01 septembre 2010

American Isolationism 2 (Rosenbaum)

Movie Wars. How Hollywoodd and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 2000

excerpt Chapt. 7 (continuation) : Isolationism as a Control System

[About Cannes film festival being snubbed by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein]
Rosenbaum : "The argument is that Weinstein dominates the stateside distribution of specialized movies - he's supposed to be the Nero or Caligula with the thumbs up or thumbs down p[r]erogative - but how he manages to maintain this dominance is discussed less often. Critics who call him the distributor most responsible for enabling us to see foreign films aren't doing simple arithmetic. Because Miramax picks up over twice as many films as it releases - keeping most of its unreleased pictures in perpetual limbo, shaping and recutting most of its favorites, and marginalizing most of the others so that only a handful of people ever get to see them - there's statistically less chance of the public ever having access to a movie if Miramax acquires it. (Why are all of Abbas Kiarostami's recent features except for Throught the Olive Trees available for rental on video? guess which one Miramax "distributes." And why did most Americans never get a chance to see either the color version of Jour de fête or the restoration of The Young Girls of Rochefort? Guess again. It's been speculated that one reason why Miramax picks up so many films is in order to prevent other distributors from acquiring them; if this is true, then I guess we're supposed to conclude that Miramax's profit motive is more important than the desire of many people to see these and other films that are kept out of reach.) Yet if you follow the drift of The New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, Variety, and comparable publications, Harvey's disposition at any given moment appears to be a useful shorthand for the overall health and direction of world cinema. It's certainly a lot easier to track than what a bunch of difficult foreign filmmakers have to say about the state of the world and what an unpredictable international jury - headed in 1999, as it happens, by David Cronenberg- decides is most valuable. So why not conclude that Harvey's mood is more interesting and important as well?"

Austrian critic Alexander Horwath, 1998, published in Movie Mutations, 2003 (cited by Rosenbaum):
"In the framework of film-cultural globalization two fake alternatives have evolved: the Miramax idea of U.S. 'indies' and the reduction of European art cinema to a few 'masters' who can transcend all national borders and dance in all markets (Kieslowski and Zhang Yimou might be two good examples. I am much more interested in filmmakers who speak in concrete words and voices, from a concrete place, about concrete places and characters. I like the image of the brothers Dardenne ... standing somewhere in the middle of industrial Belgium, looking around and saying, 'All these landscapes make up our language'. Next to the filmmakers we've often discussed (like Ferrara, Assayas, Egoyan, Wong Kar-wai, et al.) there are many more if lesser-known examples of such a kind of cinema. Their dialects are much too specific to fit into the global commerce of goods - in Austria: Wolfgang Murnberger (today), John Cook (in the 1970s); in Germany, Michael Klier, Helge Schneider. Or in Kazakhstan: Dareshan Omirbaev. And even in Hollywood: Albert Brooks."
Rosenbaum comments this excerpt :
"The fact the I recognize only the two last names in Horwath's final list gives me further cause for hope, but from the looks of things, the same evocation of untapped pleasures beyond the Miramax radar is more likely to elicit groans and consternation from the American press. The tension between art and commerce at Cannes has always been fierce, but in past years a certain amount of strained coexistence has always been possible. I expect it's still that way, but judging from all the American reports I've encountered from Cannes this year, it sounds like the art contingent has been reduced to the size of a pesky gnat. (Here is Variety's way of putting it: "If the Rosetta award was a jolt, things really got out of hand with L'humanité, a two-and-a-half-hour account of the slowest murder investigation ever filmed that provoked considerable critical derision from everyone except, perhaps, certain French critics.") The fact that this year the gnat bit Harvey's ass is apparently what's causing all the fuss."
Miramax and Harvey Weinstein were all the talk of the early 00's, before he sold it to Disney and founded The Weinstein Company in 2005... taking with him all the copyrighted material acquired and shelved away during the Disney supervision. Today, the so-called "indie" divisions owned by major Studios in Hollywood, which used to enjoy a certain success, critically (by pretending to be "independent") and financially (by seducing the public), have been gradually neglected or closed down by their financial supports. The indie bubble burst. Which left the field open to DIY filmmaking, with the poor achievements of "mumblecore" and "neoneo"... There wasn't any genuine Independent Cinema in the USA (not since New Hollywood 1967-1982), and there still isn't. There is a gap left empty between professional production (with huge budget and the complementary marketing machine) and the home-video (made by amateurs rejected by Hollywood whose highest dream is to mimic the formulaic Studio genres, only without the necessary budget and team of experienced writers). The middle ground, reserved for the creative liberty of challenging artfilms and modest genre movies, is totally vacant and inhospitable... And the free market makes sure it stays that way, so that indies, foreign films, amateurs don't steal a slim portion of their cake.
Sadly, American critics don't care in the least about this restraint of their film culture. If anything, they endorse this corporatist isolationism, by approving American distributors who don't find anything interesting to buy at international festivals or by entering the petty habit of bashing without any substantial arguments the festival selections and awards...

Janet Maslin's warp-up piece, in NYT, 30 May 1999 (cited by Rosenbaum):
"[Rosetta and L'humanité] two intense, painful French-language films dealing with hard lives in lonely surroundings"

"In any case, this was the year that Harvey Weinstein of Miramax declared war. Weinstein has long been galled by this event's elitism and its predilection for dull, irrelevent films and he thinks it's time for a change.
'There's something wrong with Cannes, and it needs to be fixed,' he said angrily by telephone from the closing night party. 'The luster of the festival is completely submerged. It's losing its place in film history. It has the potential to be so much more than it is now, the potential to be so much more serious and less political. I've reached the frustration point, and I'm not sacred to say so any more. [..] I feel a very sentimental attachment to Cannes, but I'm tired of begging. [..] I'm tired of fighting for obvious choices.' So he spent much of this year's festival stirring up producers, directors and financiers of his acquaintance. Maybe they will be able to offset the doldrums that are especially extreme. When the Variety critic Todd McCarthy fired off a salvo against overlong films of no interest to anyone but their creators, his column was more popular than most of the movies in town.
And if nothing changes? 'Then I won't come,' Weinstein said. [..]"
Rosenbaum comments :
"[..] I suspect an entire book could be written about the meanings of both 'film history' and 'political' as Weinstein understands those terms, but it's not a book I would ever care to write or even research. In order to contemplate the first, I suspect I'd have to ignore a good 95 percent of the films I care about the most and concentrate on items like The Crying Game and My Left Foot that made Harvey a lot of money. And in order to write about 'political' in contradistinction to 'serious,' an American yahoo specialty, I'd have to ignore everything I learned about politics over nearly eight years of living in Paris and London - an education that started with the premise that politics were involved with everything that improved the quality of one's life, society, and environment, not merely with the results of an election or a festival jury's vote that improved one's distributor's bank account. [..]

As a rule, Maslin during her visit to Cannes attended only the films in competition and a few high-profile special events, and often missed seevral of these (such as Taste of Cherry during the last year I attended Cannes as a critic). So what she described as 'most of the movies in town' was an expedient fiction that suited her temperament and inclination to see as little of the range of what Cannes has to offer as she could manage to get away with. (Truthfully, no single human being could comment inteligently or even intelligibly on 'most of the movies in town' when several dozen are screened daily.) It's also evident that she had little desire to hang out with critics more interested and knowledgeable about movies than she was, because this might make her at least faintly aware that she might be missing something. [..]"
David Cronenberg replies to Harvey Weinstein in the French press (Libération, 2 June 1999) (cited and translated by Rosenbaum):
"You have to understand that Cannes has become an insult to the Americans. They find this festival marvelous and they want to make it their own. And since they haven't succeeded in taking it over, they've begun to hate it. They say that the festival has lost its reason for existing, that it's 'irrelevent'. that's a wonderful word for the films we've chosen. What does it mean? I believe that's the way Harvey Weinstein, the boss of Miramax, put it. I'd love for him to explain to me what makes Shakespeare in Love more relevant than Rosetta. What does it mean that a feel-good comedy set in Elizabethan England represents for him an artistic film whereas Rosetta lacks relevance?"
Weinstein, and all Hollywood, think they can bully their way to the box office. They sure do a good job at home, by discrediting and demonizing foreign culture, to make sure the American audience won't ever get the envy to watch anything non-American. And the MPA does everything in its power to shoot down any attempt by foreign markets to protect their own local culture (with quotas), which would steal a portion of market share from Hollywood's deserved hegemony. Weinstein wasn't the only one who bullies his colleagues and the rest of the industry's minions (journalists, media coverage, distributors, American programmers, producers, readers, audience...) into boycotting Cannes, or other festivals defending a non-commercial counter-culture. Every year we see the same attitude from the American delegation... The only difference with the Weinstein-Rosenbaum years (featured in this book), is that today, the critics are doing the job in behalf of these frustrated producers who would like Cannes to lick their boots. Critics seek to destroy the growing festival circuit existing today, because it is taking a competing role on the world stage against the Hollywood domination. Forget about the independence of the press (just like the independent cinema never existed), forget about the CRITICAL RESPONSIBILITIES, forget about "ethics", forget about the welcoming of World culture... American critics are irrelevant! And they will make sure to change the definition of "irrelevant" to reverse the situation and call their detractors that instead.

- You are irrelevant!
- No, you first!

Sad... so sad.

Rosenbaum : "At the beginning of most movies, including quite a few bad ones, there's a period of grace when exciting possibilities still hover. The same feeling of both mystery and potentiality presides at the beginning of film festivals - the titles, directors, actors, countries, and catalogue descriptions portend all sorts of things. Disappointment generally follows when the promises aren't kept and the anticipatory dreams go unfulfilled, except for those interesting occasions when expectations get revised on the spot (or a few days afterward) and unforeseen pleasures start to emerge. More often, the exciting possibilities gradually become narrowed down into familiar, shopworn routines - the kind that our experts inform us are the only sure-fire things that sell (except for when they don't). [..]"


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