Denby on the State of Film and What it Means to be a Critic
David Denby talks about the dying breed of originality in art — I assume he’s talking about mainstream Hollywood films, which lose their local flavor because they have to be generic enough to appeal to an international audience. I don’t know that I agree with his premise but I think he’s a great writer – and I am looking forward to reading his book. He talks to Rachel Martin on NPR’s Weekend Edition and had this to say:
On how blockbusters must now be accessible to audiences all over the world, and why they suffer as a result
“Two-thirds of the box office return comes from overseas. They have to play in Bangkok and Bangalore, you know, as well as Bangor, Maine …
“The local flavor has gone out of them. In the early ’70s, there were a lot of things set in American, very specific places like Nashville, [Tenn.,] you know, or The Godfather in New York in the late ’40s, and Long Island and the city. I mean, that sense of a very specific time and place has vanished.
“Now you’re getting it in small films, particularly things that go through the Sundance process of script development, like Beasts of the Southern Wild, this marvelous film that came out this past summer that was shot in the bayous of Louisiana. You can’t get much more specific than that. I miss that. There’s a certain grandeur, a certain ambition [that] has just gone out of studio filmmaking. And they openly say they’re only interested in spectacles made from comic books and games, or maybe young-adult fictions and genre films. “
On his characterization of Avatar as “the most beautiful film I’ve seen in years,” and how that blockbuster bucked the trend
“I don’t want to make this categorical; I’m as seducible as anyone else, and what was luscious was the color. Remember all the purples and blues and mauves and oranges and colors I don’t even know the names of? But we’re talking about one great movie here, you know, that makes a really inventive use of space, and that is so rare.”
On directors who are pushing filmmaking into new and interesting territory
“Pedro Almodovar of Spain I think has the same kind of excitement and prestige around his movies the way [Ingmar] Bergman did and [Francois] Truffaut and [Federico] Fellini and so on, 40 years ago. At home, there are a lot of people who are very talented, like Paul Thomas Anderson, who did The Master; or Bennett Miller, who did Capote and Moneyball; or Alexander Payne, who did Sideways. But one of the problems, Rachel, is those people, and women too — it takes them forever to get financing.
“Tony Gilroy, who made Michael Clayton with George Clooney a few years ago — very interesting movie about a corrupt lawyer in New York who finds his soul — he told me that movie couldn’t be made anymore. That was only five years ago. It’s not that there’s an absence of talent. There’s an enormous amount of acting talent. My enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed in any way. I’m dying for a revolution.”
On what it means now to be a film critic
“[It means] to look for anything that has life in it, anywhere. If it’s Richard Gere giving the best performance of his life in Arbitrage, you celebrate that. If it’s Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena having a rapport together in a police car in End of Watch, you celebrate that. And you try to sell those things, when they’re good, to the largest audience you can reach.”