Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
Nick James writes in the new March edition of Sight & Sound about how Steven Soderbergh’s statement “I just don’t think movies matter anymore, culturally” may be a little… cynical:
“For a while now, lamentation and nostalgia have been rife in the discourse around cinema (not least in these pages). That Soderbergh’s measured broadside came just as Sundance 2013 was reaching its conclusion gave it an extra ironic spin. In cinema, of course, the sky is always falling but there’s little doubt that the kind of indie cinema that Soderbergh emerged from has vanished.‘“
As a director, it is key to note that Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape was key to Sundance in 1989 and Nick James notes this, alongside the fact that Sundance 2013 gained little coverage in the UK press this year.
Though Soderbergh may believe that cinema doesn’t matter anymore, I would argue that it is the current climate that is completely different to the world he joined in ’89 – but it still matters. The celebration of films such as The Artist and Holy Motors, with mainstream releases such as Hugo and Django Unchained, openly appreciated art-house, B-movie and silent movies on a scale that is unprecedented. Since when would children watch a film whereby the lead character watches Buster Keaton and Georges Melies in amazement? The Artist was only the second silent film (since 1927) that won the Academy Award for Best Picture and I am positive that the many viewers who watched it may have realised that silent movies are clearly not as ‘inaccessible’ as they may have once thought.
Quentin Tarantino has always created cinema that self-references the medium itself and this, in turn, continues to become a major draw at the box-office – Django Unchained, steeped in Spaghetti Western nostalgia, has become Tarantino’s highest grossing film.
Indeed, the gap of culture and commerce may widen within the film industry, but the access to the films has never been so plentiful blurring the boundaries a little. As filmmakers grapple with 3D and IMAX to create a new ‘event’ for cinemagoers (and skewing the statistics), audiences at home can now watch any film whatsoever. Those Tarantino fans who want to know the reason the film is called ‘Django‘ can stream the under-appreciated films easily from a PS3 – and then they can digitally read on an iPad last months Sight & Sound to read Kim Newman’s informative article. Or they can put a question on a social-networking site and gain the answer within seconds. Access to information has never been so readily available.
Audiences are not directed as they once were – and the “home cinema” environment has become a new ground for independent cinema as films go straight to digital downloads to make their income. I question how Soderbergh would’ve dealt with this current climate in 1989 – as the coverage of Sundance is tweeted and retweeted on the internet as film enthusiasts pick-up the buzz early on. Nick James writes how he was “getting excited about the Berlinale programme” and, now it is in full swing, I know that Gloria is one to look out for as Jonathan Romney, Kate Muir and Geoff Andrew sing its praises. Before Midnight, the sequel to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, has been exceptionally well received at Sundance too.
There was a time when a diverse range of cinema was exclusive to cities – in cinemas that could afford to show non-mainstream films. Now, audiences are more in touch with independent and international cinema than ever before – and it will surely have an affect on cinema-going. Movies matter – and culturally, cinema-going and audiences are changing too. This type of speed and access, again, is a brave new world … and maybe Soderbergh simply can’t keep up.