on the advice of their peer group. And if film history records that the first great test case involved Baron Cohen, well, he likes people being publicly humiliated, doesn't he.
Age is no barrier on stage
Alan Bennett was once asked what was the most offensive T-shirt imaginable. He replied that it would be one that said: "I hate Judi Dench".
He's right. One does not insult a national treasure. but I am a little surprised that Sir Peter Hall has cast her to play Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, next year. Dame Judi played the same role in 1962, when she was 28 (pictured).
That was also for Sir Peter – recasting her now after a mere 47 years. Titania, a highly feisty, highly frisky queen of the fairies is usually played by a thirty-something. Dame Judi will be 75 next year. It will certainly give the scene where she makes overt sexual advances at Bottom in an ass's head an unusual frisson.
Earlier this week, my colleague Terence Blacker was sceptical about the enterprise. But at least Sir Peter has shown the BBC that on the stage, unlike on television, you are never too old – for anything.
Mr Dylan, you're nicked
If this were Have I Got News For You, the question might be which is the odd one out: Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards or Paul McCartney? The answer is Dylan. All four Sixties stars have been arrested, but Dylan was the only one that the arresting officer failed to recognise.
A 22-year-old policewoman in Long Branch, New Jersey, nicked the singer a few days ago after he was seen acting suspiciously. She did not recognise him, nor did she recognise his name when he produced his identity papers. Even his famously expressionless face must have cracked at that point.
The policewoman then radioed her senior officers, who fell about laughing. One said he would lend her some albums, and she was once more confused. She'd never heard of vinyl either.
That incident will probably be immortalised in a Dylan song. It should also be immortalised in rock history. It was the moment that the times most definitely changed.Reuse content