22 janvier 2013

Self-Affirmation Delusion (USA Cinephilia)

The State of the "Art Film" : Why "Art Films" Are Thriving (Richard Brody; The New Yorker; 17 jan 2013)

Turd Polishing

Richard Brody of the New Yorker doesn't think the arthouse market is an endangered species in the USA, on the contrary he believes that it is THRIVING. WTF? Keep on polishing that turd! 

He wouldn't look at reality in the eyes and acknowledge that there IS some kind of a problem...
  • between the lopsided distribution of domestic versus foreign cinema in USA commercial theatre, 
  • between the distribution of American indies and Major Studios releases, 
  • between how many spectators watch the best American films (as voted by American critics) within the USA, and how many watch them in other countries in the world. 
People who call themselves "cinephiles" in the USA are diseased. This disease is called "Self-Affirmation Delusion".
Either they lie to themselves, and actually have no clue about what is going on around them (see the charts above about the ACTUAL state of artfilms at the Spectators, Distributors, Exhibitors and Critics level respectively). Nobody with a sane mind would consider these numbers "successful" or even remotely encouraging... But Richard Brody, maybe just ignores them, ignores the comparison with other markets from comparable countries in Europe (or in the West more generally), and with the rest of the world, or he knows and decides to lie to his readers, by spewing out a standard propaganda speech to keep the masses happy and comforted in their own superiority.

Positive Thinking (or Panglossianism)

Positive Thinking is a method that works well if you need a morale boost before a job interview or a blind date... to help you perform at the best of your possibility, to prevent stress from making you under-perform  But Positive Thinking isn't a miracle cure, it's only a placebo, it doesn't make reality go away, it doesn't make you perform above your own limitations. But what can you do when an entire nation is raised on Positive Thinking at a national scale, in political statements, on news channels, at school, at work, in commercials, in entertainment... Repeating that the USA is the BEST COUNTRY IN THE UNIVERSE is in effect the national motto  or more exactly a religious mantra. Keep telling yourself you're the best will make it happen. Not doing something about, not making some efforts, not reforming, not improving upon errors, not tracking your progress, not comparing your level with what best is found in the world... nah. Just repeating USA will ALWAYS be at its best is enough sweat. Keep polishing that turd together, until it's the shiniest that ever was.

Brody doesn't give a shit that artfilms (American-made or Foreign imports alike) are gradually and systematically becoming a Straight-to-Video commodity, that VOD will replace the default theatrical release (which was only exceptionally above 100 screens nationwide anyway). It's not the theatrical sales that are doing bad (at worst, it is stagnating), because people continue to "go to the movies" in mass, IF it is Hollywood-made spectacle of course. The only sector going down is the arthouse circuit. You can't blame that on a world wide bank crisis, a recession, or a massive transfer of viewing habits from the big screen to the home cinema. It is not happening for the blockbusters. Only for the arthouses. Why? Because regular movie goers, with mainstream taste, continue to ENJOY going to the movies, while so-called "cinephiles" have given up, and prefer to sit on their ass watching DVD or BluRays at home, watching their brick-and-mortar circuit of independent arthouses go bankrupt, shut down and die. They don't give a shit. And critics wouldn't even stand up to call for action, solidarity, support... Because they don't care.
Last year a bunch of bored hipsters took it upon themselves to put the heroic effort to push a petition button online to support Margaret, one out of a hundred American-made indie movie neglected or red-lit by Hollywood distributors (not even an outstanding indie, just one that is barely decent, that tries very hard to produce a Hollywood lookalike network narrative drama, a melodramatic distant adaptation of Cassavetes's Opening Night). What about all the others? What about all the world-class foreign films, much better than Margaret? Nah, that's too much effort. Besides they don't even think there is anything to be done... because EVERYTHING is GREAT.

In his article he seems pretty happy to boast about "The state of the 'Art Film' ", as if there was anything to be proud of... He's content to report that Sofia Coppola's next film will be released only in a handful of theatre, and, what a fantastic news, on VOD! Yeah, theatrical films are switching to being viewed only on the small screen, in digital form, and he celebrates! 

"In short, 2013 is already a very good year; we’re living in a golden age of cinematic quality and quantity, and distributors are—not unfailingly, but nonetheless diligently and courageously—making a remarkable range of excellent films available (even if it’s the ones that remain unavailable that stick in the craw)."
Failing distributors, yes! Diligent and courageous? Who the fuck are you kidding dude??? Since when securing a safe, limited release on a dozen arthouses, in NYC and LA, to test the water, see if it sticks, could be described as courageous??? Courageous would be to open The Artist on at least 1000 screens nationwide, long before the marketing momentum of an Oscar win. Opening it on 4 screen for 4 weeks, and waiting after the Oscars ceremony to raise its distribution to over 1500 screen, is as cowardly as can be. Opening the film that was voted number 1 by all American critics in 2012, Holy Motors, on a handful of screens (and letting it reach a whooping 29 screens after the polls announcements) is NOT courageous. Opening a Hong Sang-soo film on 2 screens across America, is NOT courageous. You're in total denial dude! 
Didn't you notice that even American indies get a wider release abroad? Have you no pride? Have you no shame? With close to 40000 screens, the USA has the largest theatrical circuit in the world! Above China or India!!! And yet, you let smaller countries release YOUR films on a wider scale than at home? Isn't it a definite proof that your distributors/exhibitors are totally useless? (See: Shut-in "Cinephiles" (USA) 1-2-3-4-5-6)

What is courageous is to select films before they have been released anywhere, like major festivals do. They put their trust in them, before any jury or critics poll or BO figures or Academy awards come in, they place a risky bet ahead of the business circuit, they grant faith to an artist. That is courage. Releasing A Separation, a worldwide popular success as a serious non-Hollywood art film can be, on only 4 screens, even though it was months after its success in Iran, in France, on the festival circuit... is NOT courageous! It's being AFRAID of risking money on something that already had a history of popular success. If you can even back this, then what? 

Sorry, I see no sign for self-congratulation there. No one in the USA is professing a voice of reason, offering a reality check to those self-affirmative pundits, telling things as they are, and not how the marketing propaganda would like their turd polished... 
Releasing high-profile foreign films on 1 single screen in NYC, just to get it registered in print in the New York Times, is not what we could call "courageous", or even "admirable" for the art film scene. This is a sham, a cover up. You can't lie to yourself and pretend that a WIDE RANGE OF EXCELLENT FILMS is AVAILABLE when it is de facto NOT AVAILABLE to practically EVERYONE in the USA except one neighborhood in Manhattan. Who are you kidding? Are you preaching to babies? Are you a baby yourself? What is it you think is going right in this scam? Hopelessly delusional.

Then he digs out an old article from 1992 (that he couldn't find anything more recent is proof of the silence of the press on this situation!) to show how the 80ies and 90ies were so much worse... I have a hard time imagining a worse level of commitment really... The USA is still dead last compared to any European country. So worse than a 5 screens release is what? Zero? Yeah right. Congratulation!!! The RICHEST country in the world, with the WEALTHIEST movie industry in the world, asks for applauds because they release world-class masterpieces on 5 screens now instead of ZERO. WOAW. I'm floored.

So Brody and his pal Roger Corman pat themselves in the back for this appalling distribution circuit, domestic-centric and entertainment-exclusive club. They even go so far as blaming THEIR FAILURE on the unaffordable price tag of European films... If Hollywood can't afford it, then which country could? Yet, the distribution of non-Hollywood films is doing pretty well everywhere, EXCEPT in the USA. Maybe it's time to realise that there is an unspoken CENSORSHIP going on here. Not by law like in Iran, but stricter than Iran's isolationism... WITHOUT AN OFFICIAL BAN... There is no cause for celebration to beat Iran at his own game. 
Even if it was true, that ALL European distributors ask for too much money (dude, do you really want me to check if ALL SINGLE major European films unreleased in the USA had a fee way above standard practice, only to find out you didn't buy them because you're too lazy?), it wouldn't excuse the USA to deprive its citizens from the best of what cinema has to offer... Sometimes you have to pay the price, especially when you're the last country on Earth would should complain about financial problems. That's what happens on the art market, the highest bid wins the world-wide coveted painting! American museums don't scrap the spoils after European museums or Japan or China have bought out all the major artworks... they make sure to get the BEST, at all costs. That is the strategy when you seek to maintain the highest level of art appreciation in the world. If you want Kiarostami, you pay whatever he asks, period. You don't settle for "nevermind, we won't distribute it then"... If a smaller country with an economy 1 tenth of your size can release the same films, you shouldn't draw attention to this aspect. Cope out! Liar! 

Maybe we should organise an Aid concert to donate money to the penniless Hollywood distributors so they can buy our movies... Wouldn't that be embarrassing; they would still take the money I'm sure.

American distributors and exhibitors just didn't learn how to do their job, how to take risks, how to put some efforts to attract and build an audience. The full extant of what they can do is to rent a guaranteed blockbuster and watch the profits cash in. If the appeal is not immediately visible or if the carpet-bombing marketing didn't fabricate ready-made die-hard fans long before the release, they have no clue how to do their job, how to HELP a film, how to bring in audience that come in by themselves... How dare you speak of COURAGE???

" In other words, viewers could see something of the essence of the European art cinema in the Hollywood movies of the seventies. "
Bullshit! Stop lying to yourself. New Hollywood in the 70ies (10 years later!) was never on the level of formal experimentation and thematic transgression that it ever was in the 60ies in Japan, France, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Germany, the UK, Québec, South America, Yugoslavia, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil... IT was a shock for the puritan mentality of the time, but it was merely a Hollywood-lookalike "neorealism". Not to mention all these directors jumped right in the doors of Hollywood when they try to buy them out, and went on to become VERY COMMERCIAL, POLITICALLY CORRECT for-hire directors in Hollywood. We can't exactly say the same for all the independent directors in the rest of the world. Who are you brainwashing with such lies? Don't you think your readers know at least a little about New Hollywood and the New Waves in the world? 
Besides it's an excuse a profit-driven studio executive would come up with. How could a film critic with self-respect, would declare that since Hollywood stole all the good ideas from Europe (and applied them with much less talent or subversion), then it was A-OK to stop importing them. WTF? On what side of history are you? Even if Hollywood and Europe made films based on the same aesthetic and thematic (which is far from the truth!), it will NEVER make two films interchangeable, or films from one part of the world dispensable... Isolationism might be a political argument (at times), it is NEVER a cultural argument! Don't you defend culture wherever it comes from, you miserable movie-pages employee??? This is really disappointing...

" “The repertory houses died because of video,” but a new generation of movie lovers who are accustomed to watching movies on their computers increasingly go out to watch movies on the big screen, and—at least in New York—the repertory scene is booming."
What a delusional hypocrite! Why a megalopole such as NYC, with 20 million urbanite inhabitants, cannot outperform the arthouse ticket sales of a smaller country (including both urban and rural populations thus with a lower density of culture-driven intellectuals!) like Belgium, The Netherlands or Austria (each under 17 million population)??? I'd like to know.
"Booming" my ass! What a strong word, for an arthouse circuit that can't dedicate more than 5 screens to festival winner films... Totally out of touch with reality, using disproportionate vocabulary for marketing purpose and refusing to call for action to improve the disastrous situation. 

"On the one hand, the Internet makes it possible to get a discussion going—in effect, to force the hand of publication’s editors by making news news from the ground up."
Yeah sure! But where did you see that happening yet? Even your column is still on propaganda mode.

"virtual revelation of the ubiquitous director as “that man [or woman] behind the curtain” and the sense that the director was, in effect, on hand at the edge of the frame throughout the film, guiding the action and commenting on it"
That's his definition of what "European art cinema" is, the very guy who wrote a biography of Godard himself... What a joke! There is nothing else to draw from European cinema once you caught on with this trope. Nothing else! It's basically The Wizard of Oz, and all the formal invention, the intellectual reflection, the sociopolitical subversion, the themes, the stories, the mise en scène styles, the visions, the unique voices... none of this is WORTH distributing, as long as Hollywood can turn them into watered-down, pre-digested stereotyped remakes for domestic consumption. Yeah I would expect that mentality from an apologetic studio executive, not from a guy who pretends to write serious criticism in the New Yorker! 

"If the so-called art cinema has become increasingly important (and if Hollywood itself has expanded, radically, its aesthetic range—and it has), it is, in part, because the range of subjects at hand has expanded"
More delusional B.S. Increasingly important in the world, not quite in the USA though. 

"We’re seeing more American films that qualify for that loose term, art film."

"Indeed, the increased pace of production for Terrence Malick and other directors is due to the presence of congenial financiers who don’t expect something other than what the filmmaker intends to deliver."
Yeah, cause they are funded (or co-produced) by European risk-takers money!

"And while it would be familiarly silly to think that all is for the best in this best of all cinematic worlds, the range of styles and subjects, and of world views and experiences, that the cinema now offers is bewilderingly, dazzlingly vast—and the works in question are more readily available than ever".
Silly indeed, but it doesn't stop you from gushing out an hyperbolic, undeserved praise and feeding your readers with delusional propaganda. Vast it is not. I begin to worry whether you know the meaning of the adjective you use. But who cares? The American people is bred on Positive Thinking, and collective denial. So the press plays its part in feeding this delusion, just like another branch of the self-serving marketing campaign. There is no "independent critic" working in the USA today. There is no "cinephiles" in the USA today, if there ever was. If there were, they would take offense to such article, they would organise themselves and defend a dying arthouse circuit, instead of encouraging it substitution by video distributors!

3 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Wasn't it Godard who said Europe should broadcast not only bad American movies, but as well bad Turkish or Burmanese movies... ?

HarryTuttle a dit…

"The rise of corporate-sponsored cultural and educational activities — from bookstore reading groups to classes offered by the Walt Disney Company – to replace declining publicly financed opportunities is disquieting. Corporate cultural initiatives, even at their most alluring, have a totalitarian feel to them, in that they make it difficult to distinguish between true education and advertising. The propaganda of Stalinism may not be identical to the “educational” choices made on our behalf by global capitalism and marketing, but the two have traits and strategies in common.
When Disney holds all-day “seminars” about American Indian culture and modern animation techniques for grade-school children in shopping malls as part of its campaign to promote the movie Pocahontas, it is not necessarily disseminating propaganda. Yet the point at which education ends and propaganda begins (or vice versa) is difficult to pinpoint. And when teachers welcome such assistance, how far are we from asking Disney to take over the role of public education, thereby allowing the company to emphasize the “facts” that best promote its products?"

The Danger of Putting Our Cultural Destiny in the Hands of Business (Jonathan Rosenbaum; The Chronicle of Higher Education; 17 April 1998)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Overconfidence arises because people are often blind to their own blindness.
True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. [..]
In general, however, you should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this advice is difficult to follow: overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion."
Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence (Daniel Kahneman; NYT; Oct 2011)