For a refreshing take on The Slump, we suggest David Denby‘s New Yorker piece on Susan Sontag and film. Sontag, who may have demanded more of cinema as an art form than any other figure in the golden age of film criticism, wrote off contemporary film back in 1995, in an essay entitled "A Century of Cinema."
Setting out the reasons for the fall, Sontag mentioned the consumption of TV-size images at home replacing the awed reception of light by "kidnapped" strangers in darkened theatres; the catastrophic rise in movie-production costs in the nineteen-eighties; the tipping of the old balance between art and commerce "decisively in favor of cinema as an industry." All these forces, she wrote, were producing a "disincarnated, lightweight cinema that doesn’t demand anyoneâ€™s full attention."
Well, there you go.
Denby goes on to outline Sontag’s love affair with the medium, which eventually led her to attempt to make (terrible) films herself, her particular views of who were important filmmakers (not the Americans), her eventual disillusionment and nevertheless persistent adoration ("At the end of her life, working hard, and often ill, Susan Sontag went to the movies almost every day of the week.").
Over at Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum (who we like, though it seems to us that their writing is often neutered by higher editing powers) launch into a Slate Movie Club-style discussion for two on the season that was. Gleiberman is surprisingly upbeat about summer, proclaiming it the new season of quality.
OWEN: Some important folks in Hollywood are blaming the summer box office decline on the quality of the movies. I have this to say to them: Balderdash!
LISA: Is that word approved for use by critics?
OWEN: Are you kidding â€” it’s made for blurbing.
Much good stuff there, and it’s nice to see those two be given more freedom to be goofy and, you know, smart.
Anne Thompson at the Hollywood Reporter has a further retort to the question of whether the box office is slumping because of a decline in the quality of films â€” specialty theaters are suffering from lower attendance too. She talks to Barbara Smith from L.A.’s American Cinematheque and Gary Meyer from San Francisco’s Balboa Cinema, both of whom foresee a world with far fewer theaters.
And Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune tries to remember why we love movies in the first place.
Most of the movies we see…come to us as dispatches from another land. They may instill a sense of home, or belonging, or emotional meaning, or just hand us a lot of explosions, or a few laughs. But they’re from somewhere else. That’s the appeal. The medium takes us somewhere else and, now and then, brings us back altered for the better.