Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Big and the small

During his film reviews on FiveLive, the critic Mark Kermode has often stated that audiences only have themselves to blame for the poor state of current mainstream cinema: if we pay to go and see bad films, his argument goes, we are only encouraging 'them' to make more bad films by making bad films successful. Although there is a slight flaw in his argument (in that one has to actually see a film to judge it properly), his essential point is excellent: if we, as consumers, make the very same films that we distain successful, then of course we can only expect to be confronted with a further choice of disdainful projects. Of course, the flipside of this is also true: if we, as consumers, fail to make the effort to seek out smaller independent films then we may as well bang the nails into the coffin ourselves.

I have to admit that, at times, I am often guilty of this myself. I've too often fallen into the trap of thinking that because a certain film is only showing on a few screens a long distance from my house, I'll skip seeing it in the cinema and wait for the DVD. While in a way it could be argued that I'm still supporting the film by purchasing the DVD, in a sense I'm also contributing to the problem and becoming my own worst enemy: by not helping to make the film a success in the cinema, I'm helping to ensure that similar films will continue to only open on a pitiful number of screens. And then the whole cycle starts again, and it's no doubt bound to be a never-ending one: smaller films will never achieve wider distribution until they can prove that they can make economic sense, but it's unlikely that they can make real economic sense until they gain wider distribution.

In saying all of this I am not trying to imply that independent or art-house films would all draw larger audiences simply by being shown on more screens. These films often offer challenges to audiences beyond those found in blockbusters, and these challenges can often be off-putting to people out solely for an entertaining evening. However, I do feel that many films are being unfairly ghettoised, and that if we all made a little bit more effort we might genuinely be able to change things for the better.

'Big' films often become big by being events, and they become events because of marketing hype and exposure. They become something more than just films. They seep into the cultural and social sphere and become the centre of conversation, the topic that no one wants to be ignorant of and therefore has to see. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, and even some of the blockbusters need the same kind of support that I am describing (the bigger budgets needed to make the bigger films require a bigger return to make a profit).
Watchmen would perhaps be a good example of this. Although the film has problems, it was a valiant attempt to transfer a great work to the screen, and although it might not seem like it on the surface, it was a very brave project, and one that should be supported and commended. Perhaps if it does well, 'they' will be encouraged to produce more large canvas projects based upon intelligent and risky ideas.

To move to the other end of the spectrum from Watchmen, today I went to see the film
Wendy and Lucy. I appreciate that it might be too 'slow' for some audiences, but it's a truly exceptional piece of work which deserves to be seen. Although it was a film I very much wanted to see, I have to admit that I felt it was a film which I also needed to see, and which I needed to see for all the reasons outlined above. As a filmmaker, by going to see a film such as Wendy and Lucy I am, in a sense, indirectly supporting my own future by contributing to the success of a film which is not entirely dissimilar from the direction that I wish to go with my own work (and that's to say nothing of the inspiration I got from seeing such a wonderful, moving film). Perhaps if more people took the effort to seek out films like Wendy and Lucy (which is only on a very limited screen count), we might be able to encourage distributors to make the films more accessible, and therefore make films like this more popular, more successful and, perhaps most importantly of all, more talked about. And then perhaps they too will become social, cultural events.

Here's the trailer for Wendy and Lucy. See it in cinemas while you can. It's worth moving beyond your local multiplex for.

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