Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004 08:49:18 -0500
Reply-To: H-NET List for Scholarly Studies and Uses of Media (H-FILM@H-NET.MSU.EDU)
To: H-FILM@H-NET.MSU.EDU
Subject: The New York Times Magazine on the state of Global Cinema

From: Steven Mintz (smintz@uh.edu)

Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured a series of articles on the state and fate of the movie industry. http://www.nytimes.com/pages/magazine/

"The 21st-Century Cinephile" by Manohla Dargis argued that local festivals and the DVD have resuscitated the film connoisseur, allowing cinephiles to see a range of global films never before possible.

Michael Ignatieff discussed the use of "political snuff films" by kidnappers and assassins in Iraq, arguing that "terrorist auteurs" are have learned how to use film to manipulate public opinion and to use western disgust as a political tool.

In "What is a Foreign Movie Now?," A.O. Scott argues that a vibrant new global cinema is appearing, while Lynn Hirchberg maintains (in "What Is an American Movie Now?") that as Hollywood strives to create global blockbusters that would appeal to an international audience, prototypical American film, grounded in distinctive American settings and experiences, have declined.

My own sense is that:

1. The articles grossly exaggerate access to global cinema and downplay the significance of the decline of art houses, ethnic movie theaters, and campus film series--and of movies broadcast on "free" television;

2. Many foreign movie-makers who hope to tap into the American audience wind up conforming to American cinematic conventions rather than challenging them;

3. It is not so much the pressures of globalization that explain the trends that Lynn Hirschberg describes, but rather factors internal to Hollywood.

I'd be very interested in your thoughts,

Steve

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Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004 12:55:23 -0800
Reply-To: H-NET List for Scholarly Studies and Uses of Media (H-FILM@H-NET.MSU.EDU)
To: H-FILM@H-NET.MSU.EDU
Subject: Re: The New York Times Magazine on the state of Global Cinema]

From: "Joe Bierman" (bierman@rowan.edu)

A couple of thoughts on the NY Times articles

1. Is Hollywood American Cinema or Global Product?

For more than a decade there has been scholarship detailing how Hollywood's global distribution goals have come to influence production choices. In 1995, Frederick Wasser's "Is Hollywood America? The Transnationalization of the American Film Industry," published in _Critical Studies in Mass Communication_ is one example. The goal of global distribution has resulted in Hollywood films which present fantasies, science fiction, action, and a global stereotype of American culture (the suburbia of _Honey I shrunk the Kids_). These are films designed for global distribution. There appears to be little interest in Hollywood for wrestling with the current realities of the American experience.

2. Is there a distinct culturally engaged American Cinema?

There are still culturally specific American films. The work of filmmakers who continue to attempt to portray something of the experience of living in our culture. Filmmakers like Spike Lee, Alexander Payne, or Gus Van Sant come to mind.

As an independent filmmaker traveling abroad, I often encounter the cultural imperialism argument from European filmmakers. Yet I feel as dominated by the Hollywood global product here at home. I do not see Hollywood as American Cinema.

3. The Impact of the DVD Market on the viability of a smaller American Cinema and Foreign Films

While the multiplexes are dominated both here and abroad by this Hollywood product. I do see signs of hope for both American cinema and foreign films in the DVD market. As one of the Times articles notes, DVD sales are now the biggest piece of the economic pie, and they are driving the production process in Hollywood. They may also be an important alternative distribution channel.

Screening a DVD at home is the most common viewing situation I encounter. This is also the case for most of my friends and my students. Between ticket prices and parking, a trip to the Multiplex can run $15 to $20 in many places. In return I get a limited choice of blockbusters, and the cell phone interruptions of the guy next to me. For the same $20 I can purchase the most obscure international or independent release on DVD from Amazon, DeepDiscount or HKFlicks. I can get Netflicks for about $20 a month and have great access to films. The traditional movie theater experience has become a much smaller part of my film viewing experience. I go to the traditional movie theatre about once a month. However, I continue to see 4 to 5 films per week. Most of these films are at home on DVD. Through DVD my access to cinema has never been greater. In the last two years DVD has given my access to Stan Brakhage, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, Tod Browning, Louis Feuillade, Monty Hellman, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-liang, Ozu, Eric Rohmer, Tati, Wong Kar-wai, Edward Yang, and a wide variety of small American independent cinema (not Miramax). I didn't have access to this variety of cinema when I was an NYU student living in lower Manhattan in the early 1980s. I think DVD may become the economic stream for a smaller American Cinema and Foreign Films.

Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin have documented this changing DVD landscape in _Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia_ by BFI press.

Joseph Bierman