Friday, May 15, 2009

It's been more than three weeks since i've even attempted to write anything on this blog. And a lot has happened.

One thing that happened was the Tribeca Film Festival. This year, it was streamlined, less films (not over 100) and there was a feeling of concentration. And it seems as if each year, the festival gets better and better. One reason is that the options for distribution and exhibition are in such flux, and people are looking for alternatives, and because it's relatively new, Tribeca is the alternative.

And the flux of the current situation cannot be overestimated. The economic downturn actually hit many nonprofits before the fall of 2008; there were difficulties with even many established organizations in terms of fundraising, and that has only intensified. And so (taking as two examples) the once Rockfeller Intercultural Film/Video program (which went through several name changes) is now part of the Tribeca All-Access program. And the part of the Tribeca All-Access which has a script development program (for "minorities") is now working in conjunction with the IFP. (And the other part of the script development program at the IFP is now part of the Sundance Institute.)

The continual changes in the field are sometimes bewildering, because it's not as if there aren't filmmakers out there who need help. The other day, Reid Rosefeld (on his new blog - wondered about the whole process of online marketing, and how in the history of film, there's always those filmmakers who never knew how to market themselves, but does that mean their work should just be ignored? Even someone like Robert Bresson was very canny about marketing himself. But Marcel Hanoun (for example) was a disaster at it. Last year, most people were impressed by "Frozen River", and that's an independent film which went through the whole process of development through various organizations (like the IFP) in order to go from a short film to a feature. And Courtney Hunt needed that kind of help. And now that most of those programs have been shuttered, what can people do?

And yet people continue to make films. And one of the things is that people are no longer looking to Hollywood. Movies like "Treeless Mountain" and "The Exploding Girl" (as well as Soderberg's "The Girlfriend Experience") are trying to find new ways of finding an audience.

But there's a lot: Tribeca and New Directors/New Films (also very good this year). A lot of people i know (those that still have jobs as film critics or curators) are now in Cannes, and there's been a lot of speculation about this year's festival. Will it confirm the downward trend of the cinema? Or will it reveal new modes of distribution and exhibition?

It's hard to tell, but i'm feeling optimistic, after seeing movies that i actually liked. But then i looked at various blogs and online film reviews, and i was flummoxed: what the hell are these people thinking about? It's like so much online is simply an assertion of taste: "i like"; "i don't like". But there's little reasoning why. And not only that, but there's no sense of a system of values which inform the particular taste. Why is this film "good"? What aesthetic criteria do these people apply?

In the past, film critics applied criteria which derived from more traditional artforms: theater, literature, the visual arts, music. And there was a whole history of those artforms. But now, we are confronted with people who are barbarians, who seem never to have read a book (one film critic, who has been employed by an entertainment magazine for more than a decade, has stated that he never reads a book if a movie is based on it; he admitted he rarely reads books at all!), who've never gone to the theater, whose taste in music starts at Elvia Presley (if that), and who know all about "graphic novels" but have no knowledge of painting. And then they say, oh, this movie is good. But why is it good? What are you comparing it to? How is the experience of this film unique?

And it finally gets depressing. For example: i remember that the reviews for "My Fair Lady" were mostly laudatory in the daily newspapers, but the more serious critics mostly panned it. And the pans for the movie were based, not on a platonic ideal, but on an actual film which was as much a Shavian ideal as possible. And Audrey Hepburn's performance was all wrong: she couldn't help it, but Audrey Hepburn was a lady (in actuality, she was a noble, since her mother was a baroness) and she couldn't shake that. But you can't explain this to people now, because all those distinctions are now (seemingly) moot.

But they're not, and that's why Larry and i are finding the BBC series "Any Dream Will Do" so fascinating. It's seeing these kids who are desperate for a show business career, and when most of them speak, their accents are so... uncultivated, to say the least.

But this year, "American Idol" has been fascinating, because there's such a back story. The Christian right seized on "American Idol" as if it were a referendum (they want to turn everything into a referendum) on gay rights. Danny Gokey was chosen by the Christian right as the hardworking straight man with the tragic past (his wife died last year), and Adam Lambert was the devil, because he was gay. Well: this past week, there was a vote for the final two, and it turned out to be Kris Allen and Adam Lambert. The Christian right could not mobilize enough votes for Danny Gokey.

Oh, well, it's true, the US is going to hell.


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