I actually looked into that about a year ago, but the path to working in restoration is long and tedious, more technical than creative, sort of like discovering you have to draw 24 frames of nearly the exact same thing to produce a single second of animation. It kills the mood. I couldnt do it, personally. Thankfully there are some who can.
I selfishly use this forum as a kind of tracking board, also in hopes that organizing all this disparate film news might make it easier for someone stumbling along to make sense of the film landscape as it exists right now, and possibly discover movies more than a couple years old that get them excited, too. Unrealistic? Maybe. Insane? Probably so. Given that this place has maybe 30 regular members and a phantom crew of 50 visiting guests on any daily basis. But whatever. If I break from following this stuff for even a week I become totally unaware of what’s happening, which is fine, but I prefer to have some sense of the industry’s pulse, despite the fact it’s now only faintly beating.
The problem right now more than anything is awareness that these kinds of films even exist, older films, not access necessarily — that article mentions that they’re going to throw a bunch of these silent movies online, streaming, for free. But what will that do? Who will know they are there? When a director with clout like PT mentions being inspired by something relatively obscure like the films of Robert Downey Sr., Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, or the doc Jazz on a Summer’s Day, or in the case of Refn mentioning Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising in reference to Drive…it does more to keep these films alive and generate interest in new restorations I think than any independent efforts working outside that kind of influence could. I doubt, for instance, that the Criterion and Eclipse releases of some of those movies would have ended up happening otherwise. A new licensing fee was paid and a studio that thought it would never make another buck off some random 1986 comedy was able to profit again most likely thanks to those offhand remarks.
On this week’s episode of KCRW’s The Business podcast, it was mentioned that film attendance by 18-24 year olds dropped a full 21% in 2013. That’s gigantic. That’s a landslide. That’s a whole generation out there that has completely checked out of the movie scene, or grew up too young to ever be involved at all. That means that the current audience for indies is generally much older, 25 - 40. The budding filmmakers with a personal vision, the ones whose ambitions aren’t to make the broadest pictures possible that people still seem to be paying for, where does that leave them?
I’m wondering out loud now, but I actively debate whether or not interest in independent movies today has fallen because people don’t know they exist in the first place, or because they suck, or both. I think it’s both. But I think it’s a more complicated answer and that those reasons are intertwined — that the lack of awareness of films is also related, on a basic structural level (in terms of the way information online is disseminated and the methods by which people discover new content) to the reasons why the independent films of the past five or ten years haven’t exactly lit the world on fire.
The disruption that’s occurred in distribution over the course of the past decade has affected both new releases and catalog titles, and my theory is that the lack of access to older films has left a bit of a vacuum for a younger generation in terms of being familiar with film language or varied storytelling styles, which has produced a whole slew of handheld, naval-gazing work rooted in no film tradition at all. (Oh fuck I’m getting up my ass here…) Filmmakers who want to tell stories that are different than what is largely being offered now, stories as varied as the industry produced twenty or thirty years ago, they’re most likely film fanatics themselves. Cinema has become polarized, but half the issue is that many of the better indie movies are operating in a completely different register in terms of film language, informed by all those years of following movies in a linear way, learning more sophisticated cinematographic techniques and storytelling methods gradually, than the product most audiences are used to seeing. This stuff isn’t rocket science, it’s not impenetrable, but familiarity with it requires consistent exposure. A lot of the better writing may be happening in television right now, I can admit that, and the cable shows are certainly more cinematic than they were before, but at the end of the day, it’s still resulting in television closer to filmed plays than singular visual experiences.
That’s the other thing. What characterized the independent movies of the 90s was a sense of personality
, a feeling that you were seeing the world through the eyes of one person, the filmmaker, and that the story might have even been secondary to the individual tone they were able to strike with their worldview. David Lynch, Tarantino, Todd Solondz — we associate something specific with their names. A scene between a husband and wife in a kitchen wouldn’t be even close to the same scene if filmed by any of them. That’s missing now. I can scarcely think of any filmmakers who have emerged in the past 15 years who I can attach that degree of specificity to, and furthermore I worry that basic interest in personal vision is becoming passé, that the turn to watching so much by yourself in your house on your home theater or laptop instead of in a communal setting, theatrically, has perversely created an even greater need for common cultural landmarks, which in turn has pushed aside the need to connect with the individual experience of someone else.
Here's a quote by Jonathan Franzen, tangentially related:
When I first met Don DeLillo, he was making the case that if we ever stop having fiction writers it will mean we’ve given up on the concept of the individual person. We will only be a crowd. And so it seems to me that the writer’s responsibility nowadays is very basic: to continue to try to be a person, not merely a member of a crowd. (Of course, the place where the crowd is forming now is largely electronic.) This is a primary assignment for anyone setting up to be and remain a writer now. So even as I spend half my day on the Internet—doing email, buying plane tickets, ordering stuff online, looking at bird pictures, all of it—I personally need to be careful to restrict my access. I need to make sure I still have a private self. Because the private self is where my writing comes from. The more I’m pulled out of that, the more I simply become another loudspeaker for what already exists. As a writer, I’m trying to pay attention to the stuff the people aren’t paying attention to. I’m trying to monitor my own soul as carefully as I can and find ways to express what I find there.
What I’m getting at is that the audience for the kinds of movies a lot of us on this board like, or used to like when they were still getting made regularly, is excruciatingly small, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. There just needs to be an easy way to get at this stuff, in an accessible organized fashion, and that's partially what I'm attempting to contribute to.
That was a huge, unwieldy, rant. I went fucking way off topic. Will probably delete this in an hour or so.