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Does independent film exist anymore?

So asks filmmaker Tom DiCillo of Roger Ebert, along with several other questions prompted by the financial failure of his recent, critically-acclaimed film Delirious after it was yanked unceremoniously from distribution following a perfunctory run in a handful of theaters. The discussion (here) illuminates the malaise that has seen nearly a thousand movies released this year, but only allowed me the chance to see (with a very few notable exceptions) the lousy ones that draw in the unwashed masses.

Because I don’t live in a “cultural center” I am not able to lend quality movies my patronage without bending over backwards (if I can at all). I had to drive two hours to see Lars and the Real Girl, a thoroughly charming film, nearly a month after its initial release while utter tripe like The Heartbreak Kid, The Seeker, and Fred Claus hogged screen space literally 5 minutes away. I’ll be waiting months for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and I’m Not There to emerge on DVD so I can watch them, and in the meantime the local theaters continue to run Hitman and Awake (14% and 16% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes). Stuff like Delirious doesn’t even cross my radar.

And yet I almost count myself lucky, in another way. Since I just moved to a slightly larger city relatively close to two thriving major cities, I’m able to see just a few more things. I still compare the theater slates between the city I just moved from and the one I occupy now . . . They didn’t get No Country for Old Men, for example, or Across the Universe, which I was also anxious to see a few months ago, and which came out here. And yet, when I go to the theater both here and there, I am taunted by trailers for movies that may or may not ever arrive. Juno, a trailer I have enjoyed in front of almost every movie I’ve been to in the last month, will not be opening here . . . not yet, at least. Atonement and The Kite Runner are anybody’s guess, and I’m sure Persepolis is right out (as, indeed, are all films of a foreign extraction).

When audiences have proved so often that they will sit through literally anything, why shouldn’t that something be worth seeing? It’s a silly question, I know, but there it is. In any case, here is what I propose for those of you who do go to the movies: Patronize the highly-rated underdogs if at all possible, and avoided the big-budget stinkers. If 86% of movie critics says it’s a lousy movie, for God’s sake, don’t go see it with everyone else . . . Yes, even if it’s the top box office draw of the weekend and your brother really wants to see it or your friends are all going. And if you just have to go, then balance yourself by going to the other one.

Example: Tomorrow the two new shows in town are Bella and The Golden Compass. I may be taking my wife to the latter sometime this weekend (with an eye towards reviewing it for myself as well, I haven’t read the book) . . . unless a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the low 20s or below manages to suck all the wind out of my sails. But my Friday movie is definitely going to be Bella, an indy that was released about a month and a half ago (well, better late than never I suppose). It’s kind of a bad example for what I’m talking about (it has gotten a decidedly mixed critical reception, and it may well turn out to be not my sort of thing at all), but you work with what you’ve got. For good measure I’ll visit No Country for Old Men a 3rd time, and probably listen to more belly-aching at the end of it.

I guess there are 2 problems with this post, as it stands. First, I’m complaining vociferously about something that is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. “Oh, if only this was all I had to worry about,” you’re thinking. Well, you’re right, it’s not exactly life or death, but nevertheless one doesn’t like to see one’s surrounding culture catering to the lowest common denominator all the time. Second, yes, I’m a bit of a hypocrite because I frequently go to the movies that I piously tell people to stay away from. I’ll just have to claim that as my prerogative as a film critic, albeit an amateur one. I go see things I’d rather not in the interest of being able to legitimately say why no one else should.

And that, for now, is all I have to say about that.

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~ by Jared on December 6, 2007.

4 Responses to “Does independent film exist anymore?”

  1. There’s no accounting for taste?

  2. No, there really isn’t . . . and that’s okay. There are some genres I like more than others, and everyone has their own preferences. That’s just how it is. But I’m not talking so much about the difference between one taste and another, but about the difference between having taste and not. I happen to be of the opinion that good taste, in movies as in anything one dabbles in, is worth cultivating. It’s the Christian thing to do . . . seeking out what is excellent (not nearly as subjective as you might think) and developing a love for it.

    A lot of Christians like to talk about cultural desensitization: to violence, promiscuity, profanity and the like, all brought about by movies and television. There may be something to that. But what I see in the church is a numbing of the intellectual senses. They atrophy from lack of use behind that shield of prudery which blocks everything that looks like a threat. Our faith isn’t really that fragile (I hope!), but we treat it as though it is . . . and the unfortunate side effect is that our taste tends to the “simple.” We are only capable of appreciating wholesome but shallow family-friendly fare. That has it’s place when you’re young, but everyone should put aside childish things at some point.

    The secular equivalent of this phenomenon is to avoid anything which appears to be difficult or dense in any way. People go to the movies only to be entertained. They switch their brains off on the way in. That’s okay to a point, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be entertained, but if that’s all it is for you, I guarantee your brain will rot . . . just like your teeth would if you ate nothing but cotton candy and never brushed.

    On the other hand, when you develop a taste for watching things that are enriching and enlightening, even if it’s more like a thick, chewy steak than a fluffy piece of cotton candy, you WILL be entertained. You might lose some of the taste you had for the cotton candy, but trust me, you won’t miss it and you’re better off without it.

    This isn’t really a topic that can be fully addressed in a comment. I’ve read whole books about it, in fact. But, in brief, that’s what I think. Not everyone is capable of appreciating certain things. There are certainly plenty of areas where I lack sophistication, film just happens to be something I’ve chosen to educate myself in. I don’t expect many converts, but I’m going to keep saying it because it needs to be said.

    In any case, I think it’s probably a little irrelevant for me to talk about that aspect of things here. The people who read this blog come in two (not mutually exclusive) flavors: My friends and people who frequent internet movie blogs. I’m kind of preaching to the converted, to one degree or another.

    That was probably a bit off-topic, but it was bouncing around in my head. More to the point, I still say it is reasonable of me to object to the fact that I am limited in my opportunities to see quality cinema because juvenile males of all ages would rather sit through 2 hours of some guy with a barcode on his head blowing stuff up or a bunch of ripped dudes in leather speedos carving each other into sections in slow motion while females demand a constant parade of kitschy, pseudo-romantic twaddle played out on repeat in the same insidious ways. That was a really long sentence . . . but I stand by it, and I defy anyone to tell me that there’s nothing wrong with this picture, and with the people who play a role in keeping things this way.

  3. That’s…a lot of text for an offhand comment. O.O
    I’ll give a proper response after I read it all…

  4. To your last paragraph, certainly, it’s sad that it’s harder for you to see the movies you like. Really, I like action films, and I’ve not seen anything I’ll like out, and doubt I will like anything until next year (maybe it’s because I like comic-book action movies, which feel like more justification than just blowing stuff up *shrugs*). I want my action to have at least a simple story, without gratuituous…anything, really. In some ways, that’s why I liked Live Free or Die Hard: I felt like there was at least some reasoning behind all the action.
    Also. leather speedoes for the lose, though I don’t know what movie that is…

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