Thursday, January 18, 2007

David Denby @ the New Yorker

Two weeks ago in The New Yorker David Denby had a fantastic piece on the future of film and the future of Hollywood. He touched just about every base possible. We're talking Holywood studios gearing up for opening weekends and how that affects what films we see. We are talking about possibly seeing films being distributed digitally and how that will save money. He mentions the demographics of Hollywood target audiences, for the most part 12-25 year olds, which explains a lot of the Crap in theaters right now. And he discusses viewing films on iPods, portable players and the like as opposed to the communal experience of seeing them in a theater. It's a great article, and if you have twenty minutes to kill, it's still on line and can be read here. A few other people have already weighed in on the article including, J.R. Jones, at the Chicago reader here.

I reread the article last night and my goodness, there is so much to react to that 20 page essays could be written in response. Denby starts out the article though talking about viewing a movie on an iPod...

“Pirates” has lots of wide vistas and noisy tumult—a vast ocean under the dazzling sun and nighttime roughhousing in colonial towns, with deep-cleavaged prostitutes and toothless drunks. What I saw, mainly, was a looming ship the size of a twig, patches of sparkling blue, and a face or a skull flashing by. The interiors were as dark as caves. My ears, fed by headphones, were filled with such details as the chafing of hawsers and feet stomping on straw, but there below me Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom were duelling like two angry mosquitoes in a jar.

Denby goes on to say how in the theater, "you submit to a screen; you want to be mastered by it, not struggle to get cozy with it." And later goes on to talk about a bit the communal experience of movie going as opposed to viewing at home or on these smaller devices like iPods.

This generation is bombarded with choice. Between Netflix, downloadable movies online, and 65 movie channels we have so many opportunities to see films in places other than the theater that it's gotta be unprecedented. And while, at times in Denby's article this seems to be a reason for a death march for Hollywood I am not sure that is entirely the case. Now, sure, would I have wanted my first viewing of a current favorite, Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt to be in a theater? Absolutely. However, being as there is no revival theater in Indianapolis, this was not the possible. And how many great prints of Contempt work there way around the United States each year. I would guess less than a handful, though I admittedly have not done the research. But without the abundance of choices, including Netflix, Turner Classic Movies and others I would simply not have seen nearly any of the movies that I found so moving in the past year.

This does not neccessarily spell death and doom for theaters. These other avenues of seeing classics and newer movies can drive a person back to the theaters. For me, it wasn't till recently that I had a love for films rekindled. And if i had to pinpoint when that happened I would say it was probably exactly at the madison scene in Band of Outsiders, which almost as if to illustrate one of Denby's points, can be scene online here. It was after this, that I started devouring as many films from the French New Wave as possible. And then introducing myself to some by Jean-Pierre Melville. And when Army of Shadows a film of Melville's from the 1960's finally saw US release, I made sure to see it when it came to Key Cinemas on the south side. And it turned out to be one of the best filmgoing experiences I have ever had. And it's something that may have just passed under my radar were it not for seeing Bob Le Flambeur a month or so prior, in my own home, on my own only 20 inch tv.

Now, granted most of the films I have mentioned have been foreign, and not the Hollywood that Denby talks of in his article. However, still these drove me back to theaters in general where just this year I have already went to see, Children of Men, Old Joy, and Sweet Land. Towards the end of last year I was blown away by both The Fountain and Marie Antoinette. With any luck, I hope to see Volver today.

Thing is, when you see a great film in the theater, even when going alone it can be a communal experience. I remember a few years back going to see a documentary called Sound and Fury also at Key Cinemas. It was a movie documentary about some in the deaf community and the struggle some have in deciding weather otr not to get cochlear implants. I went to see it myself, but while walking out of the theater, I paused and watched two deaf people in what looked to my eye to be an animated conversation in sign language about the film, and I will never forget that. And if it's not something like that, it's the conversation that I have with a friend while leaving the theater or that I overhear while leaving teh theater yourself that gives me that sense of communal viewing while leaving a theater.

And thats why for as much shit as Hollywood seems to put out, it may be in transition as Denby states, but, it will survive. I mean even Denby himself stated, "And there never was a golden age in which art or great entertainment poured unremittingly from the studio gates. The majority of movies at any time are junk. From 1953, we remember “From Here to Eternity” and “The Band Wagon” and maybe “The Big Heat,” but not “The Redhead from Wyoming” or “Guerrilla Girl.” For most people, memory itself is a kind of revival house in which only the most vivid things survive." It's just a matter of finding the right films, and thankfully some are still being made. It's never as bad as it seems.

1 comment:

Tim Froh said...

I read the article, and I think Denby's got some things right (I'm shocked that I agree with Denby about anything), but he's totally wrong about how crap is made every year. While he's right, yes, lots of crap was being made in the 1950s (really, one of the greatest decades in cinema history, if not the greatest), but the studios were making so many films of all kinds that the number of great films to come out of Hollywood completely negated the number of terrible ones.

This is in contrast with today, wherein maybe two or three bona fide masterpieces emerge from the American cinema every year (and that's a nice estimate). While most critics are creaming their pants over movies like Babel or even The Departed (which I liked, but which pales next to many of Scorsese's other films), they neglect great genre pictures like Deja Vu (one of the best films of the year). While Children of Men is a magnificently made picture, no one will consider it a masterpiece on par with Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien in a few year's time.

As I've told you before, it's difficult for me to get excited about new American releases (and even the foreign films that receive American distribution, like Pan's Labyrinth), when the critical community itself can't see the forest from the trees.