Sunday, March 05, 2006

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Don't know what happened to my profile, etc. Tried to click onto my blog and all that was gone. Hmmm….

Anyway, yesterday was a great day. I had a wonderful time. It was the last day of the panel, and the experience (as these experiences always are) was genuinely illuminating. But (as noted) can't really discuss this until at least April (I think).

After the panel concluded, went and met my friend Jeff Lunger. Looked at parts of a project he's working on, then we went and had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. The evening was delightful, but it reinforced the sense of isolation I've been feeling, being in Brooklyn.

After such a "high", as was my wont in terms of my (mildly) manic-depressive personality, today I crashed. Felt totally wiped out. Watched the Independent Spirit Awards. Usually, the Spirit Awards are a little depressing, because there's always a sweep: one year, it's "In the Bedroom"; one year, it's "Memento"; one year, it's "Far from Heaven". And usually that film wins in most of the major categories. But this year, the Spirit Awards really spread it around. It was a pretty good show, with some moments of real pathos (the winners of the "Truer Than Fiction" Award were Garrett Scott and Ian Olds, and when Olds went up to accept the award, he announced that Garrett Scott had died just three days ago of a heart attack, at the age of 37), and some moments of wild humor (Felicity Huffman's acceptance speech was one of the funniest in a long time). On George Robinson's blog ( he writes about some of the films in the Rendezvous With French Cinema series. Stephane Brize's film (which he liked) was one which I didn't get to see, but I agree with George's assessment of Laurent Cantet's "Vers le sud". A brilliant film about sex and money.
On George's blog, he explains why he named his "Cine-journal"; the reason for the name "Documents on Art & Cinema" was that "Art & Cinema" had been a publication that Larry and I edited in the 1980s. There were only a few issues, but we tried to create a journal which would really deal with a subject in depth, so that there was an issue devoted to Japanese cinema, an issue devoted to feminist performance and film, etc.

Watching "Jane Doe: The Harder They Fall" on the Hallmark Channel. Larry and I have a fondness for these mysteries. All those people who used to work on the "Perry Mason" TV movies, and on shows like "Matlock" and "Diagnosis: Murder" (Dean Hargrove, Joyce Burditt, et al) are once again being employed to come up with these made-for-TV mysteries. Watching these shows, there are always people in them who have been around for a while. This one has (among the guest stars) Helen Slater, Dorian Harewood, and Erica Gimpel. Dorian Harewood and Erica Gimpel are examples of people who were caught in the schism in terms of Hollywood and race. Erica Gimpel played Coco in the TV series "Fame" (the part played by Irene Cara in the movie). She was on for about three seasons, then left. I remember James Wolcott (when he reviewed "Fame" in The Village Voice), calling her "one of the most beautiful women on television", but being a beautiful black woman in show business in the 1970s and 1980s was almost worse than nothing. Lonette McKee never even had a chance at a career. In the current climate in Hollywood, the assumption is that "racism" is now a thing of the past. It's like, this year, they made sure that there was a major nomination for black talent (Terrence Howard in "Hustle & Flow"), which is certainly justifiable, but it's also a sop. Hollywood likes nothing more than to be able to forget its injustices: the fact that now, many black actors have been able to sustain their careers (Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman) doesn't mean that the careers of Paul Robeson, Juano Hernandez, Rex Ingram, Canada Lee, and many others weren't blighted and negated.

But it's a situation where, in Hollywood, there's always a pecking order. Now, blacks have been given a place at the table (but notice, this has not actually caused a change in terms of studio executives, "creative" personnel, and so on). However, the black talent that's out there must still meet with the same pool of (overwhelmingly) white executives, writers, directors and producers, and the black talent must conform their projects to the specifics of the readily available stereotypes. (Samuel L. Jackson is the scowling, angry black man; Denzel Washington takes over Sidney Poitier's mantle as the noble black man; Morgan Freeman is the new Rex Ingram, the black man as sage; etc.) It's for this reason that someone like Tyler Perry, crude as his filmmaking technique may be, fills a need; by working "independently", he's able to put whatever "vision" he wants onto the screen.

But this problem of a stagnant top structure, which is not responsive to "diversity", is everpresent in Hollywood. And it also controls the information that's out there. This problem has certainly been present in terms of movies and criticism almost since the beginning. Stanley Kauffmann once characterized this (and he said this in the 1960s) as the problem of inside and outside, that is, there are some writers who seem so bedazzled by getting "inside" information (usually fed through a web of publicists and press agents and handlers) that they try to write as if they were industry insiders. And this (of course) skews their judgement.

Today, of course, there was an orgy of commentators trying to handicap the Oscars, and the big comment was that, collectively, the five nominees for Best Picture "only" made $200 million at the box office. None of the movies was a real "runaway" success. Yet in the segment (this was on CNN), it was pointed out that "The Dukes of Hazzard" was a "huge" success, making $80 million in the domestic box office. Well, why is "Dukes of Hazzard's" $80 million a huge success, when "Brokeback Mountain's" $80 million (to date) on an initial budget of $12 or $14 million, is perceived as a "failure" (which is how it's being portrayed, because "Brokeback" hasn't "broken" $100 million)? Today, talked to both Gary and Douglas, and both of them wound up catching Oprah Winfrey's Oscar show. Douglas, of course, doesn't have cable TV, and his reception is always crap, so he can never "see" television, it's more like picture-tube radio. And they both did the same thing I did: coming home late at night, and watching the rerun of Oprah that's on after midnight. And they both said the same thing: who were those idiots? (Gary, of course, rarely goes to the movies.) The "idiots" were Diane Keaton and Emma Thompson! And both Gary and Douglas noticed the same thing: these people weren't even pretending to be "objective". Both (of course) are Academy Award winners, and both are members of the Academy, and can vote! So when Diane Keaton is asked who her favorites are this year, she suddenly starts babbling about Reese Witherspoon (Keaton excitedly explains that she directed Reese when Reese was a child, in a made-for-TV movie called "Wildflowers", and she's so proud of Reese, and she thinks Reese has become such a wonderful adult, etc.) and then Oprah (who, of course, has been a big fan of "Desperate Housewives") tries to say, oh, but didn't you think Felicity Huffman was amazing in "Transamerica", and Diane Keaton sort of stammers, oh, uh, yeah, I guess, I didn't see it. And when Emma Thompson is asked about any favorites, she gushes about Ang Lee, an old, dear friend (he should be, since he directed her in "Sense and Sensibility"!), and when Oprah asks what other movies Emma Thompson has seen this year, Thompson admits that she was busy (she was making "Nanny McPhee", she's a mother and it's hard juggling motherhood and career, etc.) and she didn't get to see many movies this year.

People who talk about the Academy Awards as if this is an organization which has some sort of canonical status as an arbiter of "excellence" must be nuts. But how did we get to the point where even the New York Times has been devoting daily space to coverage of the Academy Awards, and the Arts & Leisure section has at least three articles? The New York Times will no longer acknowledge the various critics awards (even though the Times critics helped to start the New York Film Critics Circle in the 1930s), yet they accede to the deification of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In the "indie" world, there's been such an outcry about the Weinsteins shuttering Wellspring. Like other people, I am disheartened by this, but I expected this! When I read (in IndieWire) about the various machinations of Genius Products, Inc and The Weinstein Company, I knew what was going to happen (wake up and smell the coffee), but why are people surprised when it does happen? Genius has been working to buy out the Sundance Channel's Home Entertainment unit, the Weinsteins have a deal with IFC Films, and The Weinstein Company and Genius Products bought Wellspring from American Vantage Media (which had acquired it from Winstar, etc.). You can see what they're trying to do: IFC has a cable channel, as well as a theatrical distribution unit; Sundance has a cable channel as well as a DVD line; Wellspring is a DVD distributor, with an enormous library of titles. In the "new world" of media, the Weinsteins are now trying to get television and DVD capabilities, in addition to production and theatrical distribution. It's a new style media monopoly.

Of course it's frightening, because it shows how vulnerable the so-called independent film movement is, and how easily it can be coopted and/or undermined. And the IFP/West was an example: the split with the rest of the IFP was done in order to "coordinate" more closely with the Hollywood studios. And this year, more than ever, the Spirit Award nominees were closely reflected in the Academy Award nominations. The IFP/West (renamed "Film Independent") is now trying to be a "player". But why kid yourself: how can you be a player when you're only a toady to the system?


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