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To Be (Cont’d) Gets Things Started With a Consideration of Summer Blockbusters

Are Blockbusters Getting Worse? To Be (Cont'd)

As anyone can tell you, but few will with as much withering wit as Nick Pinkerton in his most recent “Bombast” column for SundanceNow,  the business of culture writing moves fast. But To Be (Cont’d), a new site founded by Andrew Welch and Peter Labuza, aims to take things slow.  As Welch puts it in his editor’s letter:

Imagine a site that focuses on just one topic a month and publishes only one new piece a week. Imagine, also, that each piece is part of a longform conversation between two writers, with a new pair of contributors every month, working together to create a unique, reflective dialogue. 

Exactly how that will work remains to be seen, although Labuza’s first dispatch is up now. The subject is the summer blockbuster, and as fits the epistolary tone, it’s part criticism, part alternate history and part personal examination. Labuza asks, “[I]s it really the blockbuster that’s changed, or is it us?”

Not all recent blockbusters have missed the mark, of course. Some have shown signs of life–there’s the Hawksian camaraderie of The Avengers, Andy Serkis’ emotive motion capture performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, though I’m not particularly fond of them, I’ll at least tip my hat to the ambition of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.

And yet, I’m not alone in saying I’d rather watch Die Hard, Terminator 2 or Point Break before any of today’s blockbusters, which can be exhausting. I don’t want to ignore the problems I see in these films to find my inner nine-year-old, as Matt Zoller Seitz remarks in his review of Pacific Rim; I just want cinema at its most visceral and imaginative (though let’s avoid that phrase “pure cinema,” shall we?).

It’s interesting that Labuza references David Bordwell’s theory of intensified continuity, which examines the effects of the increasingly rapid pace of editing in Hollywood films, since that’s exactly the direction that To Be (Cont’d) is turning away from. Call it “slow criticism,” an invitation to think things over and reconvene at a later date. Is the film writing world ready for its Alice Waters? Tune in next week.

Read more: “Summer Blockbusters, Part One: Who, When and Why.”

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