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Monday, December 09, 2019

The Times, They Are Earthquaking

All The World's A Stream

Am I seeing this right? Has movie stardom been sacrificed on the altar of Netflix? I recall $20 million paychecks, plus gross participation, for biggest names of the 80/90’s. How they must long for that now, at least those who remember back that far. It looks to me like the star system is all but kaput. And how do you define a Netflix movie? Some insist it isn’t a ‘real’ movie at all, owing to absence from theatres. An entrenched system prefers to deny the very existence of Scorsese’s The Irishman, even as viewers call it 2019’s Best Picture. Purists say film is meant to be projected onto a screen for delectation of a filled house, but look how often digital delivery fouls up, and how dim the picture looks when downloads work. I saw The Irishman at home, on a big screen, in a recliner, and am hanged if any theatre can match that. The “audience experience”? --- I’ll take vanilla.


We know how movies were convulsed by changes in the 50’s. Veterans on both sides of the camera felt lost as their system took sleds. Transition is toughest for those used to, dependent on, things as they were. What is happening now is beyond ordinary or expected change. Scorsese says it’s a biggest switch since talkies came. He also claims certain movies, very popular ones, “aren’t cinema.” That was taken as an insult to not just shows in question, but their viewership. He was dismissed by these as an old man out of touch. Never mind his just delivering a could-be career best, and doing so for Netflix. How much more “in touch” do you get? There are others who ride the tide and prosper. Clint Eastwood, approaching ninety, does fine work as a matter of routine, and reliably makes at least one out of any three a surprise hit (and none a loss). Tom Hanks seems to have unerring sense of what a modern audience wants, or at least what his mature fanbase prefers. I’ve enjoyed Robert Redford’s latter work and was sorry when he announced finis to acting. Despite these still bright lights that inspire us all to push on, I can’t help thinking they, and all of talent still at work, will do so under net that is streaming services, movie goers going no further than home seating or what they watch in the palm of hands. But hold … isn’t that just variation on nay-say going back to talkie transition, and endless points of perceived crisis since?


It is understood that The Irishman would not have been made had not Netflix kicked in. The necessary $159 million was theirs, plus consent to length and bleak epilogue a bygone industry would not have countenanced. Imagine if a Netflix had been around when Orson Welles or Erich von Stroheim needed them, The Magnificent Ambersons welcome in whatever mood Welles chose, EvS free to let breathe his ruined masterpieces (Hey folks, let’s order out pizza and binge-watch Greed tonight!). Appropriate then that Welles would benefit from policy change that looks to guide most all of filmmaking now, his The Other Side Of The Wind a rescue that would not have happened any other way than it did (look at decades of attempt under the old system). Forces, weakening ones, resist stream-product being nominated for awards, or being recognized in a mainstream sense. To tremors we’re seeing, add that of casting out of a Twilight Zone of trick effects, old actors young again, DeNiro, Pacino presumably able to rat-tat forever, though sharp, if pitiless, eyes, insist that while they look like forty, they move like eighty. But here’s the essence: Actors don’t have to age out anymore. They may not even have to stay alive (witness James Dean’s promised comeback). So has the trick been tried on women? Think of actresses from the 80’s, 90’s, earlier even, that could be back playing romance leads, maybe with partners twenty-thirty years younger, born long after their leading lady. I’d gladly drive out to see something like that, but again, are bells tolling for brick-mortar spots to see movies?


Streams, it seems, have become the Great Equalizer. No need for stars big enough to “open” a new film. Chances are we’ll sample whatever Netflix premieres sometime over a given week, or months (Julia Roberts has done a series … let’s sample five minutes). Last month was bow for a new Eddie Murphy, My Name Is Dolemite. It is the most enjoyable time I’ve had with one of his since 48 Hours and the first Beverly Hills Cop. Again we can figure no one would have supported this project pre-Netflix, let alone pay Murphy cash he used to get. But when did a lamestream industry last give him something good as this? Plenty beyond Netflix are making films for phones or whatever thimble we watch on, once super-names aboard for feature-length, limited series, half hour comedy, each supplying employ where an obsolescent system will not.


Old-timers need not sit home with scrapbooks … I liked Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin in The Kominsky Method, two seasons so far, and there’s Jennifer Aniston, age fifty, doing her thing on a stream galaxy I’ve not yet explored (idea: make her twenty-five again for a quarter-century more of rom-cons, or better yet, ten more Friends seasons with the principal six re-purposed to former selves). Who can say “No TV For Me” as Gable or Bogart once did (boy, do they seem more and more like ancient pharaohs), where television itself is so fluid as to frankly need a new name (for all of time, as in none, watching, I could wonder if the three “major” networks even broadcast anymore). We are heir to truly democratic times, the level field so many in Hollywood profess to want. Is there still big money in this game, other than the occasional supe-hero that strikes lightning? (Answer: Yes, and Netflix is earning it) Change makes content-delivery of even recent past seem like Sanskrit, but I suppose all of “old” media cries into a same bucket, and yet it’s an exhilarating thing to be witness to. In view of what’s happened in a short ten years, imagine where viewing will be after a next decade.

9 Comments:

Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Since the last ten years, I'm having a very difficult time going to a movie theater and attempting to watch a film in the old fashion way. First, I dislike the smell of popcorn and that alone makes me feel already uncomfortable. Many movies try to justify their budget by being overlong and overproduced... I was taken to see the latest Terminator movie and I frankly hated with its simple plot expanded beyond tolerance and fighting boredom and sleepiness for an unbearable climax... in my brief stint as a film critic I frequently wrote that scenes should be cut from the movies, but those lines were actually cut instead.

Scorsese's film is terrific and its length is not frankly an issue because everything is in its right place... it feels like even the actors were having fun playing their scenes and that shows and the ending is actually a terrific experience, more impressive than the previous segments.

It was great to finally see that Orson Welles movie after reading and seen documentaries in which it was always mentioned. However, it was also not the masterpiece that was promoted.

That is the issue with streaming... certain things can be great and many others are not. I have tried seen certain productions and for the most part I actually didn't like them. The things that I did like are frankly very marginal.

Now that Comcast has taken TCM away from my cable service, and we are not going to be paying for a lousy package of channels to get it back, I can say that the kind of movie experience that made me a film buff no longer exists.

There is no going back and the only thing I will always regret is the end of the Saturday movie marathons on broadcast television even if they constantly repeated the same titles.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The movies as a whole seem to be crossing a line between public and private exhibition; when you're streaming a movie, the public is not involved. Different from radio and TV, too, since there's no schedule but your own. In this way, watching a movie becomes an entirely private experience, very different from that of the semi-public realm of the theater or movie house.
Can movies exist, even thrive, without any public exhibition of the films? The technology is showing that they can, and so it seems that public exhibition of films and movies will cease being a sine qua non for cinema - instead, the films will be available for the public to order. Like they've always been to film, tape and disc collectors.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I saw Wind in a small (but full) house in New York last year and I'm sorry, but the communal experience made it that much more interesting.

The Irishman screened at a number of theatres here in San Francisco, and our viewing of it at the Castro, on a Saturday night in a packed movie palace with an audience that was riveted to the screen (I spotted only two people get up and--presumably--use the bathroom (they both returned relatively quickly) provided an atmosphere 180 degrees away from watching it on a small screen in my living room with distractions and pause buttons only inches away.

Given the option, I'll always choose the communal experience.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Dan Oliver said...

Saw 'The Irishman' at the Alamo Drafthouse in Raleigh and it was a great experience. Will no doubt watch it again on Netflix in the future, but I'm really glad to have been able to see it in a theater. Same with Vince Gilligan's 'El Camino.'

9:54 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

My wife & I always wait for Netflix or video on demand, but she insisted on seeing it here in New York at the Belasco, a Broadway theater. Glad we did it; an extraordinary experience, with a quiet audience and plenty of ballyhoo. We'll watch it with friends (and yes, ordering pizza!) after Xmas here at home.

I got sick of the moviegoing experience long ago, thanks to noisy audiences, cellphones, you name it. Plus, when you've got a good-sized HDTV and stereo sound, and better food, watching at home is a far more enjoyable experience. Even the vaunted Film Forum tends to have oh-so-smart audiences looking down on 1930s movies.

Yes, Orson Welles would have appreciated Netflix and vice-versa. And I'm glad we saw "Other Side of the Wind" on Netflix rather than the theater. My wife would have wanted to walk out.

3:33 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

When's the last time you saw a movie in the privacy of your own home on Netflix and got to engage in a conversation about it with another, real life, flesh and blood person you didn't even know after you both saw it? Probably never, right?

Part of what makes the theater experience so great for me are the encounters with random strangers. A friend and I saw a Bollywood film awhile back and were the only two white guys in the audience. A couple, whose parents were born in India, struck up a conversation with us during the intermission to find out what we thought. They explained some of the cultural and mythological background that helped us appreciate the movie even more.

I'm something of an introvert, but I recall many instances where the shared experience of a movie is enough to spark a conversation with someone you don't know.

9:43 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I have to say I've had very few bad experiences in theaters (excluding some actual films/performances). And even those tended to be a few jerks rather than most of the audience. This covers moviegoing from 60s neighborhood houses to campus showings to multiplexes and revival houses to "Frozen II" in one of those fancy recliner-and-waiters cinemas (a lot of kids, but they were surprisingly quite and attentive during the actual film). My biggest gripe is value: Rising admission prices for a single feature, sans cartoon, with similarly inflated snack bar rates.

Yes, the decline of the communal experience is something to mourn. But another concern is the more purposeful decline of physical, ownable media. The idealized business model, pursued for decades, is pay to play any audio/visual item, with intellectual property owners (rarely the creators) collecting in perpetuity. Recall the initial battle against home video, Macrovision and various anti-copying schemes, and modern anti-piracy ads that all but claim you're robbing impoverished Munchkins if you watch "Wizard of Oz" for free. Until public backlash kicked in, Disney was working on a DVD that would become unplayable after a certain length of time (to save you the inconvenience of returning a rental, supposedly). Now the push is to replace everything with streaming services.

Hang on to your various discs, kids.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Attacks by the threatened old guard on the new go back to the beginning of the movies when they were called BASTARD and or ILLEGITIMATE THEATRE.

Marvel Movies are cinema and damn fine cinema.

Scorsese has become one of the old farts who sit on the verandas dismissing passers by.

So has Coppola.

THE NETFLIX experience at home is as much cinema as is parking our butts in a bigger 500 seat room.

The big difference being we are not paying extortionate prices for food and drink while the quality of the food and drink in our home is not only less expensive by miles but also vastly superior plus we know someone has not spit or done worse in it.

My digital projectors are bright. If yours is not get a brighter one.

Also, it helps to change the setting from cinema to bright. It helps a lot.

There is a reason Brit Artist Peter More called my Cineforum in Toronto the best place on earth in which to see a movie.

1:15 AM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

To DBENSON: By now there’s probably enough VHS tapes in landfills to fill the Grand Canyon. I lack the imagination to comment on the future of DVDs, but they’re likely to befall a similar fate. Everything is intended to be disposable these days.

1:45 AM  

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