23 décembre 2008

Dargis high on blissful optimism

Dargis : "At the risk of sounding stoned on hope, I offer the following heresy: The movies are fine."
"In the Big Picture, Big-Screen Hopes" (NYT, 12-18-2008) :
Dargis : "There is, of course, perverse pleasure in ending the year with an angry rant, as I have proven in the past, if only to myself. But given the clanging of so much bad news, I thought I would try a change of pace. I’m not sure if optimism becomes me, but it sure feels nice. Every year filmmakers from around the world offer us stories filled with grief and tragedy that either feed our souls or rip out another little piece. I tend to fall for movies like these, but I also swoon for those filled with grace and generous sentiments, like “Happy-Go-Lucky,” that suggest that one way to face hard times (and raging driving instructors) is with an open heart and smile. Quickly now: give it a try!"

With so much Major Studio name-dropping, the NYT has turned into Variety! Does the audience really care if a movie was made by such or such studio? Is it the business of a critic to publicize these brand names in the Art pages? in a year-end article? This is corporate talks. Why should the interface with the audience (review publications) should lump them in this industrial jargon?
She prefers to save space with one-liner blurbs for her film picks, and share ample anecdotes on the whereabouts of her fellow publicists and the endeavours of Hollywood speciality divisions...
[EDIT : see comments] Let's remember the NYT is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Now it's easier to understand why AO Scott and Manohla Dargis want us to turn a blind eye on the current crisis in the Press, among Film Critics, in the Hollywood business, on the financial market... (listen to the year-end podcast!)

Dargis (podcast) : "As difficult as a year has it's been, as difficult it is in particular for foreign language film distributors to get their movies into theatres and then to get people into seats to watch those movies, the fact is that a lot of good movies continue to get theatrical distribution in this country."
Well let's take a look at the proportion of foreign movies in critics year-end top10s (mostly one or two years old), and the number of good movies sitting on the "undistributed list" appending.
Note that she doesn't mention the issue of foreign movies distribution in her article, it's a podcast-exclusive web-only supplement.

Of the movies she mentions : Paranoid Park (2007); Encounters at the End of the World (2007); Ne Touchez pas à la hache (2007); Une vieille maitresse (2007); Boarding Gate (2007); My Winnipeg (2007); Silent Light (2007); Le voyage du ballon rouge (2007); Still Life (2006); Duck Season (2004)
...is that really an achievement to be proud of for the number 1 cinema nation in the world? If a home-made blockbuster can be released simultaneously in many places all over the planet, surely foreign films deserve a better treatment than such quarantine. I believe there are lots of efforts to be made, and acknowledging them would be the first constructive step for a critical journalist to wake up out of denial.

Dargis (podcast) : "it's difficult to be optimistic when there is so much bad news, but we are right now in a paradigm shift in terms of how people go to the movies, how they consume movies. And instead of thinking of it as being dire (that the theatrical experience has changed), is to think of it as a change, a pure neutral change, and that we have to shift as a consequence. And it doesn't necessarily mean that the movies are disappearing or the movies are getting worse (which tends to be the kind of vibe that is in the air a lot). There is a difference now. Maybe if you can't see the movie in your theatre, you can catch it on DVD pretty soon."
Dargis and AO Scott are actually satisfied that foreign movies don't get a proper theatrical run (as every film made for cinema should get) as long as you can watch them on DVD... So that's the fatalistic conclusion from the leading team at the NYT? No need to worry about watching foreign films that are 2 years old on the small screen, we're telling you it's a "paradigm shift" you'll have to live with anyway. If I were American I would feel so comforted by such a voice of (Newspeak) reason. Numb down the mass with vacuous smooth talking until their quality requirements are standardized.

Dargis : "And so, dear (and hostile) reader, it is in the admittedly alien spirit of optimism that I offer you my 10 favorite films, and some thoughts about the year in film. Optimism, I should add, perhaps needlessly, does not come naturally to me. (...) For a lot of people both in the movie world and in journalism, this has been the year of eating glass, which is even worse when you know those who have lost their jobs."
Her opening disclaimer doesn't convince me the smiley undertone wasn't imposed from high up. (sarcasm mode on:) Film critics shouldn't care for social insecurities and grim fate... if filmmakers take a hard look at a struggling world with a pessimistic eye, journalists paid by big corporations should call them party-killers and clear up the mind of consumers to make sure the pull towards mindless fun remains intact at the B.O. Let's put a veil over our problems and keep on supporting The Entertainment. Thank you New Yeuk Times! (end sarcasm rant)

Dargis : "But selling movies isn’t the job of the reviewer, which is something I wish some of my colleagues would remember whenever they start moaning about how critics don’t have power anymore. As if making (or breaking) movies were part of the gig. It isn’t, and never should have been."
This is an important thought to be circulated by a high profile newspaper. That would have been a great quote if it wasn't contradicted by the overall sentiment of this complacently uncritical year-end article.

Dargis : "The big studios like being in the big movie business, but it’s rare that art enters the equation as forcefully as it does in “The Dark Knight,” the Christopher Nolan film that earned critical love on its release but is now being shunned by critics’ groups that seem to think complexity, self-conscious contradictions and beauty are exclusive to the art house."
I would rather look to Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights or Ashes of Time Redux to find Art in a mainstream formula. The Dark Night was alright, but I hope it's not THE epitome of "commercial art" or else we're fucked. Art comes a long way...

Dargis : "I’m keeping my fingers crossed that more specialty divisions keep afloat. Without them it’s hard to see how a modern masterwork like Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” which was released last year by Paramount Vantage — whose ranks were radically thinned this year — will be made."
Let's do like Dargis and leave this dire situation up to chance and cross our fingers until someone else wants to change something in that system... Finger crossing is the most outraged a journalist employed at the NYT could afford to go to criticize Hollywood! I'm impressed. No wonder more readers rely on the blogosphere to find reality check with real feelings.

Dargis : "There is, of course, perverse pleasure in ending the year with an angry rant, as I have proven in the past, if only to myself. But given the clanging of so much bad news, I thought I would try a change of pace. I’m not sure if optimism becomes me, but it sure feels nice. Every year filmmakers from around the world offer us stories filled with grief and tragedy that either feed our souls or rip out another little piece. I tend to fall for movies like these, but I also swoon for those filled with grace and generous sentiments, like “Happy-Go-Lucky,” that suggest that one way to face hard times (and raging driving instructors) is with an open heart and smile. Quickly now: give it a try!"
Again, ending her piece with a frown on people who would dare to feature anything else than self-contentment after all we've been through this year (of all recent years)... If Dargis happened to be laid off, like many of her peers, she's already preparing her reconversion as a publicist for euphoric blockbusters. (lame humour attempt)


AO Scott (podcast) : "I think more filmmakers maybe should take up that challenge. Cause it feels to me sometimes that glum and darkness is an easy way out, and sometimes the harder work of art or of film is to hold on to some measure of optimism or hope."
This is ludicrous. Was that a meaningful statement from an Art critic? from a screenwriting expert? from the proverbial "institutional weight" dear to AO Scott?
If you didn't believe they got an executive memo to spread "hope" to their readers... now you know. Obama's hope is grand to boost the moral in Real Life society. But why does it apply to the realm of fictitious creation too?


Sorry I couldn't show that much oblivious optimism without compromising my soul, that tells me the world we live in is far from perfect and that denial is hardly the way to make it better. We need reforms of the system, we need actions, not affirmations and positive thinking.

2 commentaires:

hmshore a dit…

last time I checked Rupert Murdoch didn't own the New York Times. Check you facts.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Hi there. Thanks for correcting me.
Last time I checked he did (but nobody corrected in my post on Conflict of Interest, 8 months ago!), but it was obviously a bad research on my part.
If there is no conflict of interest to explain this denial "propaganda", I'm afraid it makes NYT journalists's free-thinking all the more disappointing...