Thursday, April 04, 2013


Although this blog never publishes eulogies, I did want to note the passing of America's best film critic, Roger Ebert. He died of cancer shortly after announcing a "leave of presence" on his website. His last published review, I am a bit sorry to note, was of The Host, adapted from a Stephanie Meyer novel.

"The end of an era" is a cliche, but what other words fit? When I became a movie buff in the 1970s, film meant something. In Los Angeles, back then, large crowds showed up to watch rather obscure works made by such masters as Bresson, Tarkovsky, Resnais...

Those days are gone. The audience has lost the ability to fall into trance. Everything has migrated to the teevee, which is often the size of a freakin' phone, and nobody treats such an image with the necessary reverence. People talktalktalk and surf the net while watching. Not long ago, I read about a new genre of mobile phone app designed to give people something to do while watching television. Teevee is just another appliance in our home; cinema is a world we visit.

Movies still exist, and they are quite entertaining, quite well-crafted. But the art film as a collective experience is no longer viable, due to audience hyperactivity. If you insist on surfing the net while watching Kurosawa -- well, don't. Just don't. Instead of insulting a master, you'd be better advised to skip Kurosawa altogether. Film is hypnosis. If viewers have lost the ability to turn themselves off, to die to reality and live within the onscreen experience, then they've lost the ability to see through other eyes and gather memories from other minds.

Even when he wrote about works I'll never see, Ebert always reminded me of the old days when films mattered. 
You're right about the experience of seeing a great movie in a theater. No matter how many times I see my favorite movie, "Les Enfants du Paradis", I get so lost in it that the lights always come as a shock.
For many TV has become background noise to sooth the nerves. Like those sonic sleep aids. Your bit about the phone app reminded me of one short lived TV series, "Police Squad". It flopped because you had to pay attention to get the sight gags and word play.
I saw an interview with Danny Boyle about his new movie 'Trance'. His comments were remarkably similar to yours.
I'm not much of a fan of art films myself, but love movies in general, always have, from childhood and adolescence when I'd nag parents to buy every film magazine and annual publication there was, back in England then. I'd collect signed photos of stars, go to the flicks twice a week and often sit through at least two shows (they had "continuous" showings back then.) The movie industry is USA's one sparklingly golden achievement of which it can be very proud. During the few years I've known of Roger Ebert, his have been the first reviews I've looked for when researching a movie. He'll be sorely missed.
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