Marshall Fine is wondering why three fabulously wealthy big-name actors who are past their prime and on their way down — Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson — don’t just retire from the mass-market movie game and henceforth act only in pure indie or even straight-to-video flicks for young directors who could use their help.

In a pig’s eye. You’d think that a marquee-name actor with several hundred million in his or her bank account would want to make movies for quality-chops alone and hang the box-office. But for some perverse reason the richer actors get the less inclined they are to make smallish films. (Bruce Willis is an exception.) The only actors who act in bare-bone indie flicks are those who have no other choice.

Great amounts of cash don’t just soothe and anesthetize — they also kill the urge to create vital small-scale cinema.

Do you think Steven Spielberg will ever make an Amblin’ or an E.T. again — a small straight-from-the-heart movie? He is known primarily these days for being (a) a ridiculously wealthy wheeler-dealer producer, (b) a director of insubstantial escapist mulch, and (c) being too chickenshit to direct the Abraham Lincoln/Liam Neeson/Tony Kushner movie.

Where is that smallish indie film that George Lucas said he wanted to direct? It’ll never happen.

Yeshua of Nazareth said something about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. What he meant was that rich folk are incapable of giving themselves to something for its own spiritual value. They’re always looking at life in terms of their portfolio.

James Cameron is an exception to this rule. The reason is that he was born — blessed — with a reckless madman gene.

Fine puts it thusly: “Why don’t these stars of the 1980s and 1990s announce that, henceforth, they are retiring from the blockbuster game? They’ll only do small independent films that interest them and will willingly be paid scale and a small piece of the back end, rather than their seven or eight-figure quote. They will make themselves available to first-time and rising directors who have a vision but lack the funds to make their low-budget films.

“While I’m getting all pie-in-the-sky here, why not take it a step farther? These will all be films made specifically for video-on-demand, but will play the festival circuit to generate buzz and will be offered to critics for review. These stars will then do publicity for the films – say, via a satellite press day – with whoever is interested. They’ll also hit the late-night talk show circuit to promote the films, thus lending legitimacy and creating a want-to-see factor for video-on-demand.

“As a result, the term ‘straight to video’ will lose its onus and become synonymous with quality, inexpensive films. The ripple effect will include an increase in the homes equipped to receive/purchase these films, which are significantly cheaper than the cost of visiting a multiplex or even an arthouse.

“This ignores, of course, the usual trend: that the unknown and rising directors will have a hit with their personal vision – and then gladly sell their souls to collect a major payday to make a comic-book movie. (The (500) Days of Summer guy.)

“More often, it’s only stars who have reached a certain level of desperation, who will grasp at a role in a small, low-paying independent film as a possible way out of the doldrums – a way to get some indie cred, but only to relaunch as a studio commodity. And the idea is that, with luck, the film will get noticed and vault them back to the big-time.”