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September 1998, Week 1


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mon, 31 Aug 1998 10:46:55 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (94 lines)
Jessica Rosner complains:
> Personally I think film screenings will become a luxury limited to the half
> dozen or so
> well connected institutions like MOMA, UCLA and I hope The Film Forum. The
> "POPULAR ART" will become the most restricted art, available only to people
> who live in major cities and go to the very select institutions that will
> have access to prints.
I have to share Jessica's concerns about this situation, and I'm
sure that she--as a member of one of the few brave independent 16mm.
distributors still around--has an insider's view of the situation.
Still, I'm not much more depressed by these recent developments than I
have been for years.  In the last decade, many distributors disappeared
in the face of video or were swallowed up by Films, Inc. and/or
Swank--and now one of them stands virtually alone.  That distributor
has never shown the slightest interest in academic use of films--it
always charged top dollar for its rentals, at least in comparison to
Films, Inc.'s more generous policy, and never claimed to be concerned
about the quality of its offerings (compared to the Janus Collection,
which at least kept its name after merger). The collapse of Voyager and
the uncertain status of the Criterion laserdisc collection, and even the
abandonment of the Cinemania website, after it had absorbed the
once-useful CD-ROM version, are also symptomatic of the economic
changes taking place.
For those of us in the hinterlands, the situation is not much worse
than it's been for years, and in some ways is a little better.  The Oak
Street Cinema in Minneapolis is the first true rep. house that the Twin
Cities have had in more than a decade, and they've recently opened
another outlet in St. Paul.  The Lagoon multiplex offers more
opportunities for recent indie/foreign releases than we've had in a
long time.  (And despite his continuing threats to quit, Al Milgrom of
the U of Minnesota Film Society fights a never-ending battle for truth,
justice and the cinematic way!)
But the Cities are still a 90-minute drive (in good weather) for us.  I
go to the local Hollywood Video outlet here in our town (which has
*never* shown a subtitled film in all the years I've lived here, and
which is lucky to get a Spike Lee Joint for a week or two), and see at
least a fairly healthy array of foreign classics and recent hits.  The
Independent Film Channel and Turner Classic Movies just became
available on cable in the last year.  None of these is enough, by any
means, but they are certainly more than anything that's ever been
available in this town--which has no film consciousness to speak of.
>  I have heard people argue that no one WANTS to show film anymore, that
> they prefer video or disc projection. This is NOT TRUE. Every day I have to
> tell some poor professor, college film society programmer or museum
> programmer, that the film they want is no longer available. The frustration
> leval is reaching a peak and pretty soon, they may give up on trying to
> show films.
But cost is also a problem.  When a distributor bills you for each
screening of film as though it were being shown to paying audiences, it
can become prohibitive.  Our monetary ability to rent real films has
alays been problematic and could evaporate if budget priorities at the
university were to shift a bit.  Equipment is another factor, as there
remain few companies that are in the business of manufacturing, let
alone repairing, 16 mm. projectors.  And, following Jessica's point
about preservation, if the prints one gets are in increasingly ratty,
faded condition, the lack of desire for the prints becomes a
self-fulfilling prophecy.  Much as I believe in the usual superiority
of even 16 mm. prints to most video formats, there comes a point when
it's sometimes easier to give in!  (Not that the situation is *that*
new.  Pauline Kael was complaining about print conditions thirty years
> I will spare you any more of my gloomy predictions, but I rather doubt than
> anything can be done to stop the above. The only thing that would help is
> if well connected film people and journalists really shed light on this
> disaster.
> The Scorseses, Speilbergs et al have done nothing about this. There have
> been no articles that I know of regarding the inability of colleges and
> museums and theaters screen hundreds of crucial films.
I'm not at all sanguine about the situation either.  All I know is that
economics and technology are changing--and as a result everything else
is too.  Karl and Friedrich had *that* right, at least!
Don Larsson
Donald Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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