Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The warning bells have been going off a lot in the past few years regarding the imminent death of cinema, and the role of assassin has been essayed, depending on the sackcloth-and-ashes runway model you’re listening to at the time, by players as varied as high-definition digital video, the splintering of the audience due to the increasing number of entertainment options (many of which emphasize a solitary viewing experience), the niche marketing of film corporations to cater to that splintered audience, or even a simple dumbing-down of the tastes of moviegoers everywhere. Neal Gabler, in his op-ed piece ”The Movie Magic is Gone,” fired the latest arrow into the heart of the supposed wheezing buffalo that is the movie industry (and he fired it from, of all places, the Los Angeles Times, and on Oscar day, February 25, as well— some cheek!), offering seven arguments that might seem, to the casual observer, to make undertaking funeral arrangements for the communal experience of the movies a good idea.

But apply a little common sense and some prodigious intelligence to those arguments, as Kristin Thompson recently did on the mighty and wonderful blog Observations of Film and Film Art that she operates along with her husband, the critic David Bordwell, and the stagnant grape juice begins to leak out of Gabler’s old wineskins. Here’s Thompson:

“I don’t know whether I should be grateful or not when I read the film trade journals or major newspapers and run across columns bemoaning the decline of the cinema. On the one hand, these give me plenty of fodder for blogging. On the other, it promotes a false impression that the movie industry and the art form in general are in far worse shape than they really are.

One recent case in point is Neil Gabler’s ‘The Movie Mgic is Gone’ from February 25, where he says that movies have lost their previous importance in American society and are less and less relevant to our lives.

Gabler makes some sweeping claims. Movie attendance is down because movies have lost the importance they once had in our culture. Our obsession with stars and celebrities has replaced our interest in the movies that create them. Niche marketing has replaced the old ‘communal appeal’ of movies. The internet intensifies that division of audiences into tiny groups and fosters a growing narcissism among consumers of popular culture. Audiences have become less passive, creating their own movies for outlets like YouTube. In videogames, people’s avatars make them stars in their own right, and the narratives of games replace those of movies.

Films will survive, Gabler concludes, but they face ‘a challenge to the basic psychological satisfactions that the movies have traditionally provided. Where the movies once supplied plots, there are alternative plots everywhere.’ This epochal challenge, he says, ‘may be a matter of metaphysics.’

All this is news to me, and I think I have been paying fairly close attention to what has been going on in the moviemaking sphere over the past ten years—the period over which Gabler claims all this has been happening. Evidence suggests that all of his points are invalid.”

Do movie still matter? Would I be here right now writing this (and you reading it) if they didn't? And if they do, how do they matter to you?

You can continue reading the rest of Kristin Thompson’s ”Movies Still Matter” by clicking here.


Chris Stangl said...

Thomas Edison predicted the phonograph would make print obsolete. In the future, there would be NO BOOKS, and libraries would be filled with wax cylinders containing the sum of human wisdom.

In the long run, all prophets of utopia and/or doomsday look like dopes.

Rock n' roll is here to stay. It will never die.

Ken said...

It's really pretty simple. So long as someone will pay for the experience, movies will exist. That's why books are still around; it's not a matter of "superior" technology, it's a matter of aesthetic taste. People like to read books, therefore books will always be made. Same with movies.