Written by: Jacob Kunnel, Special to CC2K
Part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.
20. It’s Cinematic!
With all the technical opportunities to change a recorded frame or a whole film, even those productions that had been doomed to have a crappy look could now have a posh, “expensive” look and style. From student films to music videos and TV shows, the idea of what was cinematic or filmic had changed dramatically during the last decade. Take shows like CSI or LOST. People kept referring to them as shows that looked as good as a Hollywood film. But is that true? Not really. Many shows feel cinematic because they adapt techniques from the motion picture industry and present them to a new medium. If a film was shot with the production values and the special effects of LOST, it would suddenly feel like a very ambitious low-budget project. The same can be said for music videos or commercials. It seems, though, that the thin line between what’s cinematic, this time meaning a state-of-the-art look and feel, and those that try to achieve it, is getting pretty thin and that audiences might realize the other nuances that make a film cinematic, from the style of acting to the style of narration. Is it a certain efficiency or compactness in plot and theme, or is it a clear understanding for the abstract, not the literal, in visual storytelling? It will be up to the filmmakers and –reviewers of the next decade to set the rules for this new vocabulary. A way to describe a certain quality in storytelling that is not necessarily linked to one special medium, but describes a feeling that we have when we watch something that is really special.
19. Revenge of the Nerds… and Geeks… and Fanboys
The 00’s saw the revival of a special filmic character: the nerd. Films like Napoleon Dynamite or Eagle vs. Shark presented funny, quirky and slightly creepy sociophobes that would dress with a certain nerd chique (that was also extremely fashionable in the 00’s) and were passionate about their interests. While the nerd had been the ultimate sidekick before (and still is in mainstream films like Live or Die Hard), usually functioning as a slick way to drive the plot (a nerd always knows how the hack into the government database), the 00’s could make him the main character – in times when most people were sick of perfectly buff role models. It also helped to redefine the male lead that now could be vulnerable (see 34. Bromance) and geeky (with fewer female examples). In times where niches were the new mainstream, the knowledge about one certain topic (favorably films) was a new thing to be desired, as so many people failed at the aim to be conform and follow the rules. Also, these films were written by geeks themselves, which would also explain the distinctly male perspective, as most geeks seem to be xy. The passion for movies brought a new playfulness, but it did not redefine them because the cinematic reality would be based on reference rather than originality. A film like 500 Days of Summer worked as the perfect fluff for the geek crowd, referencing music and films to a degree that the reference itself would be the movie. Which leads us to the fanboys, the real-life movie geeks that helped define the public opinion about films in the 2000’s. When the studios realized this, the fanboy quickly became the focus of attention for countless marketing campaigns. It seems that many mainstream films of the 00’s were exactly hand-tailored for this special target audience, as the referential level would be almost as important (for the enjoyment of the film) as the narrative or visual space itself.
As Alison Wilmore and Matt Singer pointed out in their IFC Podcast, in the 00’s nostalgia was one of the most common themes, especially in indie movies. Often this tone was mixed with a certain melancholia that people knew from their old family photos or Super-8-films. Movies like Science of Sleep would feature a handmade style that most people in the audience would know from their childhood days, circling around ideas and themes of family issues and time past. Wes Anderson’s and Noah Baumbach’s film would describe this nostalgia as a feature of rather intellectual and conflicted families (The Royal Tennenbaums and The Squid And The Whale being the most prominent examples), while films like Son of Rambow and Where The Wild Things Are presented the childlike wonder from an adult perspective. This anachronism showed one thing: These films were made by and for people that grew up in a non-digital world and experienced a clear gap between pre-digital and digital times, especially in cinematic terms. Nowadays, a 5-year-old kid would not bother about a pre-digital cinematic world, as this world has never been relevant to it. The nostalgia is a tool to create a context of time, but it also works as a effective tool to make a story or character relatable in visual terms – in times when everything, arguably even emotions, can be computer animated.
17. Special Features
The one new thing that the DVD introduced were (besides a clearer picture) the special features that would give the audience the opportunity to not only watch the film in different languages, we were also able to get a whole new insight into the production history of the movie. The making of was the ultimate feature, because it could explain the technical achievements and also made the process of producing a film more or less transparent. The quality of these features would vary from film to film, but in the best cases they would work as some sort of film school. They are probably one of the best examples for Infotainment, because they merge marketing strategies with useful information about the film. A whole new set of media competence was build on these features, making not only special effects like bullet time a part of the general knowledge, they also helped to understand what the difficulty in making a film is, while still addressing more people than film geeks. The interesting thing is how these special features could also enter the film’s narrative space and help as a P.R. tool, e.g. when the writer’s team explained certain critical decisions on the Lord of the Rings DVDs. Soon the realm of special features was extended to the Internet, again as a marketing or even P.R. tool. In 2009, there was barely a film that you watched without being introduced to the film’s production history earlier, in some kind of form. On the other hand, it was more difficult than ever to experience the timeless quality of films (e.g. whether or not it would still stand out in 20 years), as we were preconditioned in most cases.
16. Film Talks
The rise of itunes lead to a never seen before revolution in the music industry. For the film universe, the major change wasn’t that obvious, but nevertheless exciting. Originating from the geek universe, plenty of podcasts were introduced in the 2000’s, and quickly many of them became more professional. Podcasts like the IFC Podcast, the /Filmcast, The Creative Screenwriting Podcast or The Filmtalk not only have been a great inspiration for this list as they opened almost public discussions about movies – leading to an open film discourse on the Internet – they also could take the time for the film talks that they needed. Never were ideas, themes and opinions so transparent, because we could actually see (or hear) how they came together in public space. By publishing the podcasts with a DIY-attitude, the workspace and dependencies of a film journalist became also visible, as most reviews would come from a clearly subjective and personal point of view. It is much harder to pretend that you are objective when you need to do it orally, not on the page. Thankfully many of the hosts knew that. The one great thing about these podcasts is the idea of taking the realms of film into a space completely free of any visual incentive. Even in magazines you would have your usual fancy stills and the size of the picture would determine its importance. With podcasts, films are equal again. Instead of relying on the visual stimulation of a film, the podcasts would focus on importance of themes, originality and narration, a welcome step back to a time when the box office was not the generally accepted sign for quality.
15. Video Games and Comic Books
The history of cinema is always related to waves and trends that reform our opinion about the medium. In the beginning of cinema people were inspired by what was around them and the possibilities of the medium itself. With a better understanding of filmic storytelling and greater technical achievements, filmmakers were able to put adaptations of literary sources on screen. In the 60’s, the French New Wave and the New Hollywood presented films that were made by lovers of films, geeks who would understand the vocabulary and grammar of the cinematic language. They were followed by directors who were influenced by commercials and who presented a style that created entertainment through manipulation. The 90’s continued this path with filmmakers inspired by music videos, short films and non-linear storytelling. The 00’s, it seems, were the decade of the comic book and video game movies. While there have been waves of comic book adaptations before, the superhero film was the most prominent. The last one ended with the notoriously hated Batman and Robin in 1997, but the genre recovered quickly with Sam Raimis’s Spiderman and later the Batman films by Christopher Nolan. One of the reasons for this revival might have been the progress in animation technology that made it possible for Peter Parker to fly through the streets of New York. Another one was the idea that superhero comic adaptations are well-established properties with a huge existing fan base. There seemed to be a desire between fan boys to see the adaptations on screen as a proof of their value, placing the relevance of comic books in the more dominant filmic canon. These films work with a certain logic in which people watch a movie that they have imagined before, making the experience of watching a movie an experience of acknowledgement. The superhero film trend culminated in the adaptation of the most celebrated graphic novel Watchmen that definitely pushed the discussion around the format, but only succeeded in mimicking the grittiness and social commentary of the original. Similarly to 300 (also made by Zack Snyder), it was the proof that most of the adaptations were made by fans (who would be unable to understand why they really liked it) rather than auteurs that could make the themes and stories relevant in the new medium. There were some welcome exceptions, though. Sin City never wanted to be more than a slick pulp film and succeeded in stylizing the feel of the graphic novel into an aesthetic universe. Films like Ghost World or American Splendor successfully took the way out of the B-movie universe by treating the adaptation as something abstract that needs to made transparent, rather than using the source as a storyboard. Persepolis, on the other hand, achieved to translate the personal point of view in the comic book into a filmic version that could be seen by basically anyone, making the simple animation even more accessible and therefore the social commentary more powerful.
Another genre based on a visual source was the video game adaptation. Films like Doom, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider or Silent Hill tried to translate the experience of gaming into the film universe, with one big problem: video games are not movies. Although I believe that videogames can integrate works of art, they are not products of art themselves. The simple reason is that art always presents the abstract. Art is always distant, never immediate. You "watch" a movie, you don't live it. You "watch" a Picasso, you are not part of it. The result is that everything happens in your mind, in the space between. Only abstract or distant things can offer you feelings of empathy for a character or the horror in a scary movie. Games in general are never abstract. They are always immediate. Might it be a tennis match or a video game. The result is that art and games are two totally different entities that symbiotically influence each other. Many video games have copied mechanisms, plots and styles from movies, but still lacked a real narration that basically can only work through a distant view. The argument is not that something that is art is superior to something that is a game, only that they are two different things. In the end, the closest and most inventive a film has gotten (though completely laughable) to its video game source is the zombie showdown in Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead.
14. The Uncanny Valley
In the last years, computer-animated worlds and characters in real-life adventures have been always fascinating, but similarly problematic. While the character of Gollum in Lord of the Rings was generally praised for its extension of Andy Serkin’s performance, though it was not always 100% photorealistic, other examples looked either cartoonish (Star Wars: Episode 2) or like dead puppets (most notably in Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express or Beowulf) – leading to the term uncanny valley. Even with performance motion, the same issues occurred. The characters felt “dead”. So why would anyone go beyond a stylized Pixar-esque approach and try to animate photorealistic worlds and people? As James Cameron’s Avatar showed, this technology gave the possibility to create new worlds and maybe also precede the introduction of the 3D-blockbuster, making computer-animation more relevant in three dimensions. But there is a problem with trying to be photorealistic: the lack of chaos and the lack of imperfection. When watching the Star Wars prequels again, I realized that the every image is framed perfectly. But it’s too perfect, putting everything in place where it belongs. By that, the frames become random. The great thing about a photographed film is that a director needs to make decisions in a real place, which will probably force different approaches on framing the picture (Danny Boyle is a good example). The truth is that when an artist can create a world visually without any obstacles, it will in most cases never reach the complexity and uniqueness of a photo that was taken from the real world. Also, the audience’s perception of a film has always included the process of making the film, resulting in the question: How did they do that? With computer-generated images, the reply to this answer is always the same. Because of that, it will be always closer to the genre of animation, rather than live action, especially in future when the knowledge about this technology is more commonly known.
13. Pixar and Studio Ghibli
There’s not much you can write about Pixar’s and Studio Ghibli’s role in the 00’s that hasn’t already been written. They are the two quality studios that brought us imaginative family friendly animated entertainment, always with a personal note. They used animation as a format that could invent worlds that still were relevant. Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WallE and Up were all success stories with only minor flaws. And they were timeless in times when most animated films would consist of modern references and jokes. They always treated their characters seriously and understood that the heart of an animated film is not different from any other film: It is the writing that, even before the first drawing or animation, will determine what kind of film you will make. Although Pixar films have no target audience, everyone will find something relevant in tales about family, love, responsibility and life. Basic and traditional as these themes were, they never felt that way. The same can be said about Ghibli’s films Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo, although they successfully veered away from the traditional Hollywood narration that Pixar used. The great thing about Miyazaki’s films is that they blend traditional fantasy elements with distinct Japanese characters in such a way that they are enjoyable for non-Japanese audiences. Similarly to Pixar’s features, Miyazaki’s film work equally as auteur movies and pure entertainment movies, using animation never as a tool to recreate a photorealistic universe, but to create their own universe.
12. The International Community
Like no other decade, and mostly due to the Internet revolution, the worldwide market was more visible to a huge percentage of the audience. From Asian wuxia films to Indian Bollywood movies, Nigerian Nollywood films, German period pieces or Skandinavian dramas and crime films, the 00’s offered a great listing of world cinema that was also accessible to audiences while they were playing at the movies. While many of the really successful foreign language movies were not produced by foreign companies (e.g. Slumdog Millionaire or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), there was an incredible amount of non-English films that made it into the international and national canon. Oldboy made Park Chan-wook one of the most interesting directors, Let The Right One In was the perfect antidote to Twilight, films like Gomorrah and City of God reached an epic complexity that hadn’t been seen since the Godfather trilogy, Amelie bedazzled audiences with its rich colors and its lead, The Downfall and The Lives of Others made history lessons interesting again because they were relevant for the present, Pedro Almodovar continued to create strong female characters with Volver, The White Ribbon and Cache showed that Michael Haneke actually had something to say, because they were precise and easily accessible, Reprise and Faväl Falkenberg were equally funny and sad, Amores Perros introduced the trend of the fragmented film, Ang Lee continued to switch between languages and films like Maria Full of Grace, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Sea Inside just were extremely moving. While this list could go on forever (and it’s not meant to be a ranking), it was the 2009 win of Slumdog Millionaire (and the new set of unfamiliar faces receiving the awards) that proved that foreign language films could easily succeed if they didn’t follow the shallow Hollywood route, but were accessible enough to be emotionally relevant.
11. Indie Nation
As Pitchfork wrote in their decade list (http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7704-the-decade-in-indie/), indie music was the sound of the last decade. At the beginning of the 00’s, it was unthinkable that a band like the Moldy Peaches would be used in an Oscar-nominated feature (that was Juno). The cinematic sensibilities of the generation worked well with the handmade DIY-attitude that also featured cardigans, skinny pants and horn-rimmed glasses. The 00’s were the decade of the hipsters and emos. Films like Garden State or 500 Days of Summer featured the only relevant music of the decade and gave it faces, while films like Alexander the Last, Mutual Appretiation, Funny Ha Ha or In Search of a Midnight Kiss successfully translated the worldview of the midtwenties into a cinematic sensibility that was closer to Cassavetes than Slackers. Born was Mumblecore. Suddenly films could be made for a micro-budget or even no budget, and they could still be visually ambitious as Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. Sites like Indiegogo and Wreckamovie would try to organize these dynamics on a worldwide level through the Internet. The great thing about these movies is that they are far from perfect (Reichardt might be the exception) and they are totally aware of that. It seems as if the filmmakers of this indie generation have found their voice in an unaffected space, and that this is just the beginning of something new. A lot of them won’t be able to survive the hype, but a few of them might be up to something great.
10. Box Office Numbers and Blockbusters
Since Jaws became the first blockbuster in 1975, box office numbers have been increasingly used to not only measure the success of a film, but also its quality. Especially in the geek universe, foretelling the weekend box office has become a sport, but no one is really questioning the dynamics behind this practice. It seems that the film success stories of today are built even before the film is screening as a part of the marketing and that the box office is the climax to this story. On the other hand, the box office of a movie seems to be relevant to see if films of a similar theme or genre will be made. Not counting the inflation or the plain ticket sales, it seemed that films like The Dark Knight, the three Lord of The Rings films or Spiderman were the most successful films of all time and that other ones would be considered flops. The strange thing is that DVD sales were never included in the discussions about how much a film made. This makes sense, as the whole fuss around the box office numbers is a dynamic that defines the film industry as one that is only based on commercial values. A film’s success story can be defined by the first weekend and therefore used as a marketing tool. It would also be an easy strategy for non-geeks to get into the film discourse on a rather superficial level. To read a chart is definitely easier than to read a review. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time in which other things seemed more relevant when a film came out, but in the 00’s the box office was made the number one argument to emphasize a film’s relevance.
9. TV killed the Movie Star
The last decade changed our perception of what TV could (and should) do forever. Starting in 1999 with The Sopranos, HBO took a step back to the European and American storytelling tradition of the 70’s to give us a witty modern version of The Godfather. The Sopranos was the first relevant show that would not only work as a continuous saga, it also used TV as a medium to create characters that could grow throughout several seasons, and still be interesting. It was the affection for the character-driven plots coming out of the writer’s room that made the TV show the auteur medium of the last decade. It was the show runners and writers that were the real stars, not the actors or the directors. It seems that most American shows that were successful featured a distinctly American theme. The Sopranos was the mafia show, Six Feet Under was a very American look at the themes of dying and family, Battlestar Galactica was a mostly great allegory for the War on Terror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a precise depiction of growing up as a teenager, Dead Wood was the ultimate Western, Dexter gave the forensic drama a new twist and combined it with the obsession with serial killers, Friday Night Lights was a great look at the sports industry, Weeds a satirical look at the drug industry, Nip/Tuck put the beauty industry into an absurd, yet fun soap opera, Veronica Mars put the Film Noir into a high school as a female empowerment tale, True Blood made vampirism an allegory for minorities, Mad Men used the 60’s to wink at the gender roles and advertising industry of today, The Wire became a greek tragedy about the collapse of societal structures and LOST was the ultimate continuous mystery novel that used a playful set of dramatic twists to keep our attention until the final season. By being distinctly American (at least from my foreign perspective), these shows were able to create rich modern characters that could compete against any novel, even more than the plots or settings. An important factor was the possibility to watch these shows on DVD sets or (illegal) downloads, as we were able to “read” them as novels, though each episode would have a clear structure. The first airing of an episode would then be rather irrelevant, as many people discovered their favorite show later on. It will be exciting to see what the extreme competition in the TV business and its parallel trend of non-scripted Reality TV will do to these shows in the 2010’s. In the 00’s, TV was treated as the better alternative to motion pictures, but doesn’t The Godfather tell an equally rich story as 6 seasons of The Sopranos? Until now, no show has reached the visual freedom to tell a story that is not only based on the writing. There are moments in LOST, The Wire or Six Feet Under that remind us of the magic of cinema – and that a film can go beyond the plain storytelling of these shows. The interest in continuous TV shows might not be necessarily the proof that it’s the better medium; it might be more a mirror to our consumption habits and the idea of what we expected from fiction in this decade.
8. Film Criticism goes Online
During the last years there has been a vibrant discussion whether or not film criticism is a dying art form (http://www.theauteurs.com/topics/625). Film criticism has changed, most notably because of the impact of the Internet and its bloggers. Aint it Cool News was the first relevant film blog that was influential, because it came straight out of the geek culture. Harry Knowless presented a very personal point of view in his reviews, often linking the enjoyment of or hate for a movie to personal experiences outside the theater. While this was definitely new and brought a whole new generation of geeks together who would write about films, it lacked the sophistication that prior film critics had, because it came from a fan boy perspective, and not from an academic point of view. The online film review therefore would be more about the author liking or not liking it, instead of contextualizing the film and its meaning into a historical and semantic space. Gone were the days when film critics were excited about the language a new movie would use, or the strategies it used to create emotion. The online review in most cases circled around the question whether or not the film forced an emotional reaction, but only few were able to contextualize it. Another issue with online writers is the sometimes deafening lack of journalistic competence and ethics, especially when writers write about a film as if they were part of the Public Relations department or big banner of the reviewed movie would top the page. Inviting bloggers to the film set has become a common practice. But why care about the shooting of the film, when the only important thing is the end result? It seems that bloggers sometimes followed a certain commercial logic too easily, in which the one blog who got the first info about a film would become some sort of opinion leader. A whole spoiler industry was built around that. This kind of journalism lead to a very descriptive form of writing. Is it really necessary to write what a film means in a literary sense? Aren’t the dynamics behind the meaning far more interesting? And is it really necessary to simply rate a film or to predict the box office? Often, writers would just adjust to the press releases or adopt to the logic of the fan base. Gone were the days when a film and also its criticism would have a political meaning and films were seen as an important cultural mirror and producer of societal, moral and social values. While there definitely was a great number of successful and talented online writers, I would have loved to see more bloggers with an education in film science or some sort of knowledge that helped them to go beyond the commercially descriptive journalism that defined the online film criticism in the 00’s.
7. 3D – an Artform without a History
This is an edited excerpt from my essay 3D is Future Fiction (http://www.cincity2000.com/content/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1836&Itemid=2): 3D has been around for decades, but the latest push in stereoscopic technology and breakthrough in digital projection might lead to a renaissance that could change the experience of watching a movie forever. No technology was discussed more vibrantly in the film universe, as the success or failure of 3D-movies could determine the future of mainstream films. The arguments in are clear. Supporters say that this is a totally new movie going experience. You cannot record a 3D film with a camcorder or watch it at home. People need to buy tickets to watch these films – which opens a brand new market for consumers. Critics, on the other hand, describe 3D films as overly gimmicky and the technology as unsubstantial. I would argue that both positions are right and wrong in their own way. Great stories are still the future of the film industry. But stories that are written for a 2D screen will only produce films that use 3D as a gimmick. This essential problem leads to one simple question: What stories can be only told through 3D? The definition of a 3D movie in 2009 was either an event movie like Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience or an animated flick like Monsters Vs. And it is totally understandable why. Might it be an already 3D-based-setting or a real-life experience like a concert, these kinds of movies seemed to be made for a 3D screen. But they also played it safe. These films only felt like an extension of the 2D experience. Slasher films like My Bloody Valentine or The Final Destination couldn’t have been more disappointing, making the 3D-effect a redundant gimmick. But there were some animated films like Pixar’s Up that would use the technology to create a subtle sense of narrational geography. Usually, changes in technology occur through one user-friendly device that is immediately accepted by a huge mass of people. For an emerging 3D film market, there needs to be one film that changes the way we watch the medium. Time will tell if the just released Avatar is that film. But even if not, there will be a huge crowd-pleasing blockbuster that uses its 3D setting naturally, and not as gimmick. This will be the exciting moment when the audience will take 3D for granted. And it will allow the studios to invest in riskier productions, the Intolerance or the Metropolis of a new age in cinema. At the beginning of the next decade, we’ll have a new medium whose history and tradition was initiated in the 00’s.
6. The Remake, The Homage, The Reboot
Remakes are no new concept, but the 00’s saw an inflation of old ideas done again. We had plenty of remakes of other films or TV shows. The strange thing was that many remakes seemed to have been made with the intention to draw in the fan base of the original, rather than to present it to a new audience. Why would someone else than a Slasher fan watch a Halloween remake? Sometimes, as in the case of Starsky and Hutch or Charlie’s Angels, films would become meta-movies, treating the subject with a distant absurdity. Sometimes, when an idea was obviously stolen, it was marketed as an homage, like D.J. Caruso’s Hitchcock “homages” Disturbia and Eagle Eye. Another symptom of the remaking delusion were several reboots, most famously Casino Royal, Star Trek and Batman Begins, which all three succeeded in bringing fresh air into the franchises. Reboots always occurred when a franchise was ailing, trying to prepare the brand for a new audience, which is basically what Disney has done all over again throughout the last decades. Mostly the terms used to describe remakes were nothing more than euphemisms for the same oldmconcept. Sometimes, though, a remake would add something to the old version by reimagining the concept without relying only on its qualities as a brand. Michael Haneke’s U.S. version of Funny Games adds something to the discourse as a deliberately American movie, though it appears to be an almost identical copy. The same can be said about Cameron Crowe’s version of Vanilla Sky, even using the same actress. Films like The Departed, Insomnia or Solaris added another layer to the well-received originals. During the 00’s, the discussion about remakes hit a high, and it seemed as if Hollywood was running out of ideas. It seems that the 00’s can be seen as a decade of reformation, using remakes as a way to canonize old films into a modern context. If this is correct, the 2010’s hopefully will feature a new wave of films based on original sources.
5. Optical Disk Storage
The role of the DVD has been mentioned several times in this essay and it definitely is the visual medium of the 00’s. Now that the decade reached its end and the Blu-ray Disc has been introduced, it is questionable whether the DVD will survive or not. The introduction of High-Def TVs made the BD relevant, though the higher resolution doesn’t seem to be the selling point many were hoping for. The BD is probably nothing more than the industry’s attempt at introducing a new profitable collectors item, right before Video on Demand could become the most popular way to watch movies. Our habit of consuming movies has changed from the plain collecting of DVDs to an everyday exchange of videos and films, mainly to the logic of the Internet and the endless possibilities of sources. While it may seem possible that BDs and DVDs will still be bought as presents or when you really love the product – much as music is bought today – the switch to VoD from the old storage media could influence the idea of what a movie is. There are different options. Maybe it will become more popular to download shorter videos, much as we watch uploads onVimeo. Or maybe we won’t be able to distinguish between TV productions and feature productions. Time will also tell whether the industry will become more international, reacting to certain niche markets, or if the national restrictions (much like the DVD and BD region codes) will restrain the consumption of TV and movies to a local market.
4. You on Youtube
Similar to the DVD, the Internet has been more than present in this list. The most relevant online development, besides viral marketing strategies, geek journalism and social networking to me has been the introduction of flash video players. Just in a few years, Youtube and the next generation of video sharing websites have changed the way we perceive movies. And memories. Not only could we suddenly access videos, we could also publish our own movies. The web players were a comfortable tool to watch existing properties, sometimes only in pieces and sometimes as a whole movie or TV show. While there were and are legal restrictions, the online dynamics followed their own rules. Even harsh critics of online piracy would use Youtube to publish an old music video from their childhood or any other copyrighted material. There was a double standard towards these things as everyone tried to come up with their own idea of what was right and wrong. While the theater introduced movies as a communal cinematic experience and home entertainment systems defined movies as a private experience, the online world is a world of exchange that creates an interactive space through a huge database. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that many of the developments listed in this essay have to do with the practice of contextualizing things. The huge database of video material that was made visible through these players is somehow a database of memories. The other great thing that Youtube and co. introduced was the idea that everyone could make movies and even publish them. Suddenly new formats were created that were much closer to short films than anything else, and they were not dependent on high production values. Sometimes it would be a single observation that was just beautiful, a prank of a bunch of college kids, a home video from your childhood or a video message to the one you love. It was really surprising which videos won over the worldwide audience, and how attention was not only a desirable incentive to publish, it was also measurable through the amount of clicks. While there is no real strategy of success, especially when it comes to monetary compensation, the Internet was the most important medium in creating meaning. Never were the relations between different videos, films and other media as visible as in the 00’s, when just one click could make a difference.
No image inspired the 00’s more than the fall of the Twin Towers. The terrifying thing about the repeated image is that we had seen it before it even happened. The collapse of the Towers was an image that could have been straight out of a Hollywood disaster movie (with 1999’s Fight Club, though not a disaster film, getting really close to it). Some would argue that without this precondition, the terrorist attacks would have had a different impact (or they would not have been imagined as cinematic as they were). As Slavoj Zizek points out in his essay “Welcome to the Desert of the Real” (http://web.mit.edu/cms/reconstructions/interpretations/desertreal.html), we were prepared for an event like this to the same degree that we weren’t. It is the cinematic aspect of the terrorist attacks that would come with a certain set of possible interpretations and actions. Not the impossible happened, instead an expected impossible thing happened on this day. It was already defined before it happened. One could argue that the ethics and argumentations that came with 9/11 too easily brought a simple definition of good and evil, an ideology that was as filmic as a Wolfgang Petersen movie, leading to two horrible wars. This ideology would filter any form of reaction into a public War against Terror, because it all happened on an immediate level, which Zizek calls a lack of cognitive mapping in his analysis of World Trade Center and United 93 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/sep/11/comment.september11). These two films only worked in a space where they reach some sort of authenticity, but “the realism means that both films are restrained from taking a political stance and depicting the wider context of the events. Neither the passengers on United 93 nor the policemen in WTC grasp the full picture. All of a sudden they find themselves in a terrifying situation and have to make the best out of it.” (Zizek 2006). While there were many more or less successful attempts to portray the personal struggles (Stop-Loss, Jar Head, The Hurt Locker, Grace is Gone or In the Valley of Elah), many films lacked the ability to deal with the real issues. Often a seemingly liberal turn would lead into an ultra-conservative agenda, e.g. in the TV show 24, that failed to understand what it was about because it never went beyond the personal struggle of Jack Bauer. Two exceptions might be TV’s Battlestar Galactica, in which the private conflict would correlate on different levels of hierarchy with the overall picture of supposedly times of war, and M. Night Shyamalan’s highly underrated The Village that successfully portrayed what role the construction of fear in stabilizing a society means, on both a personal level (we really believe that there’s a monster, even after hearing that it’s fake) and on a societal level (if the setting of the film had been revealed at the beginning, it would have not been bashed). It seems, though, that in the 00’s audiences weren’t asking for this kind of social commentary (instead escapism like The Lord of The Rings could be easily used to capture the zeitgeist of We vs. Terror), neither did most people see what influence the horrible event of 9/11 on mainstream storytelling would have.
We’re almost at the end of my personal list that hopefully showed the diversity of the last decade. I came to the conclusion that many of the developments in the 00’s were not only based on certain technical developments, they were also the sign of a new understanding of fiction. It seems that during the 00’s, fiction in visual media was not only seen as something abstract that you can just watch, it was also turned into something that you could use. The idea that films are made for the audience has never been more relevant. Many films would be judged on your own expectations and a lot of viral strategies were based on the audience’s cooperation (the Dark Knight campaign is a great example). Fiction has never been more transparent as a tool to create meaning, especially through personal usage. But what are the reasons behind that? Was it just a playfulness in which we could use reference as a way to define ourselves, would storytelling give us an insight into the social and moral themes, were we more aware of the effect escapism has on us, or were movies just a transparent visualization of our zeitgeist? I don’t know the answer, but I’m glad that there has been such a vibrant exchange online. Otherwise lists like this one would not even exist. To me, the idea that films were used as some sort of gratification for your personal use is the main theme of the 00’s. Whether this is just the beginning of a changing movie industry or just a temporary development, I don’t know, but I’m sure the next decade will give us some answers.
This list started with the 90’s and it ends with the next year. 2010 is science fiction and it is close. There is nothing I can say about it, but I’d like to look into the future with hope. It seems that there’s a new wave of world cinema that is not interested in the 30-year-old run of big budgeted B-movies. Yes, Star Wars and Batman are entertaining, but there is something more precious that is desired by all those people that really care about the art of movies. I’d like to see more auteur movies, films that understand how emotion and meaning are created, films that create substantially new emotion, films that celebrate the now and not the past or what comes next, films that use 3D as a new language, films that don’t care about national borders or different languages, films that can have any length or form, films that redefine what characters we want to follow and films that just rock. This list is essentially a personal one, and it is not meant to be right or wrong. Instead I want to encourage everyone who reads this to write down their own points instead of just listing empty best ofs. Together we can find out what the last decade was really about and what role it has in the overall history of motion pictures.