Sunday, April 5, 2009

Group Post #5: Alex, Coral and Dani

In “Independent Features: Hopes and Dreams”, Chuck Kleinhans talks about the aspirations of young filmmakers and the positive and negative aspects of independent cinema. How has the industry changed since 1995 (when the essay was written), and how have some of the issues he discussed changed? Do you think getting into independent cinema now is easier than it was then with the growing accessibility of digital equipment and the technological advancement of similar technology? How is the idea of being able to distribute films digitally and bypass (very expensive) film copying of movies? Do you think greater competition in independent cinema will be good or bad? Will it lead to greater experimentation, or perhaps bog down the industry with too many amateur films (possibly making independent cinema and un-navigable sea for studios)?

Are independent films becoming viewed by studios more in terms of their commercial potential (being able to make a lot of money on a small budget) by distributing studios rather than their artistic merit? Was independent cinema in the ealy 90’s/late 80’s more aware of cultural issues (as the four films we watched all are), compared to recent independent successes like Little Miss Sunshine, which is a more straightforward (albeit enjoyable) comedy? With films like this finding their way to Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, how have attitudes changed towards independent cinema?

In Thursday’s section, we discussed the opening credit sequence to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. The sequence is unconventional in that it is tied to the rest of film not so much in terms of plot, but rather in terms of tone and style. In what ways does Lee manifest some the film’s themes/tone/style (one being confrontation) in the sequence, and how does it prepare the audience for the rest of the film? What effect does Lee’s use of a colorful/childish font for the credits have?

In Geoff Andrew’s essay on Todd Haynes and Amy Taubin’s on Gus Van Sant, the issue is brought up of these homosexual directors not wanting to fall into the “ghetto” of homosexual cinema, and not having their worked viewed in relation their sexual orientation. In the films we have seen by them, do they make an effort to objectively separate their films from their sexuality, and if so, how do they do this? To what extent does an audience’s knowledge/reception of a director’s sexual orientation influence their perception of a film (perhaps comparing these films to Brokeback Mountain, a “gay” film made by Ang Lee, a heterosexual director)?

When considering the film “sex, lies and videotapes”, what do you think is more important when categorizing it as an independent film: the industry part of it, since it was made on a low budget and had more freedom in the creative process? Or would you consider certain parts of the cinematography or just film creation in general containing parts of the “independent aesthetic”? Many people consider this aesthetic to be what is “edgy,” so are there parts of this film that fit into this description? sex, lies and videotapes is known for being influential, what do you think is influential about it, and are there movies that seem to be directly influenced by this film?

8 comments:

  1. In reference to the first question, I do think that the ease by which people can make films today (due the availability of the technology) will, (and has) lead to an increase in the amount of films independently produced. The effect of this, I think, can only be positive because there for every 2000 extra pictures that have the ability to be produced, at least 1 or 2 will be worth viewing. Furthermore, and this answers a part of the second question too, as with everything business related, and unfortunately that is how films are viewed by studio execs because independents yield huge huge profit margins, increased competition can only be a good thing because it sets the bar higher. In terms of what these films will look like, it's impossible to know what direction the films will take but with the ease by which films can be made, its safe to assume that filmmakers will likely veer towards experimentation in order to separate themselves from the ever-growing pack of budding filmmakers.

    I think that attitudes are changing towards independent cinema, but not in the way I'd have hoped for. By this I mean that movies like "Juno," "Nick and Nora...," "Garden State" are considered "indie" because they were written by some average Jane, feature a small cast and are a little offbeat but, are by no means independent in the same respect that "Sex, Lies and Videotape" is. Because of this I feel that studio-produced independent movies have become the hipsters of film--they think they are being unique and different but really are just conforming to another normalized set of aesthetic guidelines.

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  2. I think that "Sex, Lies, and Videotapes" is an independent film because that is how it categorizes itself. When a movie looks at itself as being independent, then there are going to be certain criteria met. Often times you will see a small cast, low budget, etc. Yet not all of these must be met to have a proper independent film. In "S, L, V" there is a certain level of creative freedom given up, as the director wanted to shoot in black and white, yet the other criteria are still satisfied, so I would very willingly categorize this as an independent film.

    To explain further, I do believe there is an independent aesthetic, but for a film to really be an independent film, or at least to maximum extent that a film can be independent, it comes down to the funding, what actors are in the film and the previous criteria discussed.

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  3. The contemporary films that are generally thought of as independent are very different from the films made during the independent cinema movement of the late 80s and early 90s. The studios that put out "independent" films are often branches of larger, mainstream studios. Recent films such as Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, while having small ensemble casts, nonetheless have recognizable stars, considerable budgets, and straightforward narratives. Truly independent films as defined by experimental techniques or very low budgets are not picked up by distributors, whose major concern is the commercial potential of the film rather than its artistic merit. As filmmaking becomes more digital and new technology makes it easier for amateurs to shoot their own movies, it is likely that the mass of independent films will mean that none of them get a chance to be recognized.

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  4. I think it is interesting that the idea of an "independent aesthetic" is being brought to the table. When considering a film like S,L,V, can only be thought of as independent in relation to "third apparatus" of film making--the dominant studio system and modes of capital that flow through and as cinema. While Soderbergh's film certainly represented a ground breaking opening in the structure of film production, it would be foolish to think that the studio system would not catch on. Especially considering the fact that it won the Cannes Golden Prize, Hollywood studios would instantly capture and reconstruct any form that a perceived market will be expected to consume.
    I did not find any of Soderbergh's editing or camera work to be that interesting or groundbreaking and given its context to Lee's film (which I found socially more important and of course formally experimental) seemed a little absurd his film has received such credit for simply being the first. I actually find a positive light in the thought that what is deemed "independent" as an aesthetic and mode of production, has been completely devoured by the hegemonic system of capital gain that surrounds film. This may in a new age of film making call for something to usurp the place in resistance or opposition to the normal modes of production.
    I also agree with Matt that digital film making is such an amazing technological opportunity for the community. I think the relation of digital produced media and the internet will actually help (I hope) to counteract the isolation of these works of art from the rest of society and that here we may see a new movement for what many aspired independent film making to become. Just look Lynch's 2008 Inland Empire; while digital video has been around for a good deal of time, I think we have yet to see its full potential.

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  5. Digital video certainly has become somewhat of the vehicle for a new era of Independent cinema that has perhaps, not emerged fully yet. I think I commented last week during section about the viability of an independent film like My Private Idaho and an "independent" film like Little Miss Sunshine. Both indeed utilize small casts and small scales, but the budgets are pretty different, Little Miss Sunshine costing a larger amount, but by extension, also being picked up by a subsidiary company of a major studio. So what makes them independent? Unfortunately, it seems like many independent movies these days are just low-risk lottery tickets for studio. They throw a few million dollars into a (relatively) high concept movie (see: Little Miss Sunshine, Danny Deckchair, Millions, Napoleon Dynamite, Sunshine Cleaning, The Lookout) and see where it takes them--either being a breakout hit like Dynamite or Little Miss Sunshine or not exceeding expectations at all (like last year's Hamlet 2). More and more, you're seeing recognizable actors like Greg Kinnear and Amy Adams in favor of unknowns like sex, lies, and videotape's then unknowns (San Giacomo and Gallagher). What I think Independent cinema has turned into is a very studio-centric system.

    What I would expect to take over is exactly this easy-to-get-into digital video revolution. Like the aforementioned Inland Empire, movies can be shot much cheaper without studio help--lending a very seductive fishing line to aspiring filmmakers that wish to mimic Spike Lee or Soderbergh.

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  6. In response to the question regarding homosexual cinema, I think that the sexual orientation of the director can definitely color the perspective of the film, but in the examples we have seen thus far, their homosexuality does not take precedence. For example, the environmental disease in “Safe” can be seen as a metaphor for AIDS- a disease with no cure that keeps people enslaved and afraid- and there is in fact mention of AIDS by the director of Wrenwood, Peter. However, there are no outright mentions of homosexuality. As the question suggests, the amount of references to sexuality that we pick up within a film is certainly related to the audience’s knowledge of the director himself. I, for one, did not pick up on the AIDS and homosexual undertones in “Safe” until much later, when I learned that Todd Haynes was an active participant in the gay cinema movement. Thus I think that although the director may intentionally leave homosexual undertones in the film, most do not directly address it in an overly open way.

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  7. More than anything, I think a film like Sex, Lies, and Videotape is properly categorized as an independent film as a result of its subject matter, not necessarily a result of how it sees itself. The "indie" title of films like Juno or Garden State are in a distinct category because they don't necessarily engage a subject matter that culture would immediately see as novel, or at least create knowledge and exposure about them, like pregnancy in Juno, or loneliness in Garden State. In the early 90's films like Grand Canyon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szxXd2Gtng0), or Unlawful Entry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWoFCRkk1jU), or Sex, Lies, and Videotape were implicated in a type of industrial shift that began to intertwine domestic life with exposure and dysfunction, but I would still call these films independent by today's standards. Independent is distinct in that it generally produces critiques of subverted aspects of culture, not authenticity by its own genre. Convention today is to assign independent to where it stands in the industry and by the prominence of the director, or lack thereof. The truest independence comes from what the film grabs ahold of and exposes.

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