March 17, 2007

NYT on online viewing.

Abbott and Costello and Tarr The present: "A screen is a screen is a screen - isn't it?" asks Manohla Dargis. "Certainly the idea of downloading sounds irresistible: you scroll through the delectable offerings - in the video store in my head, Abbott and Costello and Béla Tarr are both just clicks away - hit a few buttons, and voilà: cinema! The reality, as I recently discovered, is messier."

The Very Near Future: A "slew of gadgets, like the coming Apple TV, promise to erase the divide between the Internet and your home entertainment center by easily transporting a movie file sitting on the computer to the 52-inch plasma television in the living room, or magically giving the set Internet access," notes Noah Robischon. "If that transition becomes seamless, digital film distribution might just make celebrities out of a new crop of talented unknowns, just as the advent of home video in the 1980s jump-started the careers of filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and John Sayles."

Updated through 3/22.

The Hopefully Near Future: "Perhaps the most intriguing promise these [video-on-demand] sites hold, at least for those whose interest in film extends beyond the new, the recent and the aggressively hyped, is of a kind of virtual cinematheque," writes AO Scott. "It is now possible to imagine - to expect - that before too long the entire surviving history of movies will be open for browsing and sampling at the click of a mouse for a few PayPal dollars."

Update, 3/18: "There's a spirited conversation going over at Twitch about whether or not small companies now releasing cult films on DVD should shift to a 'download-to-burn' distribution model," notes Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. "The conversation centers around genre and catalog titles, but it's applicable to our current independent cinema too."

Update, 3/21: Dave Kehr comments: "The digital library that Manohla dreams of, where she could log in and download anything from Abbott and Costello to Bela Tarr, does in fact already exist; unfortunately, it is largely illegal.... The situation reminds me of the 60s and 70s, when 16mm film collectors were effectively forced underground by the studios and the FBI. Then as now, it's dangerous to like movies too much."

Update, 3/22: Kristin comments at the SpoutBlog.

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Posted by dwhudson at March 17, 2007 12:44 PM


Regarding the first piece: A screen may be a screen may be a screen, and the point that the first film distribution model in America was through private peepholes is a good one to bring up. But once the concept of the cinema, in which films could be viewed on a large screen in a dark room above a collective audience, came along, it helped to drive the aesthetic qualities of the films being made in directions previously unimagined. I'm convinced that as we oftener and oftener treat our television, computer and now ipod screens as interchangable with our cinemas', the content of what we want to fill all these screens with will also change. Perhaps in unpredictably exciting ways, but right now I can't pretend I don't feel a sense of impending loss.

I'm not saying Dargis is oblivious to these concerns; her article gets right to the heart of them when she admits she favored English-language films for her downloading adventures because small-screen subtitles are so frustrating. But what does that mean? In the future, will we have an even less attentive eye on the authentic cultural life in other countries?

Posted by: Brian at March 17, 2007 2:57 PM

Can't wait for the day when David posts a link in the middle of a paragraph about some new film, I click it, watch the preview play on my huge wall, I can choose after 5mins to pay knowing the money goes directly to the filmmaker, or watch a few commercials to see it free, with the sell of those spots covering the bandwidth and maybe the artist's future films...

Wait, I had to pause the film, cause Papa John's Pizza just emailed me my supreme and the pizza printer cartridge is out of sauce!

I'll put on my jetpack and with my robot dog hover over to Office Depot to pick up a Cheese/Tomato Paste Cartridge and a ream of crust sheets.

Posted by: Jerry Lentz at March 17, 2007 4:31 PM

Such fascinating concerns, David, and so prescient of you to keep us apprised. I just spent much of the afternoon with the folks from Jaman. I love their attention to "social cinema."

Posted by: Michael Guillen at March 17, 2007 11:51 PM

Wow, I wish I could get paid for writing articles about how I can't get my laptop to work, like Dargis does here. I could make a mint.

Posted by: Jenny at March 18, 2007 7:34 AM

Thanks for pointing to these three, David - it made it to the top of my sunday read list. There are interesting concerns voiced in all three of them, though I wish Dargis had let her computer troubles go in favor of a few more paragraphs on her subject.

And all three of these pieces combined, actually gives only one sure thing: Yet, no one knows in what direction this'll go. I long for a filmmaker to put out hers or his thoughts on the whole thing, not only letting the critics have their voices heard.

Posted by: Karsten at March 18, 2007 10:36 AM

I read today's Greencine posts in reverse order, so by the time I got to this one and it's accompanying photo of Bud Abbot, all I could think of was '1500 porn films'?!

Posted by: Ju-osh at March 18, 2007 5:31 PM