David Hudson on cyber cinephilia
Austin Chronicle: Tell me what you think is going on with sites like yours and other cinephile outlets, from The House Next Door to Ain't It Cool News.
David Hudson: The House Next Door is a classic example. The House began as a personal blog for Matt Zoller Seitz. But due to his name recognition, he drew a lot of readers, and due to the quality of his writing, he drew a lot of response, and before even a year was spent, a lot of those readers who were responding terrific writers in their own right were contributors.
Senses of Cinema, and sites like Bright Lights Film Journal, Rouge, and others model themselves, albeit in strikingly different ways, on academic journals, and more power to them. We need the well-considered essay on the neglected Czech cinematographer right along with the outrageous fonts and serial exclamation marks of an AICN rave for the latest from Zack Snyder. For variety's sake, for fecundity's sake, for the sake of the depth and breadth of cinema itself. A wider range of voices and concerns and ideas appear online from people who would never have the opportunity or inclination to jump through the hoops to get published in print, either as a freelancer or otherwise. And if those voices, concerns, and ideas are of any value whatsoever, people will find them, listen and often respond.
AC: Online rental services like GreenCine and Netflix are making it possible for films that would never get theatrical distribution in certain parts to be seen, and online resources like yours are helping get the word out about them. This is genuinely a positive change, but can it also damage theatrical distribution for these "harder-to-see" films?
DH: I think it's very hard to know for sure, but I would argue no. First off, these "harder-to-see" films have always been "harder-to-see." People wax nostalgic about the days when you could, supposedly, see the new Godard, the new Fellini, the new Bergman. Not in Kansas, you couldn't. The glory days of film culture actually involved a relatively small number of people, and if you didn't live in a major city, your participation in that culture involved waiting for your monthly or quarterly film journal to arrive, or possibly your VHS copy of a film discussed in that journal to arrive via Facets or your local library's exchange program, if it had one. What's more, the origins of the decline of foreign film distribution in the U.S. can be traced back to the rise of American independent film, that is, long before any of us even had an e-mail address, much less a Netflix or GreenCine account.
At one time, Old Joy was a film the festival's programmers didn't seem to realize would connect with a certain kind of audience, an audience, as it turns out, with a lot of writers, who in turn, had a lot of like-minded readers. Old Joy was hardly a box-office hit, but I would argue that it did find its audience, which would have been relatively small regardless, and it found its audience to an extent that would have been unimaginable before the Web and the film-loving culture that thrives on the Web.
No, I think audiences for certain films like Old Joy will always be small in comparison to audiences for Hollywood "product," but online communities, combined with DVD rental/sales and the upcoming video-on-demand services, are helping these films find more viewers than ever would have been possible before.