Monday, July 31, 2006

2005 in review: #13 (a bit of a cheat, but oh well)

13. The Story of Marie and Julien (Jacques Rivette)

B-side: Not on the Lips (Alain Resnais)

In a just world, both of these films would be situated much higher on this list (somewhere around #5 or #6, I’d wager). But as we all know we aren’t living in a just world. Every film on my worst-of-2005 was released in the United States, many on thousands of screens, whereas neither Rivette nor Resnais- both cinematic masters- could get a commercial release here. For shame! Both of these films found their great directors doing some of their best work in years, and I was lucky enough to see them both on the big screen through the efforts of enterprising specialty venues.

Alas, because of slumping foreign-film grosses, most non-English-language offerings, even great ones like these, will be going straight to DVD in the years to come. The shift of arthouse stalwart Wellspring Films from theatrical distribution into home video is only the most visible example of this. If distribution companies have trouble selling big-budget releases to the people, what kind of shot do the smaller films have? In years past, both films would have seemed fairly solid bets for arthouse releases- in particular NOT ON THE LIPS, which is on the surface a charming operetta which stars AMELIE’s own Audrey Tautou. And while the enigmatic, haunting MARIE AND JULIEN is admittedly more of a niche title, nudity from Emmanuelle Beart and some inevitably positive reviews might have at least brought out the curious.

Those times have passed, it seems. Arthouse tastes have shifted to documentaries (not necessarily a bad thing) and cheapie audience-charmers in the FULL MONTY/GREEK WEDDING vein (probably a bad thing). All but the most accessible (read: sellable) foreign films will be consigned to DVD everywhere but the largest cities. Most won’t care- they’ll be too busy fretting over the underperformance by the big-ticket items to take notice of the less visible stuff (who cries for Rivette when THE ISLAND can’t bring in the crowds?). But for those who do care, there’s a real fear that opportunities to see truly great non-mainstream work on the big screen may be vanishing into the ether. How much longer can venues like the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Cleveland Cinematheque afford to fight the good fight for cinema’s sake?

Other notable direct-to-DVD offerings: Tomorrow We Move (Chantal Akerman), No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Martin Scorsese), The Models of “Pickpocket” (Babette Magnolte).


Lee Walker said...

Technically, I'd say the Scorsese was a "Made for TV" project that was released simultaneously on DVD.

Paul C. said...

Well yeah. And while I'll take Scorsese (and Rivette and Resnais and Akerman) any way I can get him, I guess I'm still a big-screen snob. But you're right, it doesn't quite fall under the same category as the other films I've listed. It's more like the MASTERS OF HORROR films, conceived as a TV and DVD release. On a related note, I'm finally seeing Dante's episode this week. It looks so awesome.

Steve C. said...

Dante's was... interesting. Its passion was such, IMO, that it tripped itself up a bit near the end. Still, its balls-out radicalism was pretty bracing.

From where I stand, all the best entries in the series (Carpenter's, Gordon's and McKee's) have been released already. Still waiting for Miike, though; whatever you do, stay the hell away from Hooper and Malone. Especially Hooper.