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The Age Old Debate

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We talk a lot about the subject matter of the following quote. I thought it was a great way to approach the issue:

"Cannes is the field upon which an endless undeclared war is fought. Some years the war is out n the open, and 2003 was one of them. Put crudely, it's a struggle for cultural (and by extension "moral") supremacy, codified by the Competition but otherwise all-pervasive. On either side lie opposing ideas of film: the American idea, in which cinema is one small piece of the global entertainment industry; and the culturally minoritarian idea, in which cinema is more or less a locally inspired art form."

from the editor's letter of the most recent Film Comment.

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On either side lie opposing ideas of film: the American idea, in which cinema is one small piece of the global entertainment industry; and the culturally minoritarian idea, in which cinema is more or less a locally inspired art form."

I'm not convinced that this statement is fair to the "American idea". Either it is, as I see it, pejorative at the start, or I'm stuck for the umpteenth time in my life ready to get shot at from both sides. I would say that the actual American practitioners who attempt something off-formula, but within the Hollywood system probably aren't thinking only in terms of being cogs in the wheel of global entertainment. Or better yet, this "American idea" thing, what are its parameters? Are we to assume that Micheal Bay is Martin Scorcese is Steven Soderburgh is Martin Brest is Clint Eastwood is Ron Shelton is Wes Craven is Spielberg is Shyamalan? Now maybe this locally inspired artform is not corrupted by the global entertainment leviathan, but once out of the local milieu, it tends to influence and inspire much of the cream of of the practioners in evil Hollywood. Just look at what they say influences them when they aren't concious of their quotes.

Besides, eveybody makes junk. It's human nature. Being in North America, we get to see all of the American junk. In film as in nature, there are no noble savages. I for one, think it a good thing that we are spared some of the junk of other cultures (I'm not saying that it is junk because it is not from here, just that there is some sort of weeding process that leaves Bollywood junk over there and German junk in Germany, and so on and so on). In the long run, much of what we complain about being forced to watch will sink into the muck. Some of what is around today will be almost universally hailed as cinema for the ages. And some guy at one of the elite magazines will start this fight up all over again.

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Besides' date=' eveybody makes junk. It's human nature. Being in North America, we get to see all of the American junk. In film as in nature, there are no noble savages. I for one, think it a good thing that we are spared some of the junk of other cultures [/quote']

Too true. That was my first reaction. Come on, (for example) most of the Korean films that have made it to the art house the past few years are flat out erotica. No thanks. And many of the films that were shot down at Cannes this year were American indpendent ones, rightfully so. People ripped on Brown Bunny so much, but Gallo is only doing what a host of first time Sundance directors do every year, offer up very mediocre work.

So I think you are right, the "us and them" mentality can be split right down the middle by a double edged sword. But I think one thing I do agree with is his assessment of the commercial systems. The American system in his eyes is not suitable to sensitive, creative film production. So what he does implicitly praise is people like Eastwood, who despite this situation are able to really make good films regardless of the dichotomy. And he does point out that the situation is indeed "codified" by Cannes anyway. At least he admits that a canonization process does exist on the side of the elite.

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Fair enough. I only read your quote and not the whole thing (based on the quote I would be tempted to leave it for others). I also think that your description of Eastwood is apt for practitioners across the ages. I hate to always appeal to Billy Wilder, but to hear him describe his job was to make a profit for the studio. His best way to do that was to make a great story and in the process, ended upcreating a number of sublime films. Eastwood took the same approach from the beginning (while he was learning the ropes, he developed a rep as coming in under budget and schedule). How ironic that, while Hollywood hallows the artsey aesthetes from afar, they (at least in Europe) hallow among others, Eastwood and Wilder among others.

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