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74

The non-stop blitz.
Topic by: dwhudson
Posted: August 7, 2003 - 5:29 AM PDT
Last Reply: August 9, 2003 - 5:03 PM PDT

author topic: The non-stop blitz.
dwhudson
post #1  on August 7, 2003 - 5:29 AM PDT  
One of the fun things about doing all this writing and thinking and conversing online rather than in print is that you've got a wider variety of faster and more flexible toys to play with. So here's an experiment. Below, posted in full is today's entry at GreenCine Daily.

My open question (or rather, questions): Do you, too, try to put a bit of distance between your experience of a film and the big feast of DVD extras, director's commentaries, etc., etc? Do you avoid "too much information" about a movie before you see it? And how much is too much? Or does it vary, depending on the type of movie (example: We pretty much know what's going to happen in LOTR: The Return of the King; advance gossip, shots from the set, etc., may have less of a spoiler effect than, say, the same sort of saturated reporting would have on a murder mystery... or wouldn't it?).

Related tangents: Do you watch movies at home you know or suspect are going to be bad just to enjoy the spectacle of the train wreck (and thereby confirming one of Dretzka's arguments that, to a considerable degree, or to at least a greater degree than in the past, the studios can't lose)?

===

The non-stop blitz.

Nicole Kidman didn't have a whole lot to say at her press conference in Berlin way back in February, but that was hardly her fault. Quote-mongers packing the room were far more worried that she'd never love again than about her insights into the life and work of Virginia Woolf. But she did say something I appreciated: She doesn't watch DVD extras and tries to avoid any sort of E!-type behind-the-scenes programming (though she's contractually obliged to contribute to oodles of it herself). Because it ruins the "magic" of the film.

I agree. And yet, of course, I end up watching a lot of that sort of thing anyway. The temptation's too seductive. Ideally, you can wait a day or two after taking in the film, letting it sink in before gobbling up the DVD extras, reading the reviews and so on. But the blitz for each and every film, no matter how worthy or unworthy, weeks and months ahead the actual release and weeks and months after, is all but unavoidable. By now, the fact that the production around the production has become as large as, and sometimes, larger than the production itself is a horse way too dead to go on beating.

Even so, a month later, in Austin, I asked a panel at SXSW that included Film Threat's Chris Gore, the New York Times's Elvis Mitchell, Variety's Dana Harris, the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday, Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty, the San Francisco Examiner's Joe Leydon and the Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky if they could imagine a savvy producer deciding not to go that route. Could there be a clever way of working around the blitz, of convincing a distributor that audiences are sick of the overload and that now, more than ever, less is actually more?

Silent head-shaking all around. Nashawaty, who seemed most sympathetic to the cause, simply replied that there really didn't seem to be a way out: PR will go on screaming louder and louder to be heard above the ever-crescendoing roar while actually offering less and less of import.

But here comes Gary Dretzka at Movie City News with a very fine piece on how we got here:

"It's become abundantly clear that these multimillion-dollar campaigns are mere preludes to the increasingly costly launch of a Hollywood movie in DVD, four months later. Along with foreign distribution, the frisky little tail of the home-entertainment industry now wags the dog of what's left of the studio system... Some astute observers of the scene have argued that profits from video have freed studios to spend obscene amounts of money on doomed projects, as long as a publicity-friendly star is attached, leaving those "small, personal films" to be bankrolled [by] others. The home-entertainment market has pulled more executive ass out of fires than the International Association of Fire Fighters."

But there is hope, and that's what Dretzka leads right off with, Gigli's lesson that there is such a thing as overexposure and that there's "a heightened awareness among marketing wizards that the public is turning its back on Hollywood star vehicles. Apparently, audiences have finally come to the conclusion that the movies themselves ought to provide a modicum of entertainment value as well." Until, of course, they run off and rent the DVD.

At the same time, let's not forget the age-old reminder recently warmed over by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:

"Jaws may have opened big because Universal marketed it well and released it widely, but it stayed big because people liked it. And controlling what people like is something that even the most clever marketer can't do. For all the money and energy that studio executives invest in trying to build blockbusters, William Goldman's famous Hollywood precept - 'Nobody knows anything' - still holds true. A few years ago, the economists Arthur De Vany and W. David Walls did a detailed study of two thousand movies and concluded, 'Revenue forecasts have zero precision. In other words, "Anything can happen."'"

And that is why, despite all hope, for the forseeable future, the floodgates of PR will burst once again each and every time a product gets packaged. Especially now that the packagers are all but guaranteed a return on their investment from the ancillary market. If "anything can happen," the last factor you want to toss into the package is risk.
dpowers
post #2  on August 7, 2003 - 1:53 PM PDT  
> Do you, too, try to put a bit of distance between your experience of a film and the big feast of DVD extras, director's commentaries, etc., etc?

i don't look at the extras anymore. when i first started watching DVDs on this computer, i was really excited about the extra stuff. in the end though i felt like even the good stuff wasn't giving me as much as i would get by watching another movie instead, and alternate endings and outtakes only served to confuse my memory of the flow of the film.

i guess i don't really want to get closer to the people behind the movie.

> Do you avoid "too much information" about a movie before you see it? And how much is too much? Or does it vary...?

i know the least about current productions of anyone i know who's a movie buff. can't get away from PR for movies, like i can't get away from car ads or liquor billboards or anything like that, but i try to get away, anyway. it's because i'm super impressionable. otherwise i might be able to pass through the hubbub without really hearing it like a lot of people can.

it's still true that i cover my eyes during previews in theaters, especially at mainstream arthouse theaters where the previews are often trying to popularize a difficult film.

i don't think PR directly affects what movies i look for. obviously it does indirectly, as so many movies from here and abroad get zero screen time because the screens are stuffed with future videos.

> Do you watch movies at home you know or suspect are going to be bad just to enjoy the spectacle of the train wreck...?

doesn't apply to me, i'm on a mission to see everything that got people excited, morbid curiosity isn't really a factor.
dwhudson
post #3  on August 7, 2003 - 2:59 PM PDT  
> i don't look at the extras anymore.

Heavens... at all? Actually, one of the reasons I ask is that I've found myself avoiding extras, or rather, postponing them to some distant time in the future, when it comes to movies that are new to me. For most of the reasons you mention. When it comes to movies I already know, though - and, just as a tired example, let's whip out that old war horse, Citizen Kane - part of revisiting for me is going to entail those extras, and in fact, in that case, I may have that DVD in my hand even more for the extras than for the reviewing.

> i guess i don't really want to get closer to the people behind the movie.

Sometimes, I do, I have to admit. What does Wong Kar-Wai look like, how does he sound, how does he move, that sort of thing.

> i know the least about current productions of anyone i know who's a movie buff.

An admirable achievement! Seriously. Myself, I'm an uncurable media junkie, and I say that fully aware of all the negative connotations that term rouses up.

> it's still true that i cover my eyes during previews in theaters...

Ah, but previews. I do love previews. But I do manage, I hope, to think of them as entirely separate from the film itself. They're ads, after all, and may or may not have anything to do with the product they're intended to sell.

> i'm on a mission to see everything that got people excited, morbid curiosity isn't really a factor.

I've been known to make the occasional exception, but generally, I agree. Life is very, very short.
dpowers
post #4  on August 7, 2003 - 4:43 PM PDT  
> When it comes to movies I already know, though - [such as] Citizen Kane - part of revisiting for me is going to entail those extras, and [maybe] more for the extras than for the reviewing. <

yes that's a good reason to watch them. the fancy old movies, the nice new collectable DVDs, the extras are often great. criterion's extras usually deserve to be called liner notes.

but still, and i realize this will lead some people straight into thinking i'm talking about ayn rand but i'm not, still, architects design buildings for people to use, not as a chance for themselves to stand around in the lobby talking shop, hassling the building's residents as they go about their daily business.

barring a conversation with a real live person related to the production or a person who saw the movie with me, i'd rather watch another movie and see how the two films play together. it's different info but it's very rich, i like it.

(i traded citizen kane away for y tu mama tambien at the last GC party i went to. if i win something tonight i hope it's good bargaining material!)

> What does Wong Kar-Wai look like, how does he sound, how does he move, that sort of thing.

sometimes when somebody in a little puff piece says something i like, i loop it, make them say it over and over. they never tire of repeating themselves that way! i think it's even fun for them, the little "real people" inside the box...

festival question and answer sessions are like visits to paradise for me. i love how a filmmaker or actor or whoever has been there with us, feeling the movie in the theater (in the city in the country in the world), feeling the crowd in the movie, and then we talk about it.

so why reject such good info right at hand, uh, i guess, it feels too fake, the whole thing, menus, graphics, promo videos, filmographies, everything. spin spin spin.

> I'm an uncurable media junkie...

you're like, famous, though, david. people who make really useful headway are always nuts about something.
^_^

> I do love previews...

ugh they're so bland! ugh ugh! when they have new scenes in them, something radical like the comedian trailer, that's great, i love it. others are like, and this is how bruce willis spent his summer vacation. click. bruce and sam are partners. click. bruce and sam don't get along! click. jeremy is the bad guy. click. oh no, don't do that jeremy! click. coming soon! ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh

huh that sounds like all those complaints about TV you hear but i feel differently about TV, honest
oldkingcole
post #5  on August 7, 2003 - 5:08 PM PDT  
> On August 7, 2003 - 5:29 AM PDT dwhudson wrote:
> ---------------------------------
>But she [Nicole Kidman] did say something I appreciated: She doesn't watch DVD extras and tries to avoid any sort of E!-type behind-the-scenes programming (though she's contractually obliged to contribute to oodles of it herself). Because it ruins the "magic" of the film.

From my perspective, there are actually several issues here, masquerading as one or two. First, I do try to avoid the pre-film hype. I like to know almost nothing about a film before seeing it.

*After* seeing the film, though, what damage can the "Behind the Scenes" stuff do? Not much in my opinion, and every once in a while, it actually enhances my enjoyment of the film. The "Behind the Scenes" thing that ran about the first "Matrix" film, which highlighted the wirework, actually made me appreciate the stunt sequences more than I originally had.

DVD-extras, of course, come after seeing the film. Usually, though, I don't watch them. The extra I'm most inclined to sit through is an feature-length audio commentary from the director. Some directors (Martha Coolidge comes to mind) are very good commentators on their films. Others, you can tell after five or ten minutes that the commentary will be a waste of time.

I generally don't feel the extras ruin the magic of the film. On the contrary, I usually find myself disappointed in the extras because they are too fluffy and shallow, not because the give away too much info about the film. It's like over-eating popcorn: it fills you up but has almost no nutritional value.

I wouldn't want to see the extras disappear as a normal part of the DVD package, but I wouldn't mind if the quality of the extras came under a bit more scrutiny. When a movie really grabs me (rare, but it does happen) then I devour the extras, hop online and read the reviews here at GreenCine, at the IMDB, Amazon, and elsewhere, trying to learn all that I can about it. I once went to the public library in an effort to discover the exact brand and model of the digital video cameras used in Dancer in the Dark. I lament that there is no director's commentary on the Unbreakable DVD, and I'd buy it again if a version were release with a Shyamalan commentary, for many reasons: 1) because I love the film, 2) because I can see there was a *ton* of craft/design-decisions/etc. that went into it and I'd like confirmation from the director that what I'm reading in the film was put there on purpose, and 3) because Shyamalan is such an articulate speaker about his craft.

But these kinds of films are rare. For most, I simply ignore the extras and move on to something else.
oldkingcole
post #6  on August 7, 2003 - 5:18 PM PDT  
> On August 7, 2003 - 5:29 AM PDT dwhudson wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Related tangents: Do you watch movies at home you know or suspect are going to be bad just to enjoy the spectacle of the train wreck (and thereby confirming one of Dretzka's arguments that, to a considerable degree, or to at least a greater degree than in the past, the studios can't lose)?

Absolutely yes. Since I got a large, 16:9 HDTV screen, and a really, really good surround-sound system, my viewing habits have bifurcated into two separate areas: films whose content I expect to be good or historically interesting, and films whose use of immersive techniques most fully utilizes my home theater system. This allows me to watch, say, a well-made, but by-the-numbers traditional Hollywood movie like Twister, which has a spectacularly great surround-sound mix (if only the picture quality were better, alas), with something approaching the same level of enjoyment as I get out of watching a great-content film like Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, which is in black-and-white with a monaural soundtrack.
larbeck
post #7  on August 7, 2003 - 6:11 PM PDT  
> On August 7, 2003 - 5:29 AM PDT dwhudson wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Do you watch movies at home you know or suspect are going to be bad just to enjoy the spectacle of the train wreck

I did, when I had cable. Sitting and flipping through the many, many channels of dreck was hibit forming. I found myself that I would watch things I would never otherwise watch. So, I had it cut off. I rent DVD's and watch free TV. I will never pay for crap with commericals again.
larbeck
post #8  on August 7, 2003 - 6:17 PM PDT  
> On August 7, 2003 - 5:29 AM PDT dwhudson wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> My open question (or rather, questions): Do you, too, try to put a bit of distance between your experience of a film and the big feast of DVD extras, director's commentaries, etc., etc? Do you avoid "too much information" about a movie before you see it? And how much is too much?

For films at the theater, there are films that I know I will see. Information on those, I avoid like the plague.

For films on DVD, it is a matter of time. When I get my latest disc from Greencine and I don't have time to watch the whole two hour movie, I will watch an extra or two inside. I generally skip all storyboards and sketches - I have no interest in the undone art. And I hate "featurette" that are no more than a long ad for the film. Commentaries, I explore after seeing the film at least once.

One thing I notice about episodic TV shows (like "Excel Saga" from Japan or "Babylon 5" from the U.S.) is that can be hard to watch too many episodes at once. They were originally designed to watch one a week. Now, I have far too many DVD's in my queue to do that, but I will finish with a two hour movie faster than a disc with four 30 minute episodes.
larbeck
post #9  on August 7, 2003 - 6:25 PM PDT  
I forgot to add...

The extras that really like are:

Good commentaries. John Carpenter's on his "Vampires" with his "I-just-a-trashy-B-picture-guy" attitude was cool and the commentary on "The End of Evangelion" are treasures. Bad ones are were the director has nothing more to say that describe what we are watching on the screen (much of "The Exorist").

Clean opening and endings - especially on very well draw anime like ".Hack//SIGN", and "Excel Saga".

An isolated score. It is like getting the soundtrack album as an extra with the DVD. Someday, I dream of even trying to do my own dub. (never happen!).

Maps, like on "Lord of the Rings" and "Lawrence of Arabia".


larbeck
post #10  on August 7, 2003 - 6:29 PM PDT  
My final word today, I swear...

Now, the best "extra" should NEVER compromise the quality of the film itself. It is said that the Superbit format, where a high bit is chosen so that a film will take up all of the space available on a DVD has a downside in that there is no room for extras.

That is no downside. Quality rules over quantity! It IS the film that is the thang.
aacevedo
post #11  on August 9, 2003 - 1:12 AM PDT  
sure don't watch the extras.... thats like renting any PIXAR DVD and not watch the outakes. why bother renting it?
dpowers
post #12  on August 9, 2003 - 5:03 PM PDT  
cuz i wanna see the movie?

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