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How Has New Media Affected Cinema?

The Internet has given everybody in America a voice. For some reason, everybody decides to use that voice to bitch about movies.

– Holden McNeill, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

There’s been a lot said about new media. Blogging and twitter and facebook and so on, this modern age of new media we live in. I took up blogging as a hobby fairly recently (just under a year), so I’m rather late to the party. There’s a whole host of stuff written about how social networking and the internet have drastically altered civilisation as we know it, so I thought I’d just ponder about cinema and the old, established media.

Where there's a Will, there's a way...

Let’s face it, the way we make movies has changed drastically in the last few years. At the David Cronenberg interview I attended on Tuesday, he took out his mobile phone and stated, “I would not hesitate to film my next movie on this phone.” It isn’t even an exaggeration. The explosion in the internet and technology hasn’t just given us a forum and voice to talk about arts and culture – it has given us new avenues to produce and distribute it. Big budget cinema has witnessed the advance of digital cinematography and the ever-increasing emergence of 3D in the past few years, but equally fundamental changes have taken place on a smaller scale.

Will Ferrell was famously involved in FunnyorDie.com, a website that specialised in clips produced exclusively for the internet. These feature big names – take, for example, House star and sexiest woman alive Olivia Wilde, who is a frequent contributor (check out her turn as Madonna) – and spread like wildfire (or should that be wildefire?) around the net. In fact, the speed of the internet as a means of exchanging information is the driving force in virals and memetic mutations – I can see an amazing Oscar spoof from two young American comedians I don’t even know the name of. These channels are open and there to be used.

Cinema has been coy to adapt them, or even acknowledge them. Julie & Julia may be the highest profile film to feature blogging, for example. We’re seeing cinema gradually step back in touch – David Fincher is working on The Social Network, a story about the early days of facebook. Indeed, savvy companies have begun exploiting these new media channels of communication. Every movie obviously has a website, and most have facebook groups. Occasionally a movie like The Dark Knight or Tron Legacy will emerge that will fully take advantage of the opportunity to publicise a production at a really low cost and actively involve huge numbers of people in diverse locations around the globe. These have only really emerged recently, but show a willingness to to engage with this new means of mass communication.

Blogs have given idiots like myself the capacity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with more talented individuals and get their ideas out there into the wild. One could argue that it promotes a virtual representation of the free market of ideas. Economics and politics provide no bar to entry, so every idea can expressed and have a chance to be heard. It’s truly beautiful. However, the cynic will observe that the price of making speech so easy is that it makes good speech all the harder to find:

Moreover, blogging may be more democratic, but it’s also likely to be less read. There is a point when there are simply too many blogs. With 30 million blogs today, we may well have reached that point.

The logic is fairly sound. Too much noise can drown out anything of value. The counter to this suggests that such approaches pick the wrong medium to compare this web-based chatter to. These sorts of communications and ideas aren’t to be compared to film or television, but to more personal and interactive means of communication like the telephone:

The question, echoing a legion of similar skeptics, sounds reasonable at first. But what if he’d written, “How many telephone calls does the world need”? Did someone tell Kinsley that he needed to read all those blogs? If they keep multiplying, whose party are they spoiling? Most blogs are read only “by the writer and his mother,” says Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism. If he is right — and no doubt, in some cases, he is — does that make them worthless? If blogging’s only accomplishment was that it got more people to phone home to mom, Web-style, why would anyone object?

In fairness, I get the sense that this resentment from the established media may belie a hint of insecurity – similar to the whole debate about whether on-line film reviewers deserved the label ‘critic’.

Some media commentators would ahve you believe we're a bunch of muppets...

Such insecurity may be warranted, though. Particularly with the suggestion that most newspapers will stop distributing information free on line, there’s the question of why these writers should be paid when there are popular alternatives out there doing it for sheer love of the medium? Film studios are starting to slowly recognise the appeal of the on-line film community. Sometimes it’s as simple as a fond acknowledgement – Stephen Speilberg famously invited a bunch of on-line commentators to join him for lunch on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Sometimes it can be more manipulative. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was not screened for critics. Instead, a bunch of film bloggers were whisked away on a press trip, wined and dined and shown the movie:

Devin Faraci from the film Web site CHUD.com is one of the few writers who have seen it for review purposes, and not just for junket interviews. He’s among the critics who’ve contributed to the movie’s 88-percent positive rating as tabulated by Rotten Tomatoes, saying: “If I was 10 years old, `G.I. Joe’ would be one of the best movies I had ever seen.”

Faraci said he was in Toronto recently when he received a phone call at 8:30 a.m. Los Angeles time, asking if he could come to the Paramount lot that day for a “G.I. Joe” screening. He flew back, got off the plane and headed right over.

“It’s silly. It’s a film that plays on its own terms,” he said. “I don’t think reviews will kill it but I think it’ll get a more positive response than they expect. It’s a big, silly, pulpy, cartoony action film and it makes no apologies for being that way.”

Apparently many came back with positive reviews, as weighed against the consensus after release (it’s now 36%). It’s easy to see why some commentators might consider commentary in on-line media to be lazy and amatuer-ish, easily swayed.

I’d argue that these are the minority of cases. It’s the exceptions that prove the rule. The above examples merely indicate that those who write about film on-line are merely becoming more influencial and that they are warranting the attention of the major studios. This is the era of the geek after all.

Perhaps the greatest change that the advent of new media has offered is the most basic. It has provided a manner for those interested in cinema to network and talk to each other on-line. To discuss film unfettered by the 100-word limit in your Friday paper or the populist demand for conventional simplicity. David Lynch is no longer “that director you named once in work but nobody knew who you were talking about”, he’s the guy you can discuss with a film buff from Vietnam. If you want to discuss The Shining as a metaphor for Native American suffering, go right ahead – it doesn’t matter that nobody in your apartment building has ever thought about it.

I’m not going to pretend that the advent of this new-age manner of communication has enhanced or refined criticism. For one thing, I’m publishing on it. For another, there will always be Transformers 2 rox”-style posts and a wave of media hype and a fixation on big budget blockbusters  as a pursuit of website hits. The big sites and bloggers depend on advertising, so have to appeal to the same mainstream as the papers and the magazines do. But then there are small little blogs that will discuss obscure Japanese directors I’ve never heard of, or will send me links to Irish short films.

Maybe blogging hasn’t changed the world in an objective sense, but it can make your world a whole lot more accessible.

It’s my 500th post. Anyway, I thought I’d get a little bit meta and blog on blogging. Yeah, that’s right. Deal with it.

2 Responses

  1. I completely agree. Blogging may not have lifted the art of film criticism, but I enjoy talking about film with other movie buffs like you, Aiden, Castor, etc.

    • Yep. I love just doing the rounds in the morning, seeing what you guys have made of random stuff – it’s nice to have people who share the same general interest.

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