Sunday, January 01, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 451: Looking Back to Look Ahead

An interview with Martin Scorsese is making the rounds in advance of the release of "Silence", a passion project he's been trying to get made for decades. In it, perhaps our greatest living film director bemoans the loss of cinema as we've known it, declaring the art form is dead.

It's not hard to understand where Scorsese is coming from. Anybody trying to sell a script or project they love has shared the defeat and disappointment when other people just don't get it -- year after year after year. 

Recall the number of times in the past months when you wanted to go out and see a movie but the multiplex was showing nothing but cartoon superheroes and frat boy comedies. Or ask how often the films you did see rewarded you with an experience that affected you deeply.

If you're like me, those latter moments were few and far between. Or you got them from something you found on Netflix, which gave you the movie, but not the communal reward of sharing it with others. 

Quentin Tarantino once defined a great film as one where you had to go out and have pie afterward. And we all remember those late night cafe conversations with friends or film nerds as we relived the movie we'd just seen, unwilling to let go of either its content or the bond it had created among those with whom we'd seen it.

A friend reminded me this week of Nicholas Cage's performance in "Leaving Las Vegas" a movie so raw and harrowing in its examination of alcoholism that I literally NEEDED a drink when it was over. 

I'm sure that like Scorsese, few of us can remember the last time something like that happened.

But while there's a lot I can agree with in the great master's assessment -- the proliferation of images, our awareness that much of the spectacle is computer generated and not "real" or the ways we consume the art form on smaller and more private screens -- for me, Cinema is not dead.

While I probably attended hundreds of movies in movie in theatres when I was a kid, I was probably in my late teens before I truly experienced one. 

It was early one morning in university, a mostly empty theatre and a film appreciation class I'd booked for an easy credit. From the first frames of "Citizen Kane" I knew something out of the ordinary was happening.

Over the next weeks I saw "The Grapes of Wrath", "Seven Samurai", "Onibaba" and "Casablanca" without commercials. And I became aware that movies weren't just somewhere to go to eat popcorn or make out in the back row.

And unlike Scorsese, the young filmmakers I meet these days give me great hope for the future.  
Like him, they've seen it all. But unlike most people in Hollywood (or working in the bureaucratic maze of Canadian cinema), they're not beholden to a system that determines and ultimately controls their output.

What keeps cinema alive as 2017 dawns are the myriad ways a filmmaker can get around or simply ignore the barriers that have been placed in their way to protect those who currently control the marketplace.

Last week one of those new ways of reaching an audience, Vimeo, published their list of the best short films of 2016. Among them you'll find the Scorseses of the future, the Haskell Wexlers and enough talented writers and actors to replace those we lost in the celebrity massacre of 2016.

One of my current favorites on Vimeo is below, giving me faith in the fact that movies aren't even close to dead, they're evolving. Something you'd think a guy who once took a few friends and a camera onto the "Mean Streets" of New York to make a film would recognize and understand.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Strange Men from andrew fitzgerald on Vimeo.

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