Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obituary:

The word began to spread last week, and was made official on Monday, that venerable distributor New Yorker Films was going under. It's hard to imagine the impact the company made in just its first few years, way back in 1965, well before the advent of home video and, later, dvd, when film was still watched in theaters and projected off of, um, film. They released a number of now established classics - films by Akerman, Herzog, Bresson, Lanzman, etc. Just a quick glimpse at my own video shelf reveals about two dozen of their cassettes, and about a dozen of their dvds (including films by Denis, the Dardennes, Resnais, Godard, Sang-soo, Zhangke and Kiarostami) . Indeed, the transition from video to digital perhaps revealed the first signs of an impending decline, if not out and out collapse - a number of their holdings never made the jump from one format to the other, either through lack of care, concern or rights retention. As point of reference, their video releases of Bresson's The Devil Probably and A Gentle Woman have not only not been released on dvd by them, they have in fact not been issued on dvd by anyone at all in this country.
Another sign of the times? Not quite - even before our current financial woes, distributors were going under left and right (Think Film, Palm Pictures, Wellspring, etc). More a sign, then, of the shifting tides of the state of film itself. As fewer and fewer companies release fewer and fewer films, even one financial disappointment can spell certain doom. Add into the mix higher budgets and increased advertising dollars for those few films, in addition to shrinking exhibition opportunities, and you've got a near suicidal business plan. So what's the concerned cinephile to do? Your guess is as good as mine. Smaller companies like the recently founded Benten Films are trying to carve out a little corner of the market on their own modest terms, more a labor of love than anything else, while Koch Lorber and IFC continue to release worthwhile films, although I fear to increasingly diminishing returns. While Washington fumbles about with its bailout plans and the bankers wait with baited breath, I'll be mourning (in private, with a minimum of fuss - a state that us increasingly marginalized film lovers are becoming more and more familiar with).

9 comments:

William Wren said...

good one,

richard said...

...thanks for you sympathetic understanding of our plight...times have always been stressful for the boutique arthouse indies so we're not strangers to survival strategies...i for one (company) still have some tricks up our sleeve...you'll be hearing more soon about Lorber Films...stay tuned, we need you! richard lorber

Anonymous said...

Just a note, Palm Pictures has not gone under but is playing it smart, the company is still around.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Some moles bearing good news, eh?

Things are grim now to be sure. Have you heard anything at all about the filmmakers co-op in New York getting evicted? http://www.fredcamper.com/Rants/FilmmakersCoop.html

Sad times indeed. Those who are passionate will endure. People have been making stained glass since the 10th century. People will continue to make films until affordable equipment breaks and decays. Then we will film each-other with pringles cans. I'm not joking. Cinema will endure.

Jake said...

Also, let me point out that I know the earliest examples of stained glass date back to well before the 10th century. . . I was merely trying to approximate the 'peak' of stained glass window making as a form liturgical decoration. In any case, when I find myself saddened by the current state of film culture, I look at picture books of The Chartres... We will endure.

Danimal said...

Richard - thanks for stopping by. I'd like to emphasize that by "increasingly diminishing returns" I was referring to an assumed potential audience and not the actual films at hand. I look forward to whatever tricks you've got up those sleeves, and rest assured, my friends and I aren't going anywhere.
Anonymous - of course you're right, I should have bothered to google Palm before assuming their demise. But I will say this - my assumption was based on a certain lack of visibility in recent months, an assumption reinforced by a visit to their website. Certainly, I don't wish any company ill will, and as far as I know, their Patti Smith doc did fairly decent business here in Chicago. But one can't say that they remain on the cutting edge of international cinema, at least not in the way New Yorker Films was, or even Koch Lorber for that matter. I wish them the best of luck in their new music-based niche market. But what are the chances of them releasing new films by To, Hou, Assayas, Kurosawa Kiyoshi or Ratanaruang (who's Invisible Waves and Ploy remain unavailable in Region 1)? Slim, I'd imagine.
Jake - of course you are right my friend, as usual. Those who are passionate will always find a way to produce and show their films. I was saddened to hear about the co-op, I read about it mere moments after my drunken post. I think what irks me so is the lack of an even playing field - why isn't there enough room for mainstream stuff and other, more independently minded film? In typically American fashion, it's not enough to simply be the winner, or the biggest kid on the block - you must succeed in completely eradicating anything that does not conform to a particular world view/business model. I'm sorry, but they started this fight, and if we don't finish it, there might not be any film culture to speak of in the not-so-distant future. Hyperbole? Maybe. Maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Dan! I love you Dan! You are the man!! you know the most about movies! you are a movie GOD!! AAAHHHH!!!!!!

Danimal said...

Um, thanks? One of the problems with the internet is that nuance and sincerity is hard to come by. So, optimist that I am, thank you for the compliment. But your multiple exclamation points belie a certain sarcasm, so, if that is the case, go fuck yourself. Unless this is Jake, in which case, I love you so very, very dearly. You are, sincerely, my Midnight Meat Train of hetero man love.

Jake said...

Interesting that you went right to me with that one. Yes, I love you very, very dearly as well. MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN!!! However, I didn't write that comment. I call douche-bag.