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on audiovisual and literary translation, subtitling, and the French & American film industries

VR: The New Talkies

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Like some indestructible colossus, structured narrative has triumphed over all other storytelling vehicles and methods as never before.  The real heart of stories—themes, ideas, emotions, imagery— its genuine “content,” has been jackbooted into submissive obscurity by an over-glorification of the predictability, safety, and feats of its engineering.  After the world recovered from the last global conflict, bold, adventurous filmmakers, many of who acquired their chops during the conflict, rigorously and unrelentingly pushed their medium’s inherent bounds and limitations  As “story”‘s  gospel seems to wane, an upstart medium is literally waiting in the wings.

Though its tech is nascent, VR seems destined to become the 21st century artform bar none.  Content’s resurgence and reaction against form’s constrictions seems to be inevitable.  The smackdown between artificial frames—produced by expert professionals—and experience—produced with seeming novices/laypersons—began at the turn of the last century, as reality TV sounded the death knell of scripted content.  The latter clearly rebounded, but among the wonders of any new artform is its parentage.  VR’s promise—and perils—explode rectangular confines to plunge participants, no longer passive “viewers,” headlong into experience itself, that literally messes with their heads.  Makers’ powers are exponentially greater and more dangerous.  The option of looking away or shielding one’s eyes is impossible.

What’s more is the remarkableness of VR’s déjà vu factorStereoscopes and kinetoscopes were once solitary and somewhat klunky, yet nevertheless popular solo pastimes. Shortly before the first talkie appeared, film executives balked at sound’s inevitability and the value of adjusting their infrastructure to accommodate it.  Once talkies broke though, silents were almost immediately consigned to history’s archives, to be glimpsed fleetingly by enthusiasts and historians alone.

VR is currently at a juncture similar to those nascent sound films, with little if any headway within or saturation among either the general public or the audiovisual industry itself.  But concurrently, the cinema seems bound for that same fate as the small frame has mostly trounced the large one.  The current standoff between the two hinges almost entirely on the debt-fueled frenzy of the so-called “content providers” to outproduce one another.  When, not if, that house of cards collapses, anything goes and the future will be up for grabs . . .

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Is Online Killing Movies?

lune

. . . Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.
— Werner Herzog

From all appearances, the opposite of the above seems to have come to pass.  What was once “programming,” now morphed into “content,” has rapaciously proliferated like whatever your preferred metaphor might be.  Now I readily admit, as “A Writer who Translates,” that I’ve immersed myself in “must-see TV” stories that submerged its audiences into fantasies or history to brilliantly illuminate the present.

But on some level, whether it’s a pendulum swing or some type of karmatic comeuppance, a shift is underway.  So-called “content’s” accumulation via multiple “platforms” etc. seems to have reached a breaking point. Did we actually ask for all of this . . . information/story worship/making?

In olden times, i.e. pre-2007, there was some separation of media artistic appraisal/criticism and business analysis on all things audiovisual. Now, the critical pile on of praise and worshipful adoration is contextualized by what exactly?  That, save for narrative features reduced to two genres and precious few exceptions, there’s absolutely nothing else out there?  The past, i.e., a prior half century of utter TV dreck in terms of “content” antecedents, and a century of cinema?

The cheerleading justifies “more,” but of what exactly?  The absolutist publisher/”content provider,” instead of curating or nurturing individual voices, has created a self-mirroring kingdom where the business model is all, and the actual story or project is a trivial, detailed afterthought.  This devout, holy cynicism, in which “creatives” fully participate, pollutes the entire landscape, snuffing out and stifling actual trailblazing and risk-taking.

How much more can we take without cultural indigestion or worse? Like some ridiculous sedative, we have become anesthetized by stories where the ultimate goal is simply to get lost. Are we hastening our extinction by bending our heads in prayer like to our screens, ignoring not only the manifold and manifest problems around us but one another? There’s no hint of catharsis, much less a desire to be more awake or alive afterwards. Instead, we’re venturing further off trail from our own lives and any semblance of bonding or deeper connection with those around us and those far beyond.  Of course, there’s endless virtual “watercooler” activity, but whose existence merely perpetrates the content-saturated ecosystem itself.

In all of this submergence, we’re fast losing something critical: the cinema. Almost undetectably, while we were asleep in front of our devices, the business of movies has disappeared. And possibly the most frightening thing about online’s algae-like monopolization is its dominion and domination over all dramatic forms.

So what if or when the dam bursts, and the theaters simply are gone, how will we come together for entertainment?  Never before, to my knowledge as someone with a theatre background, has humanity shirked collective aesthetic gatherings. What’s ultimately at stake is the one mass cultural enterprise where everyone comes together—the masses, the elite, and everyone in between.

Like any bubble or “sure thing,” push eventually comes to shove, and “reality,” in this case something more measured, retrospective, or completely different, asserts its dominion. But what exactly that will look, sound, and feel like is anyone’s guess  . . .

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At the Beginning . . . Reaching the End (For Now)

With some regret but great relief, I’ve decided to set this aside blog for now, and heartily encourage my “readership” and “followers” to join me a my two new blogs, started last summer.

One covers my preoccupations with all things economic related to daily life, the other the presence and more often lack thereof, of gay men in film and TV.

In the future, I hope to bring French and/or francophile/phone film professionals here in Los Angeles for potential vlog discussions about audiovisual translation.

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Actors as Translators (and Interpreters)

Kristin Scott Thomas

Another testament that so much is knitting our world closer; this lovely article only confirms what I’ve noticed for some time.

By necessity, national film market borders are disappearing faster than polar ice floes.  But as formats get smaller and more personalized, and guaranteeing revenue trickier, consolidation is even more critical, all in a search for more “green.”

And along the way to all of that, I’m really happy to see Kristin Scott-Thomas getting much deserved critical attention for the wonderful work she does and has done.

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Film Finance Update

Last week’s Beverly Hills Bar Association film finance seminar laid out the landscape for indie film finance, and the news . . . was not as bad as some might expect.

While certain elements–like investment funding–are lagging, soft money in the form of state film credits  and crowdsourcing are quite steady, depending on the location involved.   Most of the panel felt slate financing and pre-sales are definitively gone, but (legitimate) hedge funds have actually made a comeback, driven by American equity.

Without slates or cherry-picking therein, financing tends to be more random.  The types of content are unlimited though, excepting westerns and musicals, the province of studios.  But trustworthy sales agents are also key as structural differences aside,  little has changed from 2007 in terms of quality content and professional relationships holding sway.

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Personal Sidebar: ‘Any Day Now’

Garret Dillahunt and Alan Cumming in "Any Day Now"As awards season starts in earnest, this is possibly the best movie most people won’t see.  Because it’s an honest and vivid LGBT filmidiotically rated “R” as if to equate gay male sexuality with extreme violence (more than entire blog’s worth of suggestive content, that)–made with a miniscule budget, and has a timely, heartfelt story with no tentpoley gimmicks.

This terrific, warm and entertaining movie, though it miraculously escaped direct-to-Netflix obscurity, is nevertheless bound for nowhere, fame-wise.  That is, unless people take notice, and more importantly award voters and related trendalistas (OK I just made that word up, in English anyway).

Even major talent is venting about the dearth of risky, story-driven content.  Can the day be far off when, like winter and unextreme weather, human and humane films are something from another era?

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‘The Artist’ and Hollywood: What’s It All About, Uggie?

Before the internet, tweeting, and instant messaging, Oscar season sometimes lasted till . . . April!  By way of explaining my consideration of The Artist‘s sweep at last February’s awards.

Consistent with previous observations, this only confirms Hollywood’s coming out à la française not merely as an international marketplace, but more critically a berth for foreign product.  As heinous and Darwinistic Thomas Friedman’s thesis is, the world relentlessly continues to flatten as if in some Ayn Rand/L. Ron Hubbard nightmare scenario.

But instead of the nostalgic look back as most observers have framed it, I think Academy members and perhaps Hollywood generally is in the midst of a ‘media-forward’ conversion.  With the internet tolling the end of so very much–scheduled television, celluloid prints, the preciousness of audiovisual production itself–all at once, no wonder in waving an utterly unsentimental goodbye to a kind of Hollywood that’s increasingly hard to justify, it would seem as if the industry is not only recognizing the rest of the world in ways it rarely has before, but embracing it.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, French translation, US film industry, , , , ,

And the César goes to –

While one of the more unpredictable award competitions in years unfolds here, the Césars will occur in parallel, making me wonder if the symetric calendar (César reveals himself two days before Oscar) could portend anything on the latter, ahem?

What looks like a fictionally framed look at French child protective services garnered thirteen nods, followed by a political drama concerning a government official with 11, and finally that black & white silent film with a dog at ten (same number of nominations as Intouchables).

Taking a page from Jean Dujardin at the SAG awards last night, bonne chance et à bientôt à tous et toutes!

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On the Horizon . . .

It’s rare to hear about a French film that’s both socially conscious and wildly successful, but Intouchables is just that.  It’s scheduled to be released stateside early this coming year, and will be interesting to see how this racially-based comedy fares here.

Filed under: French film industry, US film industry,

The Real Deal

Anyone who has already seen or plans to see Martin Scorsese‘s wonderful new film should check out this website for more on Méliès.  The character of René Tabard is entirely fictitious – but possibly the definitive work on him (which I happen to own) was actually written by his granddaughter.

I plan to see the film again – appropriately, in all respects, in 3D!

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