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Daily Reads: How Senior Citizens Became Indie Film’s Most Powerful Audience, Manly Malaise in ‘Knight of Cups’ and ‘Vinyl,’ and More

Daily Reads: How Senior Citizens Became Indie Film's Most Powerful Audience, Manly Malaise in 'Knight of Cups' and 'Vinyl,' and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. How Senior Citizens Became Independent Film’s Most Powerful Audience.
When all the hemming and hawing about the long-term success of indie film against the commercial monolith of mainstream entertainment is said and done, it’s important just to look at who actually makes up the audience for indie films. Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey examines how senior citizens became independent film’s most powerful audience.

“People over 50 grew up in a cinema-appreciating culture, where you still go and see movies on a big screen,” [director Susan] Seidelman notes. And for younger audiences, it’s often less a matter of interest than of time and cost. “Before I had kids, I’d go to the movies once a week,” Lundberg confesses. “And now, I have a company, I have three children, I have to commute, and it’s very difficult to get out to the theater. I feel like the older generation is not only capable of going to the theater, but that’s really the way they like to view things…And the younger generation, they’re just used to a media feed.” Mendelson concurs, “When you’re old enough to, if not be retired than maybe have your kids out of the house,” he says, “going to the movies isn’t a giant obstacle.” And Lundberg notes that this could be the one downside of this year’s #OscarsSoWhite-driven shakeup in AMPAS membership rules, which would remove members from the voting rolls after periods of inactivity in the industry. “Anecdotally, I would have to say that my father, who was a filmmaker, and a lot of his friends – I feel they’re the ones who really do watch everything. They aren’t just watching the big-ticket items or the things that are out in front of everything, but they really are watching a few movies a week – and maybe that’s because they have time or maybe that’s just because they’re interested.” These audiences are also seeing familiar faces from their generation that don’t get the exposure they used to. Part of the marketing hook for “I’ll See You in My Dreams” was that it featured 72-year-old character actress Blythe Danner in her first leading role; ditto “Grandma,” which was Lily Tomlin’s first lead since 1988’s “Big Business.” “These are actresses that had, at one time, real marquee value,” Lundberg says, and the net result is inspiring: “I think the industry — and maybe they would disagree – but I do feel like there are slightly more opportunities than there were five or ten years ago for actresses who are slightly older.” That’s certainly something worth celebrating about “Doris,” which finds Sally Field playing her first leading role in a decade (and her second-most recent was a decade before that). Beyond that, though, note how the film treats her character, a mousy bookkeeper who finds herself thunderstruck by John (Max Greenfield, from “New Girl”), the new guy at the office, several decades her junior. A lesser movie would’ve made fun of Doris, sneered at her and her impossible crush; frankly, considering the take-no-prisoners approach of Showalter’s earlier work, it’s a bit surprising that “Hello, My Name Is Doris” is so darned nice. But it is – there’s a real sweetness to this film, a warmth. The movie is clearly rooting for Doris, and consequently, so are we.

2. “Knight of Cups,” “Vinyl,” and When Manly Malaise Gets Old.
Terrence Winter’s new TV show “Vinyl” focuses on a middle-aged record executive struggling to resurrect his label and Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups” follows a successful screenwriter as he walks numbly through life trying to find purpose and meaning. Buzzfeed’s Alison Willmore examines the two texts and the point when manly malaise gets old.

“Knight of Cups” is a Terrence Malick movie and, like other Terrence Malick movies, it is lyrical, unbearably lovely, and not terribly concerned with straightforward storytelling. The characters speak in voiceover more than they do to one another; the film is one long, experiential montage set to classical music more than it is a series of chronological events. “Knight of Cups” is about how Rick visits and revisits a series of current and ex-lovers, friends, and family members played by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, and Natalie Portman, among others, each of whom corresponds to a tarot card and each of whom tells Rick about himself and his quest for meaning in bursts of abstract prose. It’s an ecstatic fantasy about feeling malaise in a Los Angeles in which all doors are open to you. The rest of the movie is — like that shot of Rick après-party on the roof — full of equal parts beauty and bullshit, reveling in a heavily romanticized version of Hollywood superficiality while indulging a character who just can’t figure out what he wants, and who bears wounds from an estranged father and a brother who died, keeping him from making connections. This doesn’t stop him from trying various women on for size as possible salvation. “You don’t want love. You want a love experience,” one girlfriend, played by Imogen Poots, murmurs to summarize the emptiness of their relationship. “Knight of Cups” might be described, similarly, as an angst experience, delivering a simulacrum of a man’s search for meaning as he soaks up the delights of the plush purgatory Malick makes L.A. out to be: an endless corridor of cocktails, palm trees, and lithe ladies. It’s not exactly the director’s “Entourage,” but it might be his attempt at a “BoJack Horseman.” Or maybe it’s his “Vinyl.” Malick’s movie is dreamy and disconnected while Martin Scorsese’s HBO series is amped up and motormouthed. But they’re both auteur projects about a particular flavor of dissatisfaction that almost no one has the opportunity to sample: the unplaceable ache of having everything except fulfillment. “Knight of Cups'” Rick and “Vinyl’s” record exec Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) aren’t the first fictional characters to feel sad in positions of showbiz power — and they won’t be the last — but these explorations of their dissatisfaction are particularly nettling because there’s so little about their grandeur that feels earned. Richie is disaster with a good ear, and Rick may or may not be a good writer, but whether they deserve their plum gigs is beside the point. They could share a self-pitying shuffle from their sweet perches, which are separated by a continent and a few decades but both surrounded by other people who seem to actually know what they want and what they haven’t been able to get. What to give the guy who has it all? Apparently, an extravagant ode to how hollow they feel inside as they rattle around their airy condo or Greenwich house, gazing at the women who are failing to make them whole inside. Those women in “Knight of Cups” — Poots’ manic pixie dream girl, Teresa Palmer’s stripper with a heart of gold, and Blanchett (a standout) as Rick’s physician ex-wife, among others — serve as mirrors in which Rick observes his own restiveness. But in “Vinyl,” a series overstuffed with acting talent and grindingly short of worthy ideas, there are actual full-fledged other characters, and almost any one of them would be a more interesting center than Richie. These include Juno Temple as the punk Peggy Olson to Richie’s Don Draper; or Ray Romano as Richie’s aging head of promotions; or Ato Essandoh as the blues artist Richie picked up and then betrayed early in his career. Then there’s Olivia Wilde as the former Warhol girl whom Richie married, a woman dealing with the fact that being a suburban homemaker can be just as thankless as being a muse.

3. Why “House of Cards” Is So Obsessed With The Clintons.
The fourth season of the Netflix series “House of Cards” premiered last week and all of its fans are slowly catching up with the trials and tribulations of Frank Underwood. Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff examines why the series is obsessed with the Clintons and their political narratives.

Broadly speaking, “House of Cards” exists within a subgenre of storytelling that encompasses everything from “Independence Day” to “Definitely, Maybe” — works that operate as if it’s a given that the Clinton presidency was at least somewhat disappointing. That disappointment exists on both the right and the left. But no matter where it originates, it hinges on the idea that Bill Clinton could have been one of the greats but settled, instead, for being average. Generally, the “Clinton disappointment” story attempts to suggest how Clinton might have become one of said greats. In “Independence Day,” for instance, it’s by leading Earth’s resistance against an invading alien force. (I didn’t say the scenario had to be realistic.) These stories are often filtered through the sensibilities of Generation X — the folks sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials, forever doomed to live in one of the two groups’ shadows — and usually feature some element of this generational anxiety as well. What’s unique about “House of Cards” is that its solution for Clinton-related disappointment doesn’t involve any policymaking, either domestic or foreign. Instead, it hints that the Clintons should have just started killing people and sowing chaos. There are differences, of course. Most notably, while Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has the white trash roots and genial folksiness of Bill Clinton, his deeply repressed bisexuality presents the opposite set of problems as those encountered by his real-life forebear. Claire (Robin Wright), with her cool, classy vibe and regal air, is closer to the real-life Hillary Clinton — but in her embrace of destruction and chaos, she simultaneously feels sort of like one of those “Texts From Hillary” memes come to life. As such, “House of Cards” attempts to analyze the Clinton marriage in search of answers, then arrives at the most boring conclusion for what draws the two together you could ever think of: They covet power. Frank and Claire share no particular sexual attraction for each other. They don’t seem to have much fun when they’re together. They don’t even seem like very good friends. By most standards of solid fictional marriages, they’re a bust. What they do have is a shared goal, one that drives them through every single episode: They want to smite their enemies and grind them beneath their boot heels. And they will do anything, use anyone, and commit any acts of violence necessary to achieve that goal. The ends always justify the means, to an almost comical degree. “House of Cards'” first season hinted at this idea, as when Claire approved of Frank’s affair with a young reporter, meant to provide a way to plant stories in the press that he could use to his advantage. And subsequent seasons have only made this idea more and more intriguing and explicit, to the degree that by the end of season four (the most recent), Claire has essentially usurped Frank as the most compelling character on his own show. She really believes she’s the one who made him what he is, who gave him the presidency when he was but a mere representative. Increasingly, “House of Cards” appears to believe she’s right. Season four teases the idea of Frank and Claire being at odds — which is surely what will happen as the series approaches its finale, whenever that may be — but it’s ultimately just so Claire can finagle her way onto Frank’s presidential ticket as his running mate, the sort of political marriage the two have always aspired to anyway. (My dream is for “House of Cards'” series finale to feature her orchestrating his assassination, so that she might ascend the throne.) Their temporary disagreement is but one example of the tenet at the center of the series: the idea that all marriages — romantic or otherwise — are mutually assured destruction pacts, where the whole enterprise stays alive as much because neither participant wants to be bombed into oblivion as anything else. Wed this idea to the Clinton disappointment plot, and you arrive at a cynical notion of politics that would be bitterly amusing if “House of Cards” gave any indication it knew just how bizarre it sounds. The series argues that the Clintons weren’t failures because they were the dark, loveless, murderous boogeymen who lurked in conservative email forwards from 1997 — but because they weren’t those people. Maybe if they had been, they would have gotten something done.

4. Andrew Corkin on Becoming an Independent Producer.
The production company Uncorked produces everything from shorts to features to TV and web series, and it’s one of the biggest names in the New York independent scene. Run by Andrew Corkin and Bryan Reisberg, the company has a new film premiering at SXSW next week. Over at Filmmaker Magazine, Scott Macauley interviews Corkin on becoming an independent last year around the time his film “Emelie” premiered.

How did you get into producing? How did you become a producer?

 My producing story, I guess, starts in a very traditional way. I realized that I loved the world of film, and film in general, when I was in high school, I was crazy enough to apply to NYU, and I got into NYU Tisch. I went there thinking, “I’ll just try everything first. I’ll act, I’ll write, I’ll direct, I’ll try to wear every single hat.” And just through the coursework and meeting people there, I learned about producing. Going in, I had no idea what a producer was. I just assumed that a producer was like a synonym for investor. It took just one class and one great teacher to really open my eyes. It was in that class that I met a group of filmmakers who had graduated the year before and who had a small production company, and they were making projects that were exciting and dynamic. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the fact that they weren’t waiting for people to give them opportunities. They would go and find opportunities themselves. During the class I raised my hand and said, “Do you guys need any help? Do you need any interns?” And they went, “Yeah, absolutely. We’d love to have you come and help us.” So I started literally at the bottom with these guys, working as an intern.

 What do you consider your sweet spot as a producer? Everyone I think has their own certain mode, whether it’s a $100 million studio film or a microbudget feature.

 I think that it’s going to continue to grow, hopefully. I mean, I’ve done films for as little as $100,000 to $5 million. But my sweet spot is really $750,000 to $1.5. That’s what I like. In terms of the way we find the projects and the content that we take on, it’s usually a three-part system. The first is completely objective; it’s the creative. It has to be a script or a treatment or something that Bryan and myself, we both read and are like, “This is great.” I don’t know what makes it great, There has to be that element that draws us in that we say to ourselves, “I’d want to watch it.” The second is, are we the right people to make this film or get the film made? Because I think it’s very selfish when people find great projects and say, “I really want to do this” knowing, in the back of their minds, that they don’t know how to make a $20 million film or a film in that genre. So it’s being willing to take a step back and say, “Am I the best producer to make this film? Will I be able to make it? Will I be able to keep my promises to the creative team? How am I going to do this?” If I can check those off, then it goes to the third, which is, who and if there is an audience for this film. I mean, now, more than ever with the evolving distribution windows, arguably you can find an audience for every type of film, whether it’s theatrical or VOD or online or, very soon, on your Apple watch. So it’s just a matter of figuring out, is it worth our time? Is it worth the budget? And, will enough people want to see this movie, and how will they see this movie? Sometimes, we have said to ourselves, “Okay, maybe that third one is not as important if it’s a way for us to launch a filmmaker.” But, it is something that really needs to be taken into consideration from the get go.

5. Out of the Past: The Rich, Complex History of Queer Cinema.
While we tend to like our narratives near and linear, especially when it comes to artistic movements or genre (or subgenre), the reality is that history is rich, complex, and multi-faceted, and narratives go in many directions rather than a straight line. For Film Comment, veteran writer and critic Michael Koresky examines the history of queer cinema.

Let’s go back in time. To a time when gays and lesbians were considered inferior forms of human. To a time when the idea of a bi- or fluid sexuality was roundly deemed a myth or, worse, an aberration. To a time when transgender people were considered social pariahs or perhaps attractions to be gawked at publicly. When same-sex couples had to fight to be treated as equals in the eyes of their government, neighbors, even families. To a time when politicians used them as fodder for their own gain, whether they approved or disapproved of them, or pretended to do either for the sake of their constituents. To a time when “coming out” meant possible social and familial rejection and an uprooting of one’s life, often at a fragile early age. To a time when gay people were stigmatized by their innate sexual needs. Let’s go back to a time when misconceptions about gays and lesbians abounded, when our domestic and sexual lives, our dreams and desires were considered strange or at least so outside the dominant culture that they were better left undiscussed. To a time when our visibility and media representation was minimal, if it existed at all. You’ve probably caught my drift: time travel isn’t necessary for us to witness firsthand the struggles of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. To different degrees, all the realities listed above are persistent, applying as much to today as to any period in the past century in the West. These pains only grow all the more acute from the enormous strides that have been made. Nevertheless, historians tend to divide gay history into discrete halves, with two easy signifiers to differentiate epochs: pre- and post-Stonewall. That is, before and after the events of June 28, 1969, when a fed-up and ever-growing band of patrons at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn refused to go gently into the night while police conducted one of their frequent raids, leading to a riot. Such simplifications of history tend to devalue the efforts of those who came before and after — those who laid the groundwork for the struggle and those who kept it alive. Nevertheless, Stonewall lingers in the American consciousness, and it stands as the very unofficial, very diffuse beginning of the gay-rights movement. Because of this, there also persists an idea that there is such a thing as a fixed pre- or post-Stonewall identity or attitude: broadly, the closet was then, the world is now. That was Shame; this is Hope. To try and chart the history created by this false binary in cinema is an entire other beast. When one considers films tagged as queer, one probably first thinks of provocations: perhaps the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Germany in the 1970s; or the aesthetic austerity measures imposed by Derek Jarman in England throughout the 1970s and ’80s; or the quiet emergence of the New Queer Cinema movement in the U.S. in the ’80s and its explosive continuation into the ’90s, when filmmakers like Gregg Araki and Todd Haynes and Kimberly Peirce and Rose Troche were taking no prisoners. Yet to only focus on such confrontational, strikingly confident cinema blinds us to the history of queer films that we would now consider “pre-Stonewall” — films that dared to identify themselves as in some way homosexual but whose forthrightness was just as often tied up with ingrained, conflicted feelings of shame. There is no one way to describe the many disparate gay-themed or gay-informed films made over these earlier decades of the 20th century, but many of them are contradictions, finding repression in liberation, desire in loathing, bitterness in empathy, and they remain all the more fascinating for it. These are films that were, out of circumstance, caught up less in the political fight for freedom than in the electric impulses that careen through our brains. These are films that we now tacitly, implicitly refute, no matter their erstwhile radicalism. We tend to love classic movies, books, and songs — unless they seem hopelessly outmoded, the irredeemable products of an earlier era not yet caught up with our imagined progressive values (which is related to why people snicker when they go to old movies). As queer theorist Heather Love wrote, gay people have historically been branded as “nonmodern or as a drag on the progress of civilization.” If, as she continues, “texts or figures that refuse to be redeemed disrupt not only the progress narrative of queer history but also our sense of queer identity in the present,” then there would seem to be nothing more of a drag to the savvy contemporary moviegoer than politically démodé gay cinema.

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