22 juillet 2011

Weak's Cutoff : No Cinephilia

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle, 17 April 2011): "Meek's Cutoff [..] Of course, it had to be as director Kelly Reichardt presents it here: quiet. Nothing around for miles. And boring. Ay, there's the rub. Boring. Probably no more realistic film has ever been made about Americans off to settle the West, and so "Meek's Cutoff" cannot be dismissed. But oh, if only there were a story here to latch onto, something, anything. [..] Lacking that, for all the integrity of its details and a good central performance by Michelle Williams, this film becomes excruciatingly, brain-fryingly and consciousness-losingly dull. [..] [Reichardt] She has the setting, the approach, the attitude and the vision, but she ducks the most difficult and necessary requirement of narrative art, which is the narrative itself. As it stands, "Meek's Cutoff" could have made a brilliant 12-minute short." [see Europe is too different]
Dan Kois (NYT; 1st May 2011): "As a viewing experience, “Meek’s Cutoff” is as closed off and stubborn as the devout settlers who populate it. (“Pleasureless,” raved David Denby of The New Yorker! “There is not much action,” noted A. O. Scott of The Times!) By the end, I could sympathize with the settlers’ exhaustion; I felt as if I’d been through a similarly grueling experience. Which is to say, it affected me viscerally, and I’ve found myself thinking about it over and over since. But during the time I actually watched the film, I had trouble staying planted in my seat with my attention focused on the screen, as the long dissolves from one wind-blasted plateau to another sent my thoughts blowing in a dozen directions.
As a viewer whose default mode of interaction with images has consisted, for as long as I can remember, of intense, rapid-fire decoding of text, subtext, metatext and hypertext, I’ve long had a queasy fascination with slow-moving, meditative drama. [..]
But while I’m grateful to have watched “Solaris” and “Blue” and “Meek’s Cutoff” and “The Son” and “Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)” and “Three Times” and on and on, my taste stubbornly remains my taste." [See Dan Kois syndrome 1-2]
Neil Young (Project:New Cinephilia, 25 may 2011): "[..] one shouldn’t feel like some kind of heretic for pointing out that, say, Meek’s Cutoff is a waste of everyone’s time, effort and money. [..] why traipse out to a moviehouse to see Meek’s Cutoff (say), when we can stay home and watch a John Ford or, for the less “scrupulous”, Meek’s Cutoff itself via the alluringly larcenous magic of filesharing." [See Project: Validating Indulgent Movie Fandom]

Hard facts for the "cultural arbiters" living in truthiness :

Facts 2010 USA UK France
Population (million)
395473651 5478
Screens per million population
126 58 84
Titles distributed
560 503 575
Average screens per title distributed
70.6 7.2 9.5
Admissions (million)
Admissions per capita
Average admission fee ($)

These figures speak for themselves. The USA is a larger population, with more screens, with more screens per inhabitant, with more admissions, with a greater movie-going frequency amongst the general population, with more screens available per film distributed (70.6 !!!). So far it seems like the USA is a country more "cinephilic" (more moviegoing at least) than any other country... until we look in the details what kind of films Americans are screening/watching in mass, and it's not the artfilm sector that benefits from this affluence.
*If* moviegoers in the USA were as "cinephile" as other nations (and not more) the admissions for artfilms should be greatly superior to those of the UK or France by sheer mass of an overwhelming movie business. The USA could be less cinephilic and still manage to sell as many artfilm admissions as France, because the total turnout is so much greater, but that's not what we see. 
Sadly, and against all logical statistics, the USA manages to score lower than countries 5 times smaller than its size!
Even for American-made artfilms, such as Meek's Cutoff or Tree of Life (which scared the hell out of Dan Kois and Neil Young). How can you score last with such a headstart (statistical advantages)??? How can you be beaten by foreign markets for the exploitation of your own domestic films??? How afraid are you of "niche distribution" to neglect your home auteurs???
The USA could save 6000 of their 40000 screens exclusively for artfilms and world cinema, that's nothing, not even 7% of their total available screens. And it would be over 100% of total commercial screens available in France or the UK! That would not hinder the business of Hollywood flicks in a noticeable way, and it would give to the USA the largest arthouse circuit in the world, something to be proud of. Nah. They can't spare even 1% of their commercial screens! They give between 1 or 6 screens to foreign artfilms and exceptionally, for an American-made artfilm, they dedicate a measly 200 screens... as if they didn't want artfilms to spread too wide in the American culture. Nothing to feel proud about for American distributors, American audience, and American critics.

Theatre Screens harboring "slowish movies" (incomplete data for films still running)
How come there are more screens in the UK and France opening for American artfilms like Meek's Cutoff, Tree Of Life and Somewhere than in the USA??? while there are LESS total screens, LESS screens available per film distributed, and the general population is going less to the movies per year in the UK and France. See a chart with more film titles in American distribution here.
Screen statistics will not automatically translate in box office success... it only means how accessible are the films nationwide, how wide the exhibition circuit is exposing the films. In France for instance (and in the UK to a lesser extent), the distribution and exhibition of artfilms (non-commercial) are aided through subsidies. So it explains why the distributors/exhibitors lose less money if the films screened are unsuccessful. But regardless for subsidies, the total number of screens is limited, and screening an unsuccessful film takes the spot of a potentially more profitable movie (subsidies do not replace a sold-out theatre), so it is always a commercial decision to give priority to aesthetic over entertainment.
There aren't even enough independent arthouse exhibitors in the USA to take the commercial risk to show  (internationally acclaimed) American artfilms to their customers... 

Spectators paying to watch "slowish movies" (incomplete data for films still running)
Now we can forget about subsidies, spectators are not paid to go watch movies they don't want to see (and the average admission fee is higher both in the UK and in France). The admission stats reveal exactly what people agree to buy a ticket for.
When we look at spectators statistics (admissions sold), it's about what the mainstream audience prefers to watch, so the low numbers are expected for an artfilm niche. A decent artfilm distribution never seeks to equal the mainstream entertainment BO, it will always be smaller even for a successful film and a plethoric exhibition, just because the reason (momentary distraction) that usually drives people to the cinemas is rarely to discover challenging film work. So here, no need to complain that the scores are lower, but we want to consider how much is TOO LOW for an artfilm niche? And what the proportion of the artfilm niche (domestic artfilms or foreign artfilms) should be within a given country.
America makes twice as much as the UK for Meek's Cutoff and barely makes more than France for Tree Of Life, while it should at least make 5 times more to match up with the same population proportionality.
Where are the American cinephiles who do not think, like 6 years old kids, that Meek's Cutoff or Tree Of Life is boring? Where is cinephilia in America? A couple of arthouses in NYC accepts to show challenging foreign films and that's it? How do you explain that??? What is the American "cultural exception" (polar opposite of the French exception culturelle)?

New "Cinephilia" = No Cinephilia

P.S. Except for Le Quattro Volte, none of these "slowish" American movies are "contemplative" in the sense defined by CCC. Just to be clear.

Source: Box Office Mojo / IMDb / AlloCiné / Screenrush


16 juillet 2011

South Korea - World Cinema Stats (18)

South Korea Facts 2010
Population : 48.9 million
Screens : 2003
Annual Admissions : 133.5 million
Admissions per capita : 2.9
Films produced : 152


14 juillet 2011

Slow Release

The elephant in the editorial room of American criticism...
(Films in reverse-chronological order of their USA release date)
Data source: Box Office Mojo 

Can't you see anything wrong in there??? This is absolutely ri-di-cu-lous!
  • Tree of Life : Cannes 2011 PALME D'OR!!! + American-made movie + Americana backdrop + English language + Terrence Malick cult status + BRAD PITT celebrity appeal = 228 screens (6 weeks of theatrical run so far) in a country of 40000 screens
  • Somewhere : Venice 2010 GOLDEN LION!!! + American-made movie + English language + Hollywood backdrop + Coppola namesake + Stephen Dorff = only 83 theatres (10 weeks) 
  • INLAND EMPIRE : Selected at Venice 2006 + American-made movie + English language + Laura Dern celebrity + Hollywood backdrop + critically acclaimed auteur + Top10 of the Year = 15 screens (17 weeks) 
  • The Sun : Berlin 2005 selection + General MacArthur + American history backdrop + critically acclaimed auteur + Top10 of the year = 4 screens (18 weeks) This one should be shown in every classroom in America for anti-war education!
  • Uncle Boonmee : Cannes 2010 PALME D'OR!!! + Critically acclaimed auteur + Top10 of the year = only 6 arthouse owners in the USA wanted to show this major work to their customers... 
  • Ten : Selected at Cannes 2002 + Road movie + critically acclaimed auteur (KIAROSTAMI!!!) + Top10 of the year = 4 screens (14 weeks)
  • Werckmeister Harmonies : Selected at TIFF 2000 + Film Noir + Partial English language + Tilda Swinton celebrity appeal + Critically acclaimed auteur + Top30 of the decade = 1 FUCKING screen (1 week) in the entire country ???
  • Yi Yi : Selected at Cannes 2000 + Child cuteness + Critically acclaimed auteur + Top30 of the decade = 15 screens (6 weeks)

All these (on the chart above) should get at least as wide an "arthouse-grade" release as Broken flowers (433), if not more, which is a mere 1% of available screens total. And the Tree of Life should not get any less screens than The American, from an aesthetic or commercial standpoint. But they didn't even get that... (the blockbuster treatment is about 3000-4000 screens in the USA = 10% of total screens) What the fuck is wrong with you guys??? The American distribution system is totally bankrupt.

These films are stereotyped as "relatively slowish". OK they will never reach the widest mainstream appeal of stupid comedies and children book adaptations... No argument there. And some of them have a very targeted audience because of a difficult subject, or pornographic images, or an uneventful nature, I understand perfectly that these only interest a very limited portion of the regular movie-goers... but not to the point where a country of 311 millions inhabitants must fit a niche of challenging artfilms lovers inside a dozen theatres... let alone a single one theatre!!! 
4 screens equal about 0.01% of the available screens, is that the proportion of artfilm-friendly audience in the USA??? This is not even a niche, it's a negligible fraction in statistical terms. The "cinephile community" in the USA is virtually nonexistent. 
If there was only 1 or 10% of the American population interested to watch artfilms, foreign films, subtitled films, challenging aesthetics... yeah that would be a marginal proportion next to the still overwhelming mainstream majority, like in every other country in the world... but I cannot believe there is no larger market than 0.01% for cinephiles who seek more than entertainment. This is depressing.

And these numbers on the chart are the "widest release", meaning the peak of maximum screens given to that film somewhere along its theatrical run... it never gets this many screens every week it's playing, be it 30 weeks (in the best case) or only 1 (pity distribution). Since American distributors don't have the balls to take a risk for a film they believe in, foreign films always open on a couple of screens, and only if the opening weekend is satisfying, they might expand little by little to the screens outside NYC, to other cities...
In France the films usually open on peak screens, and then they drop screens as the turnout starts to fade out, because distributors take risks for films they bet on (yes the state subsidies also help), the risk to meet the kind of audience they deserve. And the amplitude of the opening screens is instrumental in installing the buzz around the film. If it is available on many screens, it gets more attention, and people believe that film is important because of its wide exposition and the trust the industry puts in it.

But, but, but... American cinephiles watch films on DVD nowadays! Really? Is that your best excuse? If you call yourself a "cinephile", you wouldn't miss an opportunity to watch Tree of Life, Uncle Boonmee, Poetry, Alamar, The Sun, Atanarjuat, Werckmeister Harmonies on the big screen! These are cinematographies designed for the BIG SCREEN. Yeah, yeah, "Direct-to-video" is the fate of the most accomplished  aesthetic designs... What a shame.


Do you really build your film culture on this mockery? Seriously, quit arguing about "cinéphilia"... you're not there yet. At all. Forget it. Get real.
How many reviews do you need to write about films that are not accessible to your readers anywhere??? How much self-indulgent noise should a Dan Kois make about Meek's Cutoff, a movie that is hardly pushed down the throat of Americans, in only 45 theatres (0.1% of available screens, while The Hangover part 2 gets 10% of them!)??? Are you out of your minds? A measly 45 screens of Meek's cutoff lost in a landscape of 40000 screens across America is what scares the shit out of you??? Let the "slowish films" in peace! will you? They do not deserve this amount of exaggerated hostility, they are not threatening the hegemony of lowbrow American culture yet.

We can notice that the English-language "slowish artfilms" get automatically more screens than their non-American counterparts. This is normal. Even at equal quality, the native language, the familiar actors will always draw more local audience. We expect the discrepancy, to a certain extant... But giving systematically 1 to 6 screens to "challenging foreign films" is a disgrace, plain and simple, especially in the country owning the LARGEST number of screens on the planet (more than China and India!).
How come they have less room for these films than France, a country 5 times smaller in population and with 7 times less screens (5426 screens total = 14% of USA total)? This is laughable. This is national isolationism at its worst (because it is not enforced by a repressive regime, it is entirely VOLUNTARY!). This is an insult to world cinema. Especially when the rest of the world opens more than half of its screens to the lamest Hollywood blockbusters all year long, providing twice as much revenue to the USA than Hollywood's own distribution at home. But America does not give back. Yes, a handful of screens at the time for the cream of the crop of world cinema, almost out of spite.
That's what the ungrateful America does. And American critics don't give a fuck, as we can read every week in the American press. For how much longer will the world endure this cultural embargo?

Meanwhile an ill-conceived patchwork posing as a slowish film such as The American gets projected on 2833 screens (7%)! It is just as slowish, wordless, uneventful, "boring" as the others on this list... Are you suggesting that Clooney alone makes all the difference to overcome the American-brewed aversion for "non-speedy cinema"? Does he get such a bigger appeal than Brad Pitt in Tree of Life? This is bullshit. 

If most of these films are objectively hard to market to the regular movie-goer, it is not the case of them all. Poetry, Certified Copy, Winter's Bone, La niña santa, Ten, Yi Yi are perfectly identifiable "melodramas". You cannot invoke obscure cerebral inability to explain why American viewers are doomed to doze off in front of these films. Being lazy, unfocused, distracted, tired is no excuse to refuse to discover some of the best films made in recent years, across all genre and categories. They are magnificent and their story is certainly emotional in the most accessible way. Don't tell me there are only a few thousands people willing to watch these films throughout America! This is a big fat joke and you know it. 

How could you call yourself a "critic", let alone a "cinéphile", and not be moved by this situation, and move you to dedicate your job of film critic to the education of American film culture until this kind of films start to get the respect they deserve???
This country and it's so-called "film culture" is hopeless...


12 juillet 2011

Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse (Has)

Colloque "Jean Potocki. Pérégrinations" (Semaine Polonaise) à l'Université Toulouse II Le Mirail, le 14-15 avril 2011

04 juillet 2011

A quoi servent les festivals de film? (2007)

Dans le cadre du festival ParisCinema 2007, Avec:
  • Gilles Jacob (Festival de Cannes)
  • Marco Müller (Mostra de Venise)
  • Giorgio Gosetti (Festa del cinema de Roma)
  • Margaret Menegoz (Les Films du Losange, présidente d'Unifrance)
  • Vincent Maraval (Wild Bunch)
  • Thomas Sotinel (Le Monde)
  • Marc Voinchet (France Culture)
"Film de festival" (JB Thoret, Libération, 7 Février 2007) = cinéma d'auteur pour grand public, cinéma populaire intelligent, film d'auteur académique (raté), film d'auteur porteur, film d'auteur à vocation commerciale...

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01 juillet 2011

Subjective, subversive, sensationnelle, cinglante

"[..] Nul doute qu'une certaine critique exigeante, longue et analytique est aujourd'hui menacée aux Etats-Unis. Kent jones le constate dans 'Physical Evidence' [2007] : 'La communauté des spectateurs de cinéma qui lisaient les critiques de Pauline Kael a disparu, laissant place à une pluralité d'enclaves [..] dans l'ombre d'une culture de consomation en apparence monolithique.' [..]
D'où vient leur importance, qui justifie de les extraire de leur support et de l'actualité qui les a portés? Moins mêlés de réalisation que sa sœur française (excepté Jonas Mekas ou Paul Schrader), la critique américaine s'est animée à la puissance industrie de la presse avant de côtoyer les départements de cinéma des universités qui fleurirent dans les années 70. Le développement des études cinématographiques a exalté son geste subjectif et préscripteur. En Amérique, la philosophie du cinéma (enseignée à Harvard par Stanley Cavell 20 ans avant les cours de Deleuze à Vincennes, 1963) eut la particularité de partir de notre expérience des œuvres et de leur impact dans nos vies. En quoi elle hérite de pratique critiques qui réfléchissaient l'héritage déposé dans cette culture commune cristallisée autour de l'expérience du film. Un geste critique à la fois esthétique et politique, de revendication et de contestation du 'sens commun'. [..]
La 'rupture avec le réalisme de l'écran de cinéma' atteint des sommets chez Chaplin, qui créa une existence séparée, 'vivant à l'écran des ses propres énergies'. [Gilbert] Seldes se dressait contre une tendance aux 'froncements de sourcils' de la critique qui dénigrait les productions nationales et tout ce qui est populaire. L'intelligentsia n'e fut pas avare. Cavell y voit une spécificité américaine: une tendance à dénier son apport à la culture mondiale qui, avec le cinéma, bousculait les catégories d'art noble et d'art vulgaire, suscitant des positionnements philistins et anti-intellectualistes plus violent qu'ailleurs (Qu'est-ce que la philosophie américaine? 2009) [..] Cherchant les raisons de la mésestime des films de femme, [Molly] Haskell [1977] accuse la 'nostalgie de la boue, du cran et de la bagarre' des critiques new-yorkais. [..]
La célébration de la critique comme genre littéraire se paie au prix d'une décontextualisation gênante. [..]
Politique des auteurs, de l'égo ou du sens commun
[..] Kael a porté à incandescence les grandeurs et les faiblesses de la critique américaine. [..] Elle poussa l'anti-intellectualisme jusqu'à la caricature, cultivant son image de Californienne étrangère aux modes du microcosme new-yorkais (Antonioni, L'année dernière à Marienbad). [..] Elle se fait le porte-parole des instincts (forcément justes) du grand public. [..]"
Elise Domenach; Honneur à la critique américaine! (Positif, n°604, juin 2011)

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