In a New York Times article called "As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity: Flooding Theaters Isn't Good for Filmmakers or Filmgoers," co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis takes aim at the proliferation of theatrical releases, especially in New York, where the Times reviewed 900 films in 2013.
I have a little favor to ask of the people cutting the checks: Stop buying so many movies. Or at least take a moment and consider whether flooding theaters with titles is good for movies and moviegoers alike. Because no matter how exciting Sundance will be this year, no matter how aesthetically electrifying, innovative and entertaining the selections, it’s hard to see how American independent cinema can sustain itself if it continues to focus on consumption rather than curation. There are, bluntly, too many lackluster, forgettable and just plain bad movies pouring into theaters, distracting the entertainment media and, more important, overwhelming the audience. Dumping "product" into theaters week after week damages an already fragile cinematic ecosystem.
No one would question that the number of movies has grown out of control, and in New York, the practice of renting out a theater -- known as "four-walling" -- is a common way for films without distribution to get press coverage. (Take a look at the upcoming listings for the Quad, whose very mention among New York critics is likely to prompt an involuntary eye-roll.) Most outlets long ago cried "uncle," but the Times sticks to its policy of reviewing every movie that opens in the five boroughs, a good many of which will never open anywhere else.
It's a complicated situation, and Dargis' argument seems to fold in on itself in a few places. Take this passage:
No critic wants to watch bad movies, and contrary to popular belief, reviewing them often isn't much fun either. But apart from Dargis' quixotic plea to "stop buying so many movies" -- a little like asking a genie if it wouldn't mind going back in its bottle -- it's not clear who she'd rather perform the hard work of separating the gold from the dross. Those 900 reviews notwithstanding, some of the best movies in the world opened nowhere at all -- I'd rather watch a random title from the top 25 undistributed films in Indiewire's poll than 90 percent of major studio releases.
Yes, there were good and great movies among those 900 titles, although it’s instructive that many of the movies that dominated critics’ Top 10 lists last year -- and have monopolized much of the demented obsessing over who will win at the Academy Awards -- were distributed by the big studios and their divisions, from 12 Years a Slave to Her to Before Midnight. The website moviecitynews.com has combined 150-plus such year-end lists, and only two independently released movies -- The Act of Killing and Frances Ha -- were among the pooled top 10 titles. Most of the truly independently released movies tend to be further down, including the radically dissimilar Computer Chess and Don Jon, both of which were well received at the last Sundance....
Computer Chess, a droll comedy about chess nerds shot on black-and-white video, was never going to make all that much. It’s supremely individual, too odd, too interesting. But it’s hard not to believe that it might have done better if it hadn't been forced into the marketplace alongside 20 other independent releases that opened in New York the same week and were all vying for pretty much the same nonmainstream audience. Only four big-studio movies opened the week it did, and they crushed the box office.
You wanna know why there's a film glut, Manohla? Because your paper reviews dozens of vanity bookings! http://t.co/olRqJoIRPr— Lou Lumenick (@LouLumenick) January 9, 2014
@calummarsh A whole cottage industry has grown up around vanity bookings. But if NY Times pulled the plug, many would disappear— Lou Lumenick (@LouLumenick) January 9, 2014