Sunday, January 06, 2008

Year in Review ~ Part Deux

All right all right, I know what you're hear for. The Lists!

2007: Year in Review
Part 1 -"It's a Gusher"
Part 2 -Underappreciated Films / Special Citations

Read on for odes to paranoid hysterics, dog lovers, Danish eyeball fetishists and the depressing lack of curiousity found in today's movie-going audiences.


WickedScorp said...

I remember seeing the trailer for BUG way back and thinking 'what the fuck is this?'. The marketing campaign for this film, which held up its release, was ridiculously misleading... Though really, this is a film thats could not be campaigned through conventional marketing because the material is unique. It was only on your mention that I even took note of it opening theatrically here in Los Angeles. I saw it twice after being blown away the first sitting and at last saw the film recently. Though it lacks the claustrophobic genius of the live incarnation, the film does an admirable job. Kudos to Ashley Judd for giving herself into the material, though Michael Shannon really stole it.

Brian Darr said...

My current theory on shrivelling foreign film audiences: the increasing technical quality of American independent films. Good-quality equipment has come down in price, thus making it possible for a lot more merely moderately-affluent people to make films without big financial backing. As the films (especially the documentaries) they make look and sound better and better, (whether or not they're artistically/creatively better is another issue) there becomes a wider selection of American films that can pass muster for a theatrical release. Add in the fact that many of them can be (or must be) projected digitally instead of having costly prints struck, and it becomes far more affordable for companies to distribute American indies and indie docs than to import. These American independent films may not gross that much, but they don't lose so much money for their distributors if they totally tank.

Thus, fewer foriegn films get distributed, and more of the ones that do get confined to shorter and shorter runs in the few theatres that still want them. Why keep a high-quality European or Asian film that didn't do so hot for you in its opening weekend around on your screen for an extra week to build a word-of-mouth audience, when there's an Amerindie beating down your door for distribution that you can cheaply book. And the director speaks English perfectly, and can do press in the area without having to apply for a visa! Easy choice.

Once there's no longer a weekly theatrical release of a new foreign film in a market as supposedly cosmopolitan as San Francisco, how is the market going to grow? The audience is never really going to learn who Sylvie Tetsud and Tadanobu Asano are if they have to mark their calendars each time one of their films is scheduled to flit into town.

Of course, DVD is the other culprit but that's a well-known story.

Paul C. said...

Along the same lines as what Brian has said, the box-office success of directors like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, as well as the proliferation of prime-time "reality shows" has opened the floodgates for the resurgence of documentaries in the market. More documentaries are being distributed than ever before, which creates greater competition for the foreign-language films out there.

In huge markets like New York and Los Angeles, this isn't as big of an issue, since there are plenty of arthouse venues. But if you live in a small or mid-sized market like I do, there are only a limited number of screens for arthouse offerings, and most of the time they're going to book the movies that'll turn the most profit. After all, they're trying to run a business.

The people who visit sites like this tend to be ravenous and omnivorous in their moviegoing tastes, but most moviegoers- even those who frequent the local arthouses- aren't operating at this level of cinephilia. When they go to the arthouse, it's because they want something a little bit out of the ordinary, like going out for seafood rather than steak. Documentaries provide this for them just as well as foreign films (in their minds anyway) and in English too, so no reading necessary. When a foreign-langauge film breaks through, most of the time it's because it fits into a familiar genre- Crouching Tiger, Hero, Pan's Labyrinth- or because it generally reinforces our comfortable preconceived nations of what their countries are. Amelie had that whimsical French charm, Il Postino was all romantic and Italian, and so on.

As for Life Is Beautiful, what can I say? Roberto Benigni is, among other things, one hell of a hypnotist. Funny that his skills wore off just before he made Pinocchio though...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for mentioning "Year of the Dog" . It is one of my favorites of the year and I am surprised at the lack of mention for either it or (especially) for Molly Shannon. I usually like her a lot, but I loved her in this. I know that it wasn't to everyone's taste, but I agree with you that movies like this, those that really challenge people's sensibilities, ought to be more plentiful. Did this movie really turn people off that much or was it just not seen by anyone?


The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

Duh Nath, you know we love reading lists by people who hate other people's lists. =P

(And now on to reading.......)

Benji said...

Congratulations, Nat! After reading your article, I'm going to rent "Bug" first thing this week. :-)

Peter Nellhaus said...

I was disappointed that Secret Sunshine was among the several intriguing films NOT shown at the Denver International Film Festival. Then again, this is the festival that had a panel on film bloggers that did not include anyone local.

Anonymous said...

Re: foreign films; it's a lack of both awareness and availability. I've spent the first fifteen and the last ten years of my life in moderate sized cities and can tell you that art houses are few and far between; middle America is the domain of corporate-run multiplex chains. Unless a film is BIG, and I mean B-I-G (e.g. it just won the Oscar or happens to star a recognizable Hollywood face), it doesn't have a shot at being distributed out here, let alone being seen. I guess nearly everyone outside of NYC, LA, and any other large city are deemed to low and ignorant to appreciate anything produced in a different language.


well i don't know if it's a statement against middle america's intelligence. maybe it's just a reflection that they won't go to those movies?

on the other hand chicken and egg.

how do you know they won't go unless you give the films a chance?


oh and wickedscorp,

in my dream world, marketing is never misleading but people actualy get curious about unusual feeling pictures ;)

i mean I love TEASERS more than anything. i don't wanna know what's going to happen. I just want a tantalizing image or two and i'm good with that.

Anonymous said...

I also think you're not really considering the fact that many adults don't attend the movies anymore--they'd rather wait for the DVD release and avoid everything unpleasant about theatrical viewing (distruptive patrons, sticky seats/floors, etc.).

I'd say that a little over 3/4s of the theater going bunch now are teenagers, with teenage boys making up more of that percentage than teenage girls. The remainder of that equation is predominantly parents and small children. This is why films like Spider-Man 3 and Alvin and the Chipmunks rake in so much money while something like Atonement can't catch up.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone's made a lot of good points about why foreign films don't do all that well.

1. Adults don't go to movies anymore. Why should they when they deal with rude patrons, cell phones, overpiced tickets etc. When I tell people ten or even just five years older then me that I paid ten dollars to see a movie, the cringe they give me says it all. And if the DVD is gonna be released in four to six months anyway, why bother?

2. Difficulty marketing them. Some studios have come up with solid ways to market those more difficult gems (Sony Pictures Classics and Almodovar, the old Miramax), but the smaller guys have a tougher time of it. WinStar no longer distributes films and Shooting Gallery's unique model didn't last very long (and as a result I think they're gone too).

3. Tentative marketing. I think 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is a perfect example. The film was ready in May. So why wait until the FOLLOWING YEAR to release it? But they (IFC) did the one week thing (which The Lives of Others got too). What's the point of that? And it wasn't even a one week in LA and NY. It was just LA. Foreign films are only going to get adventurous moviegoers if they have a hook of some sort (Pan's Labyrinth's visual fantasia; La Vie En Rose with it's biopic world; The Lives of Others with it's 'surprise' oscar). The hook for 4 months would've likely been top ten lists (appearing on X number, more than any other film this [insert small print]). You do a one week release in one city, you're not gonna get anything of note. If 4 months actually gets the oscar nod/win it'll be well positioned, but betting on it isn't wise.

4. The proliferation of film festivals. I don't mean the ones that everyone cares about (Cannes, Toronto, Telluride, Venice, Berlin, etc). I mean the ones that no one outside the host city really recognizes. For adult film fans, these are perfect. Great audiences, interesting films, great pricing schemes. These film festivals are becoming the showcases for a certain kind of film. The downside? Generally only one screening per film. No chance to build word of mouth, and therefore, no real release.

5. Oversaturation of the multiplex. When you've got one film (Spiderman, Harry Potter, whatever) playing on four screens in one theatre, that leaves less room for the blockbuster-like/star heavy type films. So they crowd out the studio fare that would normally play in a multiplex (Juno, Into the Wild, and Sunshine are three examples of films that played at the arthouse theatres here). Three, four years ago I saw Lost in Translation and Before Sunset in the multiplex. That seems like a pipe dream now.

6. More competition. As was said earlier, American independents and documentaries are also competing for the same slots given to foreign films.

Now, how to fix it? Any takers?

Keith said...

I think there's a fairly straightforward explanation for the audience ignoring I'm Not There: It was a movie with nothing to offer anyone who wasn't a Dylan fan. And even "fan" may not have been enough; the movie was so crammed with allusions, inside jokes, and references to the minutiae of Dylan's career that if you weren't a full-out Dylan cultist, you were at sea.

Catherine said...

Keith, I went into the film as someone fairly ignorant about Dylan. I knew a handful of songs, plus the barest of life details (going electric/Christianity/motorcycle crash) which I'm sure most people would be aware of. Compared to many people, I should have been completely lost - but I wasn't. I loved the film so much I've already seen it twice and wondering when I can see it again.

Sam Brooks said...

Oooh. I'm so sad that Secret Sunshine, The Girl Cut in Two and De Fraulein aren't going to be on your Film Bitch Awards. I loved all three of these movies when I saw them, including the performances in them. Do-Yeon Jeon is definitely getting onto my own shortlist, for one of the best performances of the year. Completely and utterly heartbreaking.

It's also nice to see the love for Things We Lost in The Fire. I feel like nobody saw that movie, and it's sad because it's actually a great movie with equally great performances. If only Halle Berry was this good a actress six years ago. Sigh.

Can't wait for the rest!

Anonymous said...

Finally someone mentions the great Benoît Magimel ! Thanks Nathaniel !
He's my favorite french actor. Those who don't know him should check "The Piano Teacher", "Les Voleurs" and "Les Enfants du Siecle". Great perfs all around

Anonymous said...

The comment about trailers that give the entire film away actually being a successful marketing gimmick made me shudder and want to cry "Say it isn't so!" When ever I see a trailer that gives me the entire film, I usually breathe a sigh of relief that that one minute saved me another $10 from seeing a crap movie.

I think there are some very good points being made here about the lack of audiences at foreign films - I live only four hours from New York City and I think there are all of two arthouse cinemas in my entire state. Maybe three.

The effect of DVD's cannot be stressed enough, I think. My partner and I regularly get movies from the local libraries (including and especially the college library) because we enjoy unusual fare, including indies and foreign films, but have a limited budget and, as I mentioned, very little access to arthouse cinemas. (And then add in the price of gas and the 45 or more minute drive to the already inflated ticket price...) Quite a lot of the films we've discovered and enjoyed recently through the local college library have been distributed on DVD by, which allows people to sign up and receive a film to own every month, usually indie domestic and foreign films that have made the festival circuits, have gotten critical love but have little to no chance at distribution. (We've contemplated joining ourselves, but alas, the afforementioned limited budget...) Of course on a wider scale there's netflix, but and others groups are using a similar model to get little seen films to people's homes. And when you can have a widescreen TV with great audio without the idiots talking in front of you...

What this also means though is that filmmaking is becoming less of a communal experience as we become more and more insular in our viewing habits - or rather, the community has shifted from the cinema to the 'net and the blogosphere where we can have discussions such as this.



you all make good points.

i'm actually thinking of focusing more on DVDs here this year because so many readers are only enjoying these movie discussions in theory since they can't actually watch the movies in question.

Brian Darr said...

A modest plea that you don't go TOO far down that road. There are plenty of DVD-fetish sites out there but only one site like the Film Experience.