Fire In An Empty Theater


We must be getting toward Oscar-contender season, because the latest round of globalization-ruined-the-movies stories has already begun. Tracking the lost soul of cinematic art this time around is Lynn Hirschberg of The New York Times. As these sorts of lamentations go, this one is pretty good, but the heart of the genre will always be in quotations like this one, from an anonymous, self-tormenting producer: "Our movies no longer reflect our culture… They have become gross, distorted exaggerations. And I think America is growing into those exaggerated images. My fear is that it's the tail wagging the dog—we write the part, and then we play the part."

Yeah, buddy, that whole future-of-the-nation thing? It's all about you.

I'll revert to my previous statement, to wit:

Counting all the small-budget pictures, independents, vanity projects where Gwyneth Paltrow (our generation's T.S. Eliot) speaks with an English accent, and so on, there are more dialogue-driven movies being made now than ever before.

Just so, cineastes in search of fancypants American film are by no means going hungry these days: Kinsey, I ? Huckabees, Tarnation, and the like are all playing at a theater not far from you. (I give no props to Garden State, which takes my home state's nickname in vain and whose self-infatuated writer/director/star is clearly just trying to be the Bud Cort of the aughts.)

Hirschberg sort of acknowledges this with some kind words for Fox Searchlight, but still manages to locate the bad news:

Thankfully, the so-called specialty divisions of the big studios still try to depict the prevailing mood of the country. But consider a specialty film like "Sideways," which is the best American movie I have seen this year: it has no international stars and no action, and because the film shifts in tone from comedy to drama in nearly every scene, it is not likely to be easily comprehended by a worldwide audience. As far as the big studios go, "Sideways" is essentially a foreign film made in America.

Isn't the real news here that Sideways (which I haven't seen though I'm a fan of Paul "Pig Vomit" Giamatti) is getting an intelligently graduated release, and is now viewable, for example, even in that American Fallujah known as Pleasantville, NJ?

Link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily. Oscar® is a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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  1. Tim Cavanaugh,

    I think that you’re misconstruing the guy’s argument a little bit (at least as I recall from reading that argument yesterday); his lament about big-budget films concerns how they portray American culture overseas, not that America doesn’t make small-budget films.

  2. If we’re continuing the discussion, I’d like to point out that “Enduring Love” seems to be getting ignored, and I suspect that’s because it wasn’t put on the Critics’ Picks list at the NYT.

    …now I’m not saying it’s a great film (The book read like it was written for the BBC.), but it’s better than a lot of the drivel I’ve seen this year, Garden State being a prime example.

    Garden State, contrived pop psychology wrapped in a formulaic love story, was too good to be missed but “Enduring Love” is so-so? It’s the tyranny of the Times!

  3. I feel unsophisticated. I liked Garden State, maybe even more than Huckabees, which I thought tried too hard at a gimmick.

  4. Hey! Garden State was a great flick!

  5. “My fear is that it’s the tail wagging the dog?we write the part, and then we play the part.”

    He’s almost right. People find fiction that they like, then start looking for resonance in the real world. Not surprisingly, they find some, and assume that the fiction was correct in the first place. They then require even more exaggerated fiction to be entertained and the cycle repeats.

    This isn’t such a problem when Tolstoy is writing the fiction, since it’s worldview is truthful and accurate in every detail, but it becomes a problem when the likes of Michael Moore is trying to pretend his films aren’t fiction, and Rob Reiner is pretending his are entertaining.

  6. Say it ain’t so Ligon!

    I’ve learned quite a bit from you; I’ve quoted you! I feel so…so…disillusioned!

    Tell me you were with someone you really liked when you saw it; Tell me you were drunk!

  7. Ken Shultz:

    I was with the wife, and I like her plenty.

    There is this part of me that likes cheese, and there is this other part of me that likes anything that strikes me as different from Hollywood norms. This flick had the advantage of being non-hollywood cheese. It had faults (the last 5 minutes were completely formulaic and unnecessary), but, I dunno, I found the package as a whole … pleasant.

    To preserve any shred of esteem you may be clinging to, let’s agree never to discuss music …

  8. Ever notice how people who whine over the decline of cinema never think to actually finance the kind of film they want to see? Someone else is always expected to put up the money.

  9. Not to piss and moan, but Sideways, Huckabees, Kinsey, Tarnation (hmm … unsure about Garden State) have all thus far bypassed the 18 screens in my somewhat out-of-the-way NorCal town.

    Sigh. I think it’s a question of demand, not supply.

  10. “Isn’t the real news here that Sideways (which I haven’t seen though I’m a fan of Paul “Pig Vomit” Giamatti) is getting an intelligently graduated release, and is now viewable, for example, even in that American Fallujah known as Pleasantville, NJ?”

    Hey, I think Fallujah residents would take offense to that remark – they probably have better schools.

    Anyway, according to the map, the movie’s showing at the old Shore Mall complex. Though that area’s seen better days, it still doesn’t really count as Pleasantville – more like a Northfield adjunct. Now if they showed it at a theater along Route 9 – provided someone was crazy enough to build one – you might have a point.

  11. Eric II, you busted me trying to bamboozle the out-of-staters. Though the Shore Mall complex is technically in Pleasantville, everybody who truly knows the sights and smells of that metropolis realizes that the Mall is, as you say, really more of an adjunct of Northfield-the American Samarra.

  12. Garden State was supposed to make me laugh, and it did make me laugh, and it made me laugh for the intended reasons. That alone puts it in the top 10% of this year’s comedies.

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