Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More on Manufacturing

Today on IFC TV's film blog, there is a review of the anti-Michael Moore doc, Manufacturing Dissent that I wrote about recently. First, a couple of disclaimers/caveats/what-have-yous:
1. The IFC TV film blog is one of my favorite blogs around. It's combination of snark and links to a variety of fascinating links makes it a daily must-read.
2. I still haven't seen Dissent. But, I'm willing to take the blog's word for its description of it until I do.

The review's overarching theme is one of dismissal. And for many of its examples-- the film's descrying of Moore's desire for money, his failings at Mother Jones-- that seems accurate. But, there are other more disturbing examples of Moore's behavior, such the interview with Roger Smith that wound up on the cutting room floor and faking his mic being cut off at a GM meeting, that the review similarly dismisses. A sample is below:
The slippages and falsehoods amongst Moore's films are unfortunate, but not a stunning revelation in these days of reality show techniques. That Moore's films are manipulative is not a new idea either — back in 1989, when "Roger & Me" made its US premiere at the New York Film Festival, Vincent Canby observed, gleefully, that "Mr. Moore makes no attempt to be fair." We can't speak for everyone, but we've always regarded Moore's work as a series of pragmatically entertaining and blatantly one-sided attempts to inflame a passive liberal population. He may be a blowhard, he may be a provocateur, but we don't think he ever made the claim for being a practitioner of journalistic remove.
Look, I am not pretending to defend the quality of Dissent, a documentary that I have never seen. But, to me, these revelations are stunning. While Moore never claimed objectivity, indeed reveled in his lack thereof, but I do think his work is greatly diminished, if not wholly discredited by outright falsehoods. His work, after all, always seeks to occupy a certain moral high ground over the subjects he attacks. Now, he has lost that. With these revelations, he is not the op-ed journalist his defenders claims he is, but something closer to, well, Geraldo.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Danger of the Digital Age

In an AP article on Wired's Web site, John Rogers reports that Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Entertainment and a company called Digital Cinema Implementation Partners are working on
a new digital film delivery system that, if successful, could give theater operators the flexibility to put a popular movie on an extra screen as quickly as the demand for it arises. At the same time, theater operators could boot out a surprise stinker and even book in for a day or two an art-house film with a small but devoted audience.
Everyone quoted in the article sees this as a boon for the little guy. Art house movies can be booked more economically and with greater flexibility. Imagine how much wider David Lynch's Inland Empire would have been distributed if he didn't have to travel with the prints from city to city like an old-fashioned record promoter (Lynch told me in an interview for the current MovieMaker that digital exhibition would have cut down on his costs tremendously).

These points are valid, I concede that. But, I view this development with greater trepidation. To me, this system could actually benefit the big studio behemoth more than the little-film-that-hopes-to-break-out. With the ability to add a screen without shipping a new print, exhibitors are more likely to elbow the little movie out of the way in favor of the latest blockbuster. In the past and present situation, indies-- the ones lucky enough to guarantee screen space-- could at least rely on screening for the week they had booked at a given theater. Now, they won't even have that comfort.

To me, there are two possible scenarios that could emerge from this and they are not mutually exclusive. The first is that in-demand will ghettoize more and more indies to the small screen, either through set-top delivery or other pay-per-view services or through Web sites like GreenCine. The second is that indie theaters like Landmark will implement this on-demand delivery as well. Then indies and art house flicks will be able to be distributed to more art house chains (in the foreseeable future independent theaters likely won't be able to afford this technology) with greater efficiency. In both scenarios, independent films will be relegated to niche exhibition avenues, making them less likely to cross over. But, perhaps more of them will be able to be screened. One can imagine a scenario where an art house chain used this technology to show several different films on one screen in a given day. The downside: less showings per film. The upside: more films shown.

But, the fear for indies is that art house chains will act like conventional multiplexes and use the technology primarily to privilege the bigger hits, not to give screen time and space to the more obscure titles. I would be hard to imagine a Little Miss Sunshine giving ground to a Kill the Poor.

Look, I'm all for technology that cuts down on costs of exhibition. That can only help everybody-- ticket prices for consumers (though I have my doubts about that) and distribution costs for cash-strapped (and even self-distributing indies). But, I'm just worried that this technology could be used to help those that don't need it at the expense of those who do.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Silent Choice

I read an interesting article in Wired about a resurgence-- well, let's call it a renewed interest in niche, arty circles-- in silent cinema.

The article is compelling on its own merits, as it describes the way that the Adelaide Film Festival in Australia is trying to recreate the experience of watching silent cinema, replete with an orchestra.

I think that's a great idea and sounds like a fun evening out. But to me, what prevents us from fully recreating the experience of watching silent cinema is the element of choice. When people initially watched a Chaplin film, they weren't marveling at his decision to forego sound. That's just the way things were. But, for us, when we watch a silent film with an orchestra, we are confronted by the absence of something-- sound-- and we can never remove the fact that we chose to watch a movie without sound, instead of the countless others that have it.

I'm not sure what the point of this is, other than to elucidate the difficulty of trying to experience something-- the Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis, FDR's fireside chats-- from another era in the way that it was meant to be experienced. Sure, we can recreate the details, but not the experience itself.