Sunday, December 30, 2012

Do the Movies Have a Future? (2012)

David Denby is one of the few remaining print journalists who review films. He currently works for The New Yorker magazine and his most recent book is, for the most part, previous reviews of films. What makes Do the Movies Have a Future? special are the essays that did not appear in the magazine, essays dealing with what to many critics has been seen as the demise of film over the past decade. But it’s more than that. His opening essay, the introduction to the book, is an incredibly insightful look at the dumbing down of the audience that has happened over the past twenty or thirty years because of the increasing commodification of film as solely a money-making enterprise. Yes, the studios have always been in the business for the bottom line, but they always did so by trying to make a superior, sophisticated product. Now it’s all about selling to kids, who have no sense of anything beyond sensation.

The rest of the book he divides into interesting categories. There is a section on medium, iPod screens and such that is rather humorous, considering the advances made since the writing of that essay. There is a wonderful section on independent films that champions some great work from the past decade. I also enjoyed the essays on stars of today as well as an extended piece on Joan Crawford. There is a section on directors, as diverse as Otto Preminger and Quentin Tarantino, a small section on critics Pauline Kael and James Agee, as well as a prediction and answer to the premise stated in his title.

One of the difficult things about reading criticism is the fact that most print critics don’t have the advantage of time. The need to come up with some kind of criticism and analysis, usually after watching a film only one time, can lead to some erroneous opinions. Just one example of this is in his essay on Alexander Payne’s film Sideways. A break-out film for Payne, Denby harps on the fact that Payne somehow can’t break free from his Iowa roots, and yet the film is set in California and ranges from San Diego to the Ynez Valley, a prelude to his next film, The Descendants, which is set in Hawaii. But as long as we keep that in mind, it’s a small fault. Ultimately, Denby is an intelligent critic who understands not only the history of film but the challenges facing the industry and audiences today. It’s a book well worth reading.

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