Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there’s anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
45 years ago, François Truffaut was a working director, facing the same ups and downs of film production that visit many of today’s master craftsmen. In 1967, Guardian writer Peter Lennon visited Truffaut while the auteur was shooting an American novel adaptation (presumably “The Bride Wore Black,” the article never specifies). Aside from being a tiny glimpse into the state of late-60s, director-industry discourse, it’s simply entertaining to think of how a piece like this would spark conversation in today’s Internet realm. A potential headline of TRUFFAUT: ‘SHOOTING IN ENGLISH WAS A MISTAKE’ doesn’t seem too far off.
“Truffaut is a very classical director. His set is quite unlike a Godard set, where the actors are given their lines on dirty little scraps of paper, like food tickets; a thin scatter of technicians stand around looking as if they are waiting for the real crew to turn up, and the director potters about fitting this bit on to that while everyone wonders what the hell the film is about. At Cannes, working in wide screen and colour, it was the familiar large crowd of actors and technicians working more or less strictly to a detailed script. Truffaut is very painstaking – a minimum of seven takes for each shot – and meticulous.”
If your favorite movie has been released sometime in the past decade and a half, odds are good that the promo website for that film still exists. Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic takes a brief look at some of the developments in this process, charting how the moviegoing public has changed their marketing absorption habits as a result.
“Unlike most Internet destinations, official movie websites are useful for a brief moment in time—making them a perfect capsule of a specific moment in Internet history. Like all promotional material, movie sites lose value not long after a film’s release. Yet, unlike a Times Square billboard, these sites (at least sometimes) neither get revamped nor get taken down because space out here is seemingly infinite and comparatively cheap. When faced with a choice to take down or continue hosting a site, movie studios probably figure, why bother removing them at all?”
For many people, the film industry is a maze of development and credit-taking that, while frustrating, ultimately makes sense. Planet Money’s Adam Davidson describes in the New York Times Magazine that it’s almost a miracle that the financial pitfalls coming from filmmaking even exist at all. Among the reasons that Davidson gives for the industry’s ability to stay afloat in spite of an incredibly skewed structure: the sheer volume of institutional knowledge. (Also, the accompanying flowchart is pretty spot-on.)
“Another reason these studios remain at the top is that for most entrepreneurs, taking them on isn’t worth the risks. (Even big hits often take years — sometimes a full decade — to break even.) ‘If I’m sitting on $2 billion, will I invest in a Hollywood studio?” asks Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School professor who studies the entertainment industry. “Many other industries have a higher return on investment.’ Billionaires like Anil Ambani, who is a partner in Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios, presumably invest because the glamour helps them with their other businesses. People have predicted the demise of the film industry since the dawn of TV and, later, the appearance of VHS, cable and digital piracy. But Fabrizio Perretti, a management professor at the Università Bocconi in Italy, says that Hollywood is now actually destroying itself. Because it’s harder to get financing and audiences, companies are competing to make bigger, costlier films while eliminating risk, which is why ever-more movies are based on existing intellectual property. Eighteen of the all-time 100 top-grossing movies (adjusted for inflation) were sequels, and more than half of those were released since 2000.”
The topic of film preservation is one that dovetails nicely with the relentless, ongoing debate that has inhabited many of Criticwire’s posts: the film vs. digital smackdown. When we talk about film, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded how all those film relics are stored. Daniel Terdiman’s piece for CNET about the Academy Film Archive may contain common knowledge for cinephiles well versed in the ongoing film/digital discussion, but the accompanying videos add a helpful visual explanatory component to a story about archival.
“For the most part, the films stay in protective cans on the shelves, stashed away and unwatched. There are, of course, some uses: researchers can request a film, for example. And for someone like [Archive director Michael] Pogorzelski, there is a constant temptation to pull a film off the shelves and throw it onto a projector for a couple hours of nostalgia. But even the archive’s director can’t indulge that impulse. ‘Everything is archival, and every time you use it, you have to take that seriously,’ Pogorzelski said. ‘It could get damaged or broken. The film lover in me would love to do that, but the archivist in me takes that seriously.'”
Although it’s likely that no sci-fi film will make a complete accurate prediction of future trends in technology, culture and morality, some of them have a pretty decent batting average. BBC’s Deirdre Finnerty examines some of the more prominent futuristic features from both “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report” in an attempt to map out our progression over the intervening decades. If anything, it highlights the severe disappointment that we’re nowhere near to having hover cars.
“Predictive policing is a big part of Minority Report, in which three psychics, known as pre-cogs, have the ability to see into the future and therefore help stop criminal activity. Obviously no force in the world is going to be putting psychics at the heart of their strategy, but there has been growing interest in the idea of mapping future crime trends and even predicting which individuals could become a problem. In 2006, Tony Blair said state intervention could become ‘pre-birth even’ as it was possible to predict that children born in some circumstances could later become anti-social. Memphis Police Department in Tennessee is working with IBM on a system that analyses crime trends to predict where police should be deployed. IBM say this has helped reduce crime by 30%.”
NPR’s pop culture blog Monkey See has a bevy of thoughtful and entertaining posts that could fill up its own regular week-in-review piece. Over the past few days, they’ve featured a pair of stories that are particularly pertinent to the film universe. One is “More Than Words: How Some Movies End Up With Lousy Subtitles,” David Wagner’s examination of some of foreign film’s most egregious subtitling misadventures. It’s a humorous look at a system that is often hamstrung both by its apparent resources and pre-existing institutional practices. The second post is a lovely remembrance of Nora Ephron by Monkey See editor Linda Holmes entitled “What Nora Ephron Taught Me About Love in the Movies.” More than just an examination of her film’s assets, Holmes adds a truly heartfelt component to her respect for Ephron’s work, which makes it less of an obituary and more of a display of personal gratitude.
“Even more incomprehensibly, subtitlers aren’t necessarily working with the original dialogue. In worst-case scenarios, they might be creating subtitles from an already-dubbed film. There’s been speculation that this might have been the problem with one widely mocked DVD box set of Akira Kurosawa films. Perhaps, the theory goes, the subtitles are based off Chinese dub tracks rather than the original Japanese lines. And perhaps that explains why, according to one online analysis, what the British Film Institute version subtitles as ‘I saw an old woman in the Forest,’ this version subtitles as ‘I met a monster in the spider bush.’ Or how, similarly, ‘Keep away from me, you stink’ becomes ‘Get away, you are of cropse smell.'”
“In grand, life-decision-making ways, it’s ridiculous to meet on a roof and walk off together. But haven’t you ever met someone you couldn’t believe loved the same line from the same movie you did? Have you never said that something was a sign, even if you were officially kidding? Have you never said that ‘the rest was history,’ which implies that a moment happened, and then history just followed, like you were letting out the kite string but the wind was doing the work? Ephron wrote fairy tales that spun things that really happen – reconciliation over time, mysterious chemistry, complex and loaded friendships, love after grief and loss – into things that don’t happen, or don’t happen very much. But I always recognized in those stories pieces of people I knew and conversations I had had; they were like choral compositions where everything else is just pretty sounds, but you can pick out the alto line because you sang it in choir fifteen years ago. You could never reproduce the entire thing without amplification and help, but that one part makes sense.”