Saturday, September 17, 2011

The past and the future

I recently stumbled across this short article quoting Roger Ebert's lament at the lack of original (i.e. not a sequel or remake) films being made in Hollywood today, a frustration I basically share. However, the article attracted commenters who disagreed with Ebert, and they made some good points: that in tough economic times people will spend their money on stuff they know they'll like, and that “the good stuff” does still exist but is to be found on television.

And so the culture clash between Cahiers du Cinema/Criterion Collection guys (for whom film is an art form that should express a personal vision, despite genre restrictions) and Comic-Con guys (who are loyal to a genre or series, not to any particular medium) continues.

When I go to the movies I like to see something new, not just continuations of a franchise. I get tired of the idea that movies exist solely to reenact situations and characters that are already familiar. Where I disagree with the Eberts of the world, though, is the knee-jerk assumption that anything part of a series is a lazy cash-in. We're now in an age where larger stories are being told across multiple volumes, with more characters and more complex backstory. A hell of a lot of ingenuity goes into telling these kinds of stories, and I don't think self-contained one-offs are going to enjoy a similar degree of public affection any time soon.

Time for a segue: One of the commenters complained about the “laziness” of Hollywood filmmakers and used George Lucas' constant tinkering with Those Movies as an example. It's interesting how people are so annoyed with Lucas nowadays that they will even resort to insults that don't fit reality. Doubtless you've heard that Those Movies came out on Blu-Ray yesterday, with even more changes. (An article about that, also with some interesting dissenters in the comment section, is here). I don't have a Blu-Ray player anyway, but the sample revisions that leaked onto the Internet in the past few weeks (assuming they're legitimate, which they might not have been) didn't impress me much. Whatever you think of the various CGI-era add-ons, though, I don't know how any objective person could call it “lazy” to keep spending more time and money reworking a movie. In one clip I saw online, a shot in Return of the Jedi of Artoo and Threepio approaching Jabba's palace has been changed from a static shot to a slow dolly shot. This presumably required somebody (or a team of somebodies) to create and render a CGI replica of that long-ago-demolished set, just to make a three-second shot look slightly more interesting. Lucas' priorities might be questionable at this point, but I can't really call that “lazy”.

I feel like Lucas has had enough opportunities to make whatever artistic, technical or continuity-related touch-ups he thought were necessary, and that enough is enough. In the past, though, I've always defended the other special-edition changes to Those Movies. I watched the originals so many times as a kid, and became so overly familiar with them, that I actually welcomed anything to make them seem fresh and different again. Everything I've heard about the Blu-Ray release sounds like this is finally a bridge too far even for me, but maybe this too is a blessing. Maybe we've watched these movies enough. I know I have.

I think of all the self-described geeks of a certain generation, who wore out their VHS copies watching the same damn space opera trilogy over and over as kids because the world they lived in was too difficult for their younger, more awkward selves to cope with. I hear their constant online lament that the ability to reenact that exact experience yet again has been taken away, because the earlier version of that trilogy has been withdrawn. And I want to ask them: What are you holding onto? Do you really want to be back there? Do you still want to be that pitiful person you were? Is this a remotely healthy attitude to adult life, or is it holding you back?

Instead of “saving Star Wars, maybe someone should save Final Cut Pro instead. This is somewhat old news that I haven't gotten around to blogging about before now, but ... you may have heard that a new version of Apple's beloved video editing program has been replaced by a new release, Final Cut Pro X, that has a bit too much in common with Apple's freebie intro-level program iMovie for some tastes. The real controversy, though, is that the previous edition has been withdrawn from the market (barring whatever copies they have left) even though FCP X is not backwards-compatible with previous versions and is missing too many features that professional editors consider essential. (I played with it at the Apple Store a week or two ago, and to me the most glaring omission was lack of a Save As feature.)

As someone who still owns Final Cut Pro 6, this doesn't affect me directly right now … but it will, because like a certain spoof-meme dictator, I have over ten years of projects that I won't be able to do anything with when the day comes that my current computer dies. (Older FCP versions apparently won't run on the latest Apple operating system.)

It's another of those end-of-an-era moments. When Final Cut Pro first came out, it meant that, for the first time, you could have professional editing capabilities on a consumer budget. The end of the previous, truly “pro”, version of Final Cut Pro now seems to kill the last remnant of the 90s dream that Joe Shmoe with 2 dollars could compete with Hollywood films. Apple's new mission seems to be to make it easier to be a consumer but harder to be a creator, which seems to violate the “Think different” campaign they used to have.

But enough about the past. How about the future of filmmaking? Well, that's what I'm hoping to get in on. IFP's Independent Filmmaker Conference starts tomorrow, and I'll be there to attend panels, network, learn new things, and generally re-infuse myself with indie spirit and enthusiasm. I'm planning to take loads of notes, which I'll be sharing with you here on this blog. Stay tuned.

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