In the age of COVID, we’ve had to rethink everything. And with home viewing becoming even more dominant as theaters close, the question has arisen: what exactly is a movie?
Experts and manufacturers have focused this debate on streaming versus cinemas. But artists see things that most people forget, so Martin Scorsese in the March issue of Harper’s asked, “What is cinema? Which is not the same question at all.
He writes: “The art of cinema is systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content’. “
He uses Federico Fellini as a starting point to discuss films as art. In the digital age, we’ve come to think of movies (and TV shows) as content, the same way we think of famous people as a brand.
Harper editor-in-chief Chris Carroll proposed the article to honor Fellini’s centenary, noting that his work is less well known than before. Scorsese pays a warm tribute to the late filmmaker and adds a meditation on the relationship between “show” and “business”.
His article raises questions. The film industry is constantly adjusting its financial plans, which is a major achievement in a rapidly changing world. But how do you put the spotlight on the great filmmakers and how do you educate young creative people who do not easily fit into the formulas of business schools? In other words, what do we do with the past and the future?
Our relationship with cinema has changed. Under business owners, studios began to see films as “content,” as did audiences. When we bookmark a movie to watch, our streaming service or website uses algorithms to suggest other similar titles. A movie becomes just another entry on our checklist.
Variety started fetching box office numbers at the turn of the 20th century; as a commercial newspaper, we have always approached budgets, BO accounts and auxiliaries. But the mainstream media have taken this approach, which encourages members of the public to see a movie as a commodity in dollars and cents. Does a review of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” not mention the budget?
What does this have to do with the Oscars? Nothing and everything. The Academy has always prided itself on reflecting what is happening in the industry and the world. And the changes since the 20th century are a big part of it.
Scorsese points out that it is now a landscape of corporate thought and too many entertainment options. He does not outline a plan of action; instead, it sounds the alarm bells that classic movies might end up being forgotten and overlooked in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” style safes. And he’s advising policymakers – many of whom are Academy members – that they should rethink their reliance on computer data, market research and algorithms.
“Cinema” can be hard to define, but this year’s top eight nominees seem to qualify, with high aspirations, serious stories and unique creativity.
In his 1968 book “The Empty Space”, director Peter Brook writes about “Deadly Theater”. He says in each season “a play succeeds not in spite of but because of the monotony … The right degree of boredom is a reassuring guarantee of a valid event.”
This also applies to film, and unfortunately audiences seem to think it applies to the Oscars.
Scorsese praises curation: “It’s an act of generosity – you share what you love and what inspired you. In contrast, “the algorithms are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else.”
The Oscars have always offered curation. Oscar voters say, “Out of hundreds of films this year, these are particularly interesting. “
But the public perception is growing that the Academy is voting for “deadly theater” films, so they are pulling out. In a column for March 18, I wrote about the growing gap between Oscar and audience: For decades, the winner for best picture was often the best soundtrack attraction of the year; However, over the past 16 years, the winner has averaged 47th in the annual box office ranking for the year.
For most of recorded history, people enjoyed only a few hours of entertainment a week. Radio, television and home recording have changed all that. Now our phones can keep us entertained 24/7. It’s a great luxury, but the downside is that we take art for granted. Something that seemed magical and wonderful now seems to be an option on a menu.
A few years ago, I was at the Louvre, looking at the Mona Lisa. An American couple entered the room and held up the da Vinci. The woman paused for a second, then said, “Wow, great, what’s next? She saw the painting and was ready to move on; the moment was simply something to post on his Facebook page. I’m afraid we all have a touch of this woman in us.
We’re the most entertaining people in the history of the world, so how do we deal with the endless glut of movies at our disposal?
Even early on, Hollywood executives saw movies as a commodity – they owned theaters and had to feed the pipeline regularly.
When you discuss “Mank” with Variety Recently, David Fincher observed that Henry Ford revolutionized automobile manufacturing by adapting Hormel’s idea of meat packaging assembly lines.
The first studio magnates in turn “tried to apply Detroit to Hollywood.” In a lot of ways it works, ”in terms of advertising, distribution and even star-making, he said. “But,” Fincher added, “when it comes to filming a scene, that’s where the regiment goes – what happens on the pitch, between the actors and a camera. You can apply all of these philosophies. and specializations, but the actual crafting is a bit more captivating and inspired.
And even in the heyday of the studios, executives knew that some movies could lose money, but they should be made – they were lead products.
In a 2019 New York Times column, Scorsese lamented how “modern film franchises [are] researched in the market, tested by the public, vetted, modified, revised and remodeled until they are ready to be consumed.
All the good points, but of course social media went berserk and focused on one line from the play: “Marvel is not cinema. And it is always dangerous to focus on one detail and miss the big picture.
This created a dilemma for critics. The last 10 Marvel movies average an impressive 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, even though the nation’s most revered filmmaker has compared Marvel movies to theme parks.
But some filmmakers can overcome the assembly line. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” follows Christopher Nolan (and his “Dark Knight” trilogy) and Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”) by taking a genre film and making it personal.
In 1999, Steven Soderbergh wrote: “There has been a change, in that the people who make stupid movies that make a lot of money are now treated with the kind of respect that was reserved for people who made good movies. … The rudeness was completely embraced. “
In 2013, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas warned of a Hollywood “implosion” due to the studios’ focus on blockbusters; Spielberg added that his “Lincoln” has almost gone to HBO, and serious future dramas appear to be on TV or will be gone.
Scorsese supports these attitudes, claiming that “everything is presented to the viewer on an equal basis”. Whether it’s “The Bachelor” or “Lawrence of Arabia”, everything is contained.
In 2021, we are redefining our relationship with cinema and all forms of entertainment. But all of our talk about the platforms and the blurry lines between film and TV are just symptoms of the bigger problem. What do we want the movies to be?
Our glut of entertainment got out of hand, but many aspects of our lives got out of hand. Like Scorsese, we’re trying to figure out what’s going on and how to deal with it. The filmmaker talks about Fellini’s “8½”, saying that “the film’s lack of resolution is just right, because the artistic process doesn’t have a resolution either – you just have to keep going. “
This is true for the film / cinema debate, and life after COVID. There is a lack of resolve and we should accept it, rather than perpetually searching for an answer that does not exist.
Some fear artificial intelligence is gaining the upper hand, but so far AI has failed to demonstrate the indefinable sparks of creativity that have fueled artists such as Fellini and Scorsese; As Fincher puts it, there are no such thing as “high and intense inspiration” moments for AI.
Artists and businessmen will get away with it, as they have for centuries. Business people may think they have solutions, but like I said, artists see things that others don’t.
In a March 1 Variety interview, Liv Ullmann said, “Real art can overcome any scary feeling we have. Art is more important than ever. Performances help you know what it’s like to be a human being. It is holiness.
We want this holiness and do not want to lose it, now and especially for future generations. And we don’t want holiness to become “happy”.