Filmism.net Dispatch September 30, 2013

  • Share

The Edge.

Not the guitarist, the state of mind. Audiences want it, but there was an overlap where they didn't get it, and now they're starting to, and it feels good.

At the risk of sounding like a philosopher, let me explain. Way back in a mythical time called the 70s, cinema is where we used to get well-written stories, moral ambiguity and ideas about our culture and society.

Star Wars and Jaws convinced studios that only kids go to the movies (although it's probably truer in the seemingly-constant cash-strapped world of today's contemporary adulthood) when studios had been making challenging, dark fare like Parallax View and The French Connection, and as the costs of making a movie have ballooned over the last decade or so, it means they have to play wider to recoup their costs.

It's not news that more homogenised big screen content has been the result, the same classic three-act structure where nothing changes but the CGI backgrounds. You can see as much in the billion-dollar comic book superhero obsession Hollywood's still in the grip of. Sure, some of them are good, but we've seen it so many times now only the costume seems to change.

It's also not news TV has become the new breeding ground of quality as A-list writers, actors and directors flocked there a decade ago. Before then, TV was the equivalent of Florida (somewhere entertainers went to die), but today it's impossible to argue that movies are better than TV.

But in the face of ever-more risque, violent, challenging or uncomfortable content on pay TV networks, the major free-to-air networks are looking increasingly like the movie studios, the home of middle-of-the-road drama and comedy fare, hobbled by the need for wide-appeal return on investment and the restrictions of timeslots and ratings.

All of the above of course doesn't always apply if you're talking about movies on TV. The confluence of movies and TV reached a peak recently when Stephen Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra ended up on HBO in the US (it's getting theatrical releases in other territories).

Told by studios it was 'too gay', Soderbergh took it to the cable network and enjoyed a much wider audience than he probably would have if some small theatrical distributor had dumped it in a handful of theatres with no promotional budget. When the Oscar winning director who kick started the indie film movement can't get a decent theatrical release and takes his wares to a cable TV network, it's an example of TV eating Hollywood on a grand scale.

And it's only the pointy end of a rising tide where cable is giving audiences the edgy entertainment they want while mainstream theatrical films tend to adhere to the same vanilla-flavoured playbook more and more.

It's Spielberg's prophecy coming true. Not the one he made a few weeks back when he said it would take a few high-profile theatrical flops for the Hollywood business model to implode, the one from years back when he likened movies to India, with nothing made unless it cost less than $10m or over $100m with no 'middle class'.

He was right for about a decade, but now there's a new dimension that might pick up the theatrical slack. We've all been hearing about video on demand for a couple of years, but it might just have sounded like a bunch of people who love the internet trying to make the future they want happen through force of self-fulfilling prophecy. Many of us would still no more buy a movie or series on iTunes than we would go to a record store to buy an album (if we could find one).

But having spent a decent amount of time in the US recently, I've noticed that VOD isn't only a player, it's surprisingly mature. We all know names like Paramount, Fox and Disney, but there are a whole swag of middle-tier studios and production companies like Magnet Releasing, Magnolia Pictures and Roadside Attractions who release inexpensive movies of every genre. They appear for very limited theatrical runs and show up on VOD very soon after, often the same day.

They're projects a large studio wouldn't touch with a barge pole because they can't open them day and date around the world and there's no avenue for action figure tie-ins. They can also be hard to find, but they exist on the cable networks and online services across America, and they're the new edgy entertainment you've been craving.

Keep watching, because I'll revisit this topic in a Filmism.net Dispatch in the near future.

A perfect example of the above is Enough Said, the very grown up adult comedy getting a lot of attention as James Gandolfini's final role. If you can find it I urge you to beg, borrow or steal to watch it. It's as heartfelt a depiction of love in midlife as you've ever seen, and Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss are sublime.

You can also witness the early rise of a star filmmaker in the making by seeing Don Jon. Joseph Gordon Levitt has impressed us in front of the camera for some of the biggest and best director in the business over the last few years, and with his kinetic, funny and emotionally genuine debit effort, he's a force to be reckoned with behind it too.

Of course, the cheaper barrier to entry of VOD means there's a lot more crap being made too. Avoid at all costs, for example, A Single Shot ; a muddy, impenetrable, incomprehensible thriller that's physically hard to see, dour, drab, miserable and completely devoid of any thrills.

© 2011-2024 Filmism.net. Site design and programming by psipublishinganddesign.com | adambraimbridge.com | humaan.com.au