As we find ourselves in the middle of yet another awards season let us take a moment and reflect on why we, people who have nothing to do with these damn things, care? And let us also add another item to this mental exercise – acquisition formats.
In the past three months the number or articles, tweets, posts, messages and smoke signals I have seen about films like Carol, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and, yes, even Star Wars has been so staggering that even my daughter, who does not use the Internet has become familiar with several of them.
Although she has not asked me if this will be Leo’s year to finally win the Oscar I cannot help that it is not far off. She goes to school now and the things from popular culture that already filter down to a Kindergarten student are somewhat astounding. So while Star Wars has made its way to her the debate of film vs. digital has not.
Which again makes it even more apparent that many of these discussions and debates are just advertising and marketing and promotion and nothing of much value. The number of reviews and comments I have seen about The Revenant that say much of anything of value I can count on one hand. More has been said about the acquisition format of the films I have listed than about the qualities of the films or the actors or even whether people like them.
As someone who is interested not only in watching films but also in making them I find I am interested in these aspects but even still only up to a point. That The Hateful Eight is being presented in 70mm in some locations is less interesting than the “roadshow” aspect of these presentations. Which are not one and the same. Yes, it will look different but that the film will have an intermission, that there will be a printed program, that the filmmakers are making an active push to say, “This is why you should see this film in a movie theater and have a shared experience with your fellow human beings,” is much more interesting.
Yet all anyone can say is, “boy the frame is really wide!” and “he did it for interior scenes” because “it makes the blocking really noticeable!”. Which is all well and good from a technical point of view but very little is being said about whether the movie is any good. Or whether people are finding the movie-going experience to be interesting, new, rewarding, worthwhile or anything else. Very little is being said about this aspect, which is what we should all be talking about.
The same is true of The Revenant. The experience is “immersive”, the bear attack is “realistic” and shooting only with natural light is “neat-o”. But then all of the comments concerning the film itself are either snarky and flippant, to one writer being thankful to have made it through the film (which is clever because their experience seems to mirror that of the main character…dear lord) or just that most in general found the film to be difficult to watch and grueling. Because, of course, when you watch a film that is about one man’s incredible tale of survival against all odds you expect it to be light and chipper and float on by.
Because, of course, The Revenant is not trying to offer a unique filmgoing experience with anything other than the film itself. Which is not to diminish the film, the filmmakers or what they have achieved. But you cannot help and see that although these two films, which have in a way become pitted against each other (one for resurrecting not only a forgotten acquisition format and the other for being the first to make use of a cutting-edge technology) are getting attention for parts of their productions that are perhaps not the most interesting thing about them. That they were acquired under harsh conditions using these interesting technologies maybe isn’t what we should spend all of our time talking about.
The same can be said for Carol, for different reasons and even the new Star Wars. Article after article has been written and shared about the formats chosen, the reasons why and what wonderful results have been achieved. Except, of course, the results we should be focused on are the films themselves. Not excluding the lighting and the look and grain structure but absolutely not limited to these aspects either.
I am ranting now and I try not to do that with strangers so forgive me. I have been paying more attention that usual to the state of film, largely because all of us are (I believe). What I find odd is that I am not sure what is being presented (the end is nigh) reflects that actual state of things. When The Walking Dead, Carol and fifty other well known television shows and films are making use of the super 16mm format is it really dead or about to be? When Kodak announces the release of a new, hybrid super 8mm camera are we living in the end times?
I know that many filmmakers are currently being asked to weigh in on the future of film and that is why the endless articles are appearing but it would seem, and forgive me if I am wrong, that the timing of this is about two years too late. Filmmakers and studios bonded together to give Kodak a reprieve. Now, indie filmmakers who had previously embraced low budget technologies to inexpensively make their films are choosing to make their new movies shooting using actual film.
Perhaps it is healthy that this issue is near constantly mentioned. That unlike two years ago when few were speaking or reading about it and the future of this format was truly in jeopardy now people are paying attention. I do not know.
What I do know is that so much attention is being paid to how the movie was acquired or how it is viewed but so little is being said about how people like or dislike the movie.
Perhaps that is what this award season is good for, with categories for the technical achievements as well as acting, direction and things like costumes it allows us to filter and sort through these different aspects. I am not sure.
What it feels like, as does nearly everything these days, is that it is just another marketed aspect of movies. Because we don’t talk about whether Carol is a better film than the new Star Wars. We don’t compare them for so many different reasons. I used to think this made sense. Cliffhanger should not be pitted against Casino, they are different kinds of movies with different aspirations. Yet we lump Carol with Tangerine and Sicario because of their budgets or subject matters or who the filmmakers are behind the films and, obviously, that makes much more sense.