Category Archives: The Roundup


The Roundup: August 12

Seems like every time I think I won’t have enough good articles for the Roundup, I end up having WAY TOO MANY. Ah, well. Enjoy this supersized edition.


The Death of Film/Decay of Cinema at 15: A Conversation with Godfrey Cheshire by Matt Zoller Seitz and Geoffrey Cheshire at Roger


This is a wide-ranging and fascinating conversation between two thoughtful film critics about the present and future of cinema – it’s based to some degree on Cheshire’s influential prophetic articles from 1999 about digital cinema, but they follow the conversation where it goes, and its a pretty great read. It was difficult to choose which section to quote, and I’m still not sure I picked the best part.

And once you had cinema, of course, it became very much that way, where it was like going to the temple or something. It was very ritualized in a way, whereas I said that in my article in saying what I was predicting was that it would reverse again, and people would often stay at home to watch the serious things that demanded concentration, that they used to go to the movie theatre for, and people in theatres would be acting more like they used to watch TV, talking and joking and paying attention to other things, being distracted. That’s exactly what’s happened. And it really is interesting, the extent to which it has. Movies, when you and I were younger and really got into them—and especially the movies that were visually so impressive: The Godfathers and 2001s were really immersive experiences—those were things where you went into the theater and were totally absorbed by that experience. You weren’t thinking about anything else, or the person next to you. You were completely unaware of anything else except being completely absorbed in that image.

Girls on Film: Why Audiences Are Responsible for the Future of Cinema by Monika Bartyzel at The Week


This is one of those pieces that feels obvious and revelatory at the same time, with a great call to action to support smaller and less tentpole-y films. I’m not particularly optimistic about it, since the kind of people who will read an article like this, much less act on it, make up a pretty small percentage of the overall audience, but I definitely appreciate Monika’s sentiment, and I hope to follow through on it to some degree once we’re actually going to films regularly again.

Today, Hollywood studios focus almost solely on the blockbuster, and everything else is deemed an “indie film” — a gelatinous designation that holds none of the power of huge advertising budgets and tentpole culture. To break through, an indie can’t just be good; it has to be amazing. A crappy action film can generally make its money back, but a diverse piece of indie cinema must be so good that it inspires critics and audiences to band together and praise it to the top.

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The Roundup: July 29


I Killed At the Movies by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club


I confess that I’ve never watched At the Movies in any of its incarnations, even when Siskel (or Roeper) and Ebert were on it, yet I was fascinated by Vishnevetsky’s account not only of his brief tenure on the show, but of the entire history of the show and why it was set up the way it was, right down to set design and camera angles. It’s about more than just At the Movies, it’s about the business of television. And, of course, it’s a remarkably candid look at Vishnevetsky’s apparent failure in that business without bitterness or even regret, at least not in a negative way.

I never master these skills, because I am the wrong man for the job. When Ebert Presents: At The Movies goes on the air in January of 2011, I am 24, far and away the youngest host in the format’s history. I have improbably beaten out smarter, more qualified candidates (one of whom will win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism) after several rounds of auditions. I’d like to believe that I’m a strong critic and writer and a capable speaker, but I can’t seem to figure out a way to get ideas into broadcast without coming off as a shill or a dick. Frustrated, I fall back on cliches I’d never use in conversation or writing. Christy Lemire, who has extensive TV experience and a more easygoing writing style, is a natural, and I’m the kid who keeps interrupting her.

The Essential Fritz Lang by Greg Ferrera at Movie Morlocks


Sort of following on Greg’s article I shared last week, about what film should be your SECOND film from major directors – this one ponders the idea that maybe a director’s best-known film isn’t actually the one that’s most representative of his/her overall body of work. He takes Fritz Lang as an example, arguing that M, Fury, and others are more quintessentially “Lang” than Metropolis. I fully agree with this, and it applies to other directors as well. It doesn’t mean Metropolis is less essential in the abstract, just that it doesn’t display Lang’s particular preoccupations quite as clearly as several of his other films.

On an upcoming installment of The Essentials, hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore, TCM presents Metropolis, the 1926 Fritz Lang classic about a dystopian future that was very much about 1926 instead of the future in the same way M*A*S*H was about Vietnam much more than it was about Korea. The movie is easily Fritz Lang’s most well known. It is also quite the essential if “essential” in this case is defined as a movie one must see to further complete an education on cinema, to be able to say, “Yes, I’m a classic movies fan.” But is it essential to understanding Fritz Lang?

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The Roundup: July 16, 2014


The 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters of All Time Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 at The Dissolve


I’ll admit that I haven’t actually read through the Dissolve’s Blockbuster series yet, but I did read a couple of the articles that it inspired, as contributors mused on why they voted the way they did and what exactly makes a blockbuster – is it box office take? Budget? Perception? NPR’s Chris Klimek discusses his choices and how he has trouble considering comedies to be blockbusters, then Matt Singer back at the Dissolve riffs off Chris’s piece, suggesting that the blockbuster is really a state of mind (sort of). I definitely think of blockbuster as more a KIND of film rather than a description of box-office take, which is where Singer basically ends up. On a slightly tangential note, this article from Grantland’s Alex Pappademas about self-loathing summer movies is a good read.

Blockbusters have become such an integral part of the way we talk about films that it’s hard to believe they haven’t always been with us. But while there have always been big movies—lavish productions designed to draw crowds and command repeat business—the blockbuster as we know it has a definite start date: June 20, 1975. That’s when Jaws first hit screens in the middle of what was once, in the words of The Financial Times, a “low season” when the “only steady summer dollars came, in the U.S., from drive-in theaters.” It’s summer, after all; why go to the movies when you could be outside? Jaws changed that. Star Wars cemented that change. And now, the summer-movie season is dominated by the biggest films Hollywood has to offer.

PG Should Not Equal Inferior by Rich at Wide Screen World


I was literally JUST saying this on Twitter last week. There have been a few articles recently about PG-13 and how it’s kind of taken over the marketplace, and they’re generally accompanied by a call for more films to go ahead and go for the R rating, with the undercurrent that R-rated films are for adults and adults should go to R-rated films. Rich points out exactly what I think, which is that it’s really PG that needs more love. PG was supposed to be for films that were appropriate for children, but really meant for adults. Why does a film meant for adults HAVE to have language, sex, and/or violence to be adult-centric? I mean, sure, if those things are important to the story or genre, I’m not averse to them, but the “R is for adults” mindset pushes for those things to be included merely to get that rating, which is so backwards to me.

I do think it’s unfortunate that market demands have prevented adult PG films from being economically viable. Sure, nudity and profanity may make a movie look more like real life, but in creative terms, it’s easy, and after using it time and again, it loses its impact. Not every movie needs it that badly. So if we must have ratings in American films, I say that instead of eliminating the PG-13, let’s strengthen the PG instead, by investing in adult films that don’t rely on sex and violence. It would open up an under-served audience that’s fed up with modern movies, and it would do away with the stigma associated with PG films, a stigma it didn’t earn and doesn’t deserve.

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The Roundup: June 30, 2014


Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and the Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Happiest Couple by Matthew Dessem at The Dissolve


This is a great piece of writing – well-researched, sourced, informative, interesting, and highly readable. I’ve long wondered if the increase in cynicism in Wilder’s work coincided closely with his switch in writing partners from Brackett to Diamond for a reason, and it looks like it did. I’m pretty interested to read Brackett’s journals when they’re published this fall.

Brackett emerges from his own pages as a sort of platonic ideal of WASPishness: observant, hyperliterate, reserved, snobbish, fiercely loyal. And on almost every page is Wilder, Wilder, Wilder, Brackett’s collaborator, rival, friend, and opponent. His day-by-day account of their work together gives a fascinating portrait of their partnership, at least from Brackett’s perspective, and one of the most detailed accounts of any artistic partnership ever. Wilder once told biographer Charlotte Chandler that “a good writing collaboration is more difficult to achieve than a good marriage. And it’s more intimate.” Brackett’s diaries reveal just how apt that comparison was. Over the years the two men worked together, they came to know each other better than anyone else ever would. And when the end came for Brackett and Wilder, it came with guilt and recrimination, jealousy and betrayal.

Can Indie Directors Avoid Disappearing Into the Studio System? by Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects


Rian Johnson landing the gig as director of Star Wars Episode VIII is pretty awesome on two levels – it’s validation for his skill and great for his exposure (and bankability) as a director, and it means that Star Wars VIII will hopefully be solid – and less exciting on a third: it means he likely won’t have time to do more quirky, idiosyncratic films like Brick, The Brothers Bloom or Looper for a while at least. Or maybe ever. Landon’s observation here is that these days it seems that indie directors who hit it big and start making big studio films end up never returning to smaller films (the “one for them, one for me” mentality of Steven Soderbergh and others seems to be fading). Now, he’s ignoring the one-two punch of Whedon’s Avengers and Much Ado About Nothing, but he’s spot on about one thing, at least, and that’s the way filmmaking is splitting into two tracks – megabudgeted Hollywood blockbusters and microbudgeted indies. The mid-range non-franchised studio-supported film is dying out.

I am by no means saying that such directors are selling out, or that any of these filmmakers have some sort of prescribed duty to take on more personal and riskier projects. They aren’t and they don’t. But it is notable that directors who make a mark upon the independent scene rarely show evidence of “cashing out” after directing hugely successful studio projects. Instead, they dig their heels deeper into the studio machine, and not only stand to benefit greatly from it, but seek to become major players within it by seating themselves as a major source of direction for these franchises’ greater futures. [...] Perhaps this widespread practice more generally speaks to studios’ continued devotion towards franchising at the expense of all other different types of filmmaking. Where it seemed for years that indies and mainstream films were blending to the point of being indistinguishable, now it seems that two rigidly distinct tiers of filmmaking exists, separated by a canyon of monetary and institutional resources.

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The Roundup: June 24, 2014


We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve


After my disappointment with the usually-solid Girls on Film column last week and its undeserved takedown of Edge of Tomorrow, I was a bit apprehensive about reading this Trinity Syndrome piece, which is largely dealing with the same issue of kick-ass female characters being relegated to helpers or dismissed as the (male) hero takes over the story. But this one is actually really good, and even looks at Edge of Tomorrow as an exception. I think the one danger in this kind of thinking is that it suggests that we have to wait for a “good reason” to have a female character – really, we just need more female characters, period, and part of that is not waiting for there to be a reason to make a character female (we don’t ask why a character is male, because we see “male” as default). But Tasha is looking at a very specific instance where a female character is introduced seemingly especially to be a strong female character, like checking off a box, then not doing anything interesting with her. There’s a lot to unpack from this article, and obviously a lot more to be said on the issue as a whole.

So maybe all the questions can boil down to this: Looking at a so-called Strong Female Character, would you—the writer, the director, the actor, the viewer—want to be her? Not want to prove you’re better than her, or to have her praise you or acknowledge your superiority. Action movies are all about wish-fulfillment. Does she fulfill any wishes for herself, rather than for other characters? When female characters are routinely “strong” enough to manage that, maybe they’ll make the “Strong Female Characters” term meaningful enough that it isn’t so often said sarcastically.

Cinemadoosti: Film Folklore in Iran by Ehsan Khoshbakht at BFI


I’m fascinated by the way other cultures relate to film, and Iran is an especially interesting case. Until the Cultural Revolution in 1979, Iran had one of the more progressive cultures in the Middle East, which means the parents and grandparents of current generations remember a lot of cultural artifacts that are now forbidden, which has created an oral tradition passing down knowledge of things that are no longer allowed. The article is largely about Iranian documentary filmmakers who focus on the way memory, cinema, and history interact. I’m not a bit documentary person, but many of these sound really interesting.

For the generation born after the revolution, myself included, parents became narrators of the films we couldn’t see. My first encounter with classics such as The Godfather, La Strada or Shree 420 was hearing their narratives as told by my father. Years later, when thanks to new technologies we could see the films themselves, the real sequences were sometimes less impressive than those we had created in our mind. The imagination could be more cinematic than cinema. If cinema was invented in France, and industrialised on a massive scale in the US, it was in Iran that it was turned into a folkloric art. Iranians have subverted received notions of cinephilia to create their own cinemadoosti, which deals with memory, text and images, and through which the memory of an image is often substituted for the image itself.

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