Saturday, May 5, 2012

Recursive cinema and a little bit of Ragnarok

In i-forget-which-book (presumably his memoir), Gore Vidal describes his generation as the first to truly grow up on film, in a culture defined by moving pictures. I was reminded of this recently when bemoaning my own lack of literary skill, in particular my tendency to write from a visual standpoint, as if i were, indeed, describing scenes in a movie. If video has not killed the typewriter star, it certainly seems to have enslaved him. "I've never read it but i saw the movie" is an antiquated catchphrase by now. Even those of us who still read are likely to find out about good or popular books from their film adaptations. I read The Road after watching the movie, and only got around to Narnia and His Dark Materials when threatened with movie releases a few years ago. I refuse to read Harry Potter books based on seeing one of the movies.

Of course, killers have their executioners. Enter our good friend the internet. There have been endless attempts during the past decade and more to destroy internet distribution, to bring it to heel under existing publishing and marketing schemes. This is because the world economy has gotten to the point where it only sells packaging, not product. The profiteering in the movie industry for instance was never focused on the movies themselves but on the restricted mode of delivery. The backlash against internet distribution comes largely from the endless string of middlemen living off cinemas and video stores, but this routinely gets mixed in with the film industry's own nostalgic looks to their glory days of undisputed rule, to the aroma of red carpets, darkened theaters and little plastic boxes.

This nostalgia seems to be growing. There are a great many 'artsy' movies, some with impressive budgets, being made about old-time movie-making, glorifying the pioneers that changed the world, bringing us all this wonderful invention to rule our lives. I'm not saying they're necessarily bad movies, just interested in what their creation says about the industry. Hugo is the flick that got me thinking of this, and it made me realize just how many others, like Nine, The Fall, The Aviator or Man in the Chair i've seen or heard of in recent years. And i'm not up-to-date, i'm not even their target audience.

Or maybe i am. There's this desperation floating about to really push the glamour of movie-theaters to the forefront. It also encompasses made-for-3d attempts like Avatar or anything that's specifically designed to get customers back to the concessions stand buying triple-over-priced popcorn. Given the amount of money being thrown into it in the form of marketing campaigns, it's hardly just film-makers crying on each others' shoulders. It reeks of a last gasp. Instead of adapting, the industry is trying to turn back the clock.

So where do we go from here? Film ain't dead, you idiots! No art form has in truth suffered from the decentralization and ease of access brought by the internet. Granted, in most cases it hasn't particularly helped. The evils of advertising are as real in the virtual world as they ever were on billboards, and that's a subject for a whole other discussion. The simple fact, however, that internet distribution makes more allowance for smaller productions instead of "the blockbuster release of the summer" will only benefit aspiring artists. It might kill some of the sources of the deranged waste of resources of building cinemas that depend on having their seats filled and videotapes and DvDs that have to be shipped and stored and of overpriced lollipops but the fact that these parasites even got rich enough to mount such a massive reactionary campaign is proof of how ridiculously overblown their glorified profiteering was in the first place.

Good riddens to Hollywood and Bollywood alike. Ideally, we'd see the executives of entertainment corporations starving in the streets, but many of them have already started buying into cyberculture as some book publishers did in the previous decade. Lord of the Rings Online has a Warner Bros. logo slapped on it. Still, in some small ways, the transition is already showing promise.

Want to see what the world after Ragnarok looks like, after the mighty Cineplex has fallen battling the monstrous mouse of doom?
Ragged Isle
Yes, it's rather primitive. Stilted, bargain-basement acting, no special effects, cheap sets, volunteer extras. It's a fresh start. It's a start. Get some British television crews in on the deal and you'll do even better. They know how to work with low budgets, how not to depend on billion-dollar editing and CGI teams to fix everything wrong with a production.
Here's how Hollywood came by what it seems to think of as its own little Apocalypse. It's the tried-and-true story of imperialism. It grew fat and lazy, decadent and tyrannous, and rotted. Cry me a river.

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