How appropriate that on the site dedicated to the home-auteur, the first article that I should choose to write is about the technical revolution and the democratization of film.
A mighty yawp indeed! Finally, the power of the cinematic voice is in the hands of the many! The proletariat class will rise up on a global scale, and seize the screens of the world, bombarding them with videos of laughing babies and sneezing pandas!
… Okay, so the global cineaste-Bolshevik (cinevik?) revolution is a work in progress. The Godfather was not made on an iPhone, and I’m still left waiting for Sneezing Panda to show at my local AMC (can’t wait!) Many people, I’m sure, would argue that the technical revolution has rather fallen flat of its initial promise. Meanwhile, just as many Zoloft-happy yea-sayers others might tell you that “the digital age has revolutionized everything.”
I refuse to subscribe wholeheartedly to either belief. I think that the digital age is in the act of revolutionizing everything. While it’s true that no one has yet made a classic work of American cinema on an iPhone, just as it is true that sites like Threadless and Redbubble have yet to make a dent in J.C. Penney’s sales, no one can completely ignore the gifts that new inexpensive, portable devices have given to those of us who weren’t so fortunate to be born into a Hollywood dynasty (see: the Coppolas, the Sheens, the Barrymores, etc.)
Welcome to your teenage kid’s digital playground. It is furnished with a portable recorder, a digital SLR, and a MacBook. It has never been more cheap – or more easy – to make a masterpiece at home with little to no money, but this will be more true tomorrow than it is today. And if you don’t believe me, I have to tell you to look at the world of music for an inkling of where the world is headed – it has seen the rise of more self-made homebrew musicians in the last decade than, well, ever.
Perhaps that is largely because it is easier to make a quality record by oneself than it is to make a quality film. After all, a film introduces two more dimensions – one horizontal and one vertical – into the mix of creating the art. Not to mention that a film almost always necessitates the participation of other people – actors at least – in the creation of the medium.
But historically, the biggest obstacle to making a film has not been the extra visual dimension, nor getting people to participate; it has been the sheer volume of capital required to embark upon a project. It’s why Luis Bunuel moved around so much; the only countries with the capital to support a real global cinematic presence were those that were wealthy and powerful (read: countries not 20th century Spain). Half a century ago, there were a finite number of movie cameras in the world, and you either had to be a sultan or a sultan’s kid to get your hands on one.
Now, movie cameras are everywhere. They have been in cell phones for more than a decade, and point-and-shoot digital cameras have had the functionality even longer. The emergence of digital video encoding (esp. early formats like digital-8 and MiniDV) enabled people to edit their own movies on a home computer, without the need for a cold, damp room filled with low-tech splicers and diligent secretaries. (I still keep mine anyway. The room, that is. Not the secretaries.)
All this is good and well, except that without distribution, it’s all sort of a moot point. A film watched in zero theaters is a film not watched at all.
Enter the internet. I would bore you with fascinating details about that one, but you probably already know a lot about that one. If you don’t, Google it. Then, maybe stop being a smart-aleck.
So, the digital camera replaces the film movie camera, Final Cut Pro replaces the editing room, and the internet replaces movie theaters nationwide. Only you can’t pay your actors, lights are still as expensive as cars, and you’re no Spielberg. Thus, the war of the indie filmmaker versus the Hollywood hotshot still remains a bit of an uphill battle.
But do not despair. You have one thing going for you, and that is this; everyone and their grandmother wants to be in a movie, and you’re the dude/dudette with the tripod and your mom’s van and stuff. Heck, everyone wants to just be around movies being made. That little boy watching you in the park won’t believe you’re letting him boom your talent with his pencil-thin little arms! And when he caves to exhaustion, you have a little blond cadaver that’s absolutely perfect for that zombie movie you’re shooting.
Skeptics and cynics will likely point to the infamous laughing baby and the sneezing panda videos as evidence of how the democratization of cinema has failed (likely the only time in human history that a baby and a panda have been perceived as a threat to anything). They’ll say that we’ve opened up the floodgates, and the internet is vulnerable to be as over-saturated with smut and pulp as people can manage. I would argue that our movie theaters are already there, but that’s another article.
It would indeed be hard to argue for the artistic merit of either video. Where’s the sense of composition? The color palette is straight from hell. And would somebody send that effing baby back to wardrobe?!
Ultimately, though, these are co-defeating arguments. For it would be equally hard to argue that either video was shot with an artistic intent, to be a threat to our Godfathers and our Casablancas. These videos are short snapshots of candid moments, not the thoroughly planned and contrived films that we pay to see. If the internet is swamped with a theoretically infinite number of such movies, then so be it; I’ll let Youtube’s view counter decide what’s good and what’s not, and the good will float to the top while the not-so-good sinks.
So it is with cinema, only independently and apart from these little home videos, because the two media entertain us in entirely different ways. That laughing baby doesn’t have the same presence as Marlon Brando. To be fair to the baby, it is quite small. But my point remains; candid videos may make us giggle or email our colleagues, but a great movie sticks with us forever.
The digital-difference with regard to cinema is that now, it’s easier than ever to challenge the West Coast elite for their place in the hearts and imaginations of people everywhere. The digital age is to Hollywood now what television was to Hollywood in the 1950s: trouble. Not that I want to see the utter demise of the studio system, I’d just like to scare them a bit. The studios have put out just about all of the movies that have helped to shape and form me as a young man, but there is no good reason why an entire national industry should be localized to a single city, reserved for a narrow sliver of people with money, looks or connections. It’s about time we let raw talent determine our cinematic stars, not politics and marketing analysts.
And when given the option, you know, let’s maybe not make Battleship the movie this time?