Friday, February 25, 2011

Cinephilia Lives

On the February 18 Film Week, I offhandedly commented on the radically diminished U.S. audience for foreign language movies. As an example, I mentioned French filmmaker Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore (1973), which at nearly four hours of scenes of subtitled conversations, had people lined up at theaters. Nothing like that, I mournfully said, would happen nowadays.

Unknown to me, Cinefamily had booked Eustache's movie for a one-night run just six days later at their home, The Silent Movie Theater. I shuffled on over to see it and luckily bought my ticket an hour before the show was scheduled to start. Lo and behold, the show sold out and the audience was overwhelmingly composed of young men and women in their 20s.

I've rarely been happier to be wrong. Finally, there's a new generation of film lovers who are intelligent, curious, and energetic.

Monday, February 7, 2011

When you gaze into the TV, the TV gazes back at you

Given that this year's Super Bowl featured an excellent game and ads that were, even by their own standards, crappy, let's finally have done with the spoiled baloney that the game's broadcast is worth watching just for the commercials alone.
It was always such a blatantly cynical pitch that, if it weren't for the American habit of thanking snake oil salesmen for robbing us, you wouldn't believe people would fall for it. Yet the lure seemed to work, as advertisers reeled in the handful of potential viewers who didn't follow the NFL and, presumably, kept fans' fannies in their seats and out of the bathroom and kitchen during the endless commercial breaks.
It was all just a hype, of course. Rarely have these ads evoked laughter, awe, or whatever the hell it was they were after. Some of the worst took on walking-dead lives of their own, epitomized by the finally extinct, annually execrable "Bud Bowl."
The core problem is that commercials are such diminished entities to start with. Sure, you hear about the money, time and technical expertise lavished on them. Most of that effort, though, goes toward eliminating nearly every thought or feeling that emanates from even the most modestly conceived or primitively executed image.
That's an overtly evil action, though because we're all so worldly we just shrug it off (just as we roll our eyes when someone complains about the commercialization of Christmas). That pseudo-sophistication is just the opposite of the armor we think it is, though. On the contrary, it allows ads to burrow their way into our unconscious along with their depictions of people (or "consumers"; ugly, demeaning word)who exist only through their relationships with various commodities.
Maybe worst of all -- TV ads are poorly made. On any terms aside from those of pure greed, they possess none of the aesthetic values their makers and the advertising trade press boast they have. Their compositions are right out of intermediate-level coloring books. The rapid editing is used to hide ugly, discontinuous cuts. Their colors are a recipe for on-the-spot kitsch.
Of course, they are effective. The shimmering screen weakens critical resistance by affecting viewers' brain waves, while those brains have already been externally excited to "enjoy" the commercial propaganda.
Thank goodness that all this manipulation is in pursuit of a good cause.