Many questions were asked following the screening of Dr. Gerald Peary’s film For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism—most of which seemed to focus on the diminishing presence of the Independent and Foreign film industry on American soil. Why are Americans not interested in films that rest outside of the mainstream? I, as well as other students at the symposium, attempted to answer the question, though Dr. Peary didn’t seem satisfied with any of the answers that were given. Even after, I couldn’t help but continue to think about this question.
As with any intelligent discussion, there are multiple sides to answering this beyond “Americans are sooooo stupid.” Okay, while an over-simplification of the American people, there are in fact many who do consume “film-junk” on a daily basis—paying $13 a ticket to be lulled into a sleep-like trance by explosions and attractive people doing “outrageously” attractive things on screen. Yet, for every film about violent robots, wise-cracking stereotypes, or the usual maudlin film featuring characters afflicted with aids/cancer/9-11 , there is barely any mention of films that rest outside of the American stream.
Of course, I realize that there are older film-buffs violently shaking their heads at me; it’s still relatively recent that film-lovers were able to purchase movies to watch at home, much less being able to gain access to hundreds of films from all over the world via the internet. I can only imagine how hellish it must have been to even attempt to acquire a film from Japan or Europe that didn’t come to a local art-house.
The advent of Netflix and the digital-medium has forever change the landscape of film, and is often to blame for why people just aren’t going to the theaters any more. Why pay $13 to watch a big-budgeted film when you can simply rent a slightly older movie for around four bucks—in high definition no less. Netflix, once notable for its practice of DVD shipping, has fully embraced the digital age with its streaming section—a vast collection of films made available on nearly every internet-enabled device; yet, I know of many who still claim their aren’t any good films available on the service—a claim that I would have once disputed, if not for the fact that I have noticed a dip in quality among the catalogue of film available in Netflix’s streaming service. What with TV channel Starz removing all their films from the streaming service, and Netflix moving in an original programming direction—with its recent series Lilyhammer, as well as acquisition of a new season of “Arrested Development—“ it seems that, in a year or two, Netflix may not be the haven for unknown cinema as it once was. Of course, Netflix isn’t the only available way to consume entertainment digitally; there are several “In Demand” services which allow consumers to either rent or purchase movies over an internet connection.
But that runs into another problem of the “Hollywood vs. everyone else” debate: How can I even find films that are even good? As much as I adore Netflix, it does a fairly terrible job of informing users of new films; and other services aren’t any better. This is coming from a guy who keeps up to date with various film sites/blogs, and even I have a hard time getting access to worthwhile entertainment. Education is something that could work in advantage of getting people interested in obscure film titles; though, there is a reason–a rather sad one–as to why Americans seemingly have no interest in going beyond their comfort zones—they don’t care about film as “art.” I realize how condescending that statement might appear, but there is some truth to this. After a screening of the big-budgeted schlock Battle: Los Angeles, I explained to my friends that I thought it was an unoriginal mess of cliché’s stolen from nearly every American war film ever created, and had the audacity to somehow make an alien invasion “boring.” All I got in response were glares from my friends and the tired statement of “stop acting like a critic, Chris.” On film blogs, hundreds of posts can be read of commenters calling for the online critic’s head for dare claiming that Michael Bay film is (gasp!) terrible. Anti-intellectualism is a term Dr. Peary used in describing the love-hate relationship movie-goers have with critics; the idea of a single person claiming authority over a specific subject tends to make people uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because feel rather stupid when someone who might be more qualified to talk about film proceeds to tear apart your favorite film; or maybe it’s simply because no one likes a know-it-all ass. Either way, this notion of “people shouldn’t intellectually pick apart a film because it’s just fun, man” feeds into the idea that films aren’t worth anything more than trashy entertainment is rather insulting, and fills me with the kind of passive-aggressive rage that inspires one to blog.
While Hollywood is often the first to be blamed for the state of the film industry—not to suggest that Hollywood isn’t—some of that blame lies squarely with the audience that feeds the machine. People want the loud, brashness of today’s Hollywood action-films because they’re easy to digest and contain American sensibilities that most people are familiar with. Could you say the same for Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation or Michael R. Roskam’s Bullhead? In today’s modern society, people want their entertainment—which ranges from film, television, music, and literature—in bite-sized, easy to digest formats, where the good-guys win and get rewarded for their deeds.
I don’t want to suggest that people are unintelligent because they don’t appreciate film nor would I ever suggest that film-viewing shouldn’t be fun. Movies might be one of the most enjoyable social activities that people can enjoy, and I certainly enjoy the decent summer blockbuster as much as everyone else; but I do believe the key to widening the gap is an understanding of film culture in general—not just what Hollywood hypes up.