' ' Cinema Romantico: 20th Century Fox Is Dead. Long Live 20th Century Fox.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

20th Century Fox Is Dead. Long Live 20th Century Fox.

The liner notes for the release of the Special Edition “Star Wars” soundtrack noted now John Williams had composed his famous opening fanfare in the same key as Alfred Newman’s opening fanfare for 20th Century Fox so that when the movie segued from the studio logo to the opening title and scrawl it didn't miss a beat. It was a brilliant move, and is why, even now, the 20th Century Fox theme aurally conjures up visions of “Star Wars” much like Leo Arnaud’s Bugler’s Dream aurally conjures up visions of swimming and running and speed skating. Of course, Newman’s theme was a fanfare for a reason and functioned as an equally excellent introduction for any other movie, like the opening credits to “The Grapes of Wrath.”  And even the logo itself is so striking that when a motion picture does away with the fanfare, like my all-time favorite movie “Last of the Mohicans”, it still works as its own kind of figurative ceremonial flourish, where the propulsive drums of Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman’s score mirror the flow of the logo’s indelible searchlights.

20th Century Fox, like just about anything in business, did not begin as is but was born of a merger when in 1935 the independent Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Pictures merged with the foundering Fox Film Corporation founded in 1915 by William Fox. The irony was that by 1935 William Fox was no longer even in control of his film corporation, having been forced out, meaning that from the get-go, the name 20th Century Fox was something like a lie. Still, the name stuck and stuck around so that when, oh God, Rupert Murdoch appeared in the 1980s and gobbled the property up, the broadcasting company that Murdoch began on October 9, 1986 would take Fox for its name. And it’s that correlation to odious F*x News that caused Disney, having acquired 20th Century Fox in the late stages of the Twenty-Tens, to, just last Friday, drop Fox from the name, going back to its roots, in a sense, just 20th Century, even though it is, as many astute social media users noted, the 21st Century.

In one way, it’s odd that 20th Century Fox held on as a name this long. In another way, it shows how the name 20th Century Fox improbably metamorphosed over the years into something less about lame business interests and more about the cinematic experience. That theme, that logo, stopped representing just a movie studio and collectively, cosmically became ours, as much a signifier that, okay, shhhhh, settle down, the show is about to start as Please Silence Your Phones.

Disney, of course, has transmitted the predictable claptrap about how despite the renaming, the logo and theme will remain in place, don’t worry, everything’s cool. Of course, Disney, as exhaustively, invaluably reported by Matt Zoller Seitz, is quietly hiding classic Fox films in its vault, refusing to hand prints over to repertoire movie houses, seeming to try and erase real movie history right before our very eyes. Indeed, for the most recent “Star Wars”, Disney chose to remove the 20th Century Fox logo and theme, severing its most exalted connection, not so much signaling a new creative frontier as circling the wagons, mere corporate consolidation. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much now but who knows, maybe one day you’ll wake up and, like the city of Baltimore waking up March 29, 1984 to find their Colts suddenly gone, discover Disney has expunged something more precious to you than just a name.

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