Last week Fox put out a teaser for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi blockbuster that everyone’s jizzing about. Except that it wasn’t a teaser for the film. It was a teaser for a new trailer for the film. Now I realise this is in the spirit of generating interest, building expectation, getting the word out there. But it also strikes me as more than a little ridiculous and overkill; surely, a wee press release, a few words for the blogosphere would have sufficed? I mean, what are people going to get from this that they’re not going to get WITH EVEN MORE SATISFACTION when they see the complete trailer several days later? I have no idea.
Which brings me to this rant about hype. It’s kinda ruining things for me. It’s harshing my buzz. In a big way. In this age of social media where word spreads like wildfire in the click of a tweet or status update, hype, more than any other time in this history of film, is unstoppable. And it’s often difficult not to be carried away by it. This coming year I’m madly excited about new films by Olivier Assayas, Jacques Audiard, Cristian Mungiu (yep I read the Indiewire Cannes wish list) and yes, Prometheus too. I’m completely aware that this is the nature of the beast. Hype will ensure the film will fulfill the purpose of its making: to be seen by people.
But with this proliferation of viral hype comes a phenomenon or change which I’ve noticed increasingly in my viewing habits. Primarily I just don’t want to hear about that goddamn hyped film anymore. It’s dead to me after 12 months of chatter. And I’m talking about films that I actually dug at the time of viewing. It’s something I’ve unofficially referred to as the “Black Swan Syndrome”. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan was one of my most anticipated films of 2010. The hype created around it was insane. Come to watching it after many months of rave reviews, I liked it well enough. I wasn’t disappointed in any obvious sense. But when it was time to think about the year’s best films, I felt uneasy about including it in there simply because I had grown out of it – it hadn’t stayed with me. My favourite films stay with me.
It could be that it’s perhaps not as good a film as I thought it was – but it’s also something else. It was the endless talk. The exposure. The noise. The magic had vanished. There was no mystery anymore. It might just as well be Avatar for all I care. All I know is that I don’t need to go near that film again for a long, long time. A more recent example is Drive. It was exciting in the initial stages, the buzz on the fest circuit promised something exceptional. I dug the hell out of the film. But now that’s it been consumed by the masses and in my mind forever linked to the on-going Gosling-worship by large pockets of society, it’s become a lot less appealing.
I’m possibly alone in this feeling, maybe too jaded, too selfish for my own good. But lest this dissolve into a bitter, confused diatribe any further, I’d like to reinforce that I AM still excited about films – but the energy that fuels this excitement is now being spent elsewhere. The biggest strike against hype is that it robs one’s sense of discovery. Where’s the wonder of discovering a great film on your own terms? It’s the constant hunt for gems out there that keeps me sane. The hope that there are films around with a bit of life, films that haven’t been blogged and memed to death, films that exist with an element of mystery around them.
“Sad to say, these days I’m finding the magic of cinema does not lie in going to the cinema.”
I feel like I know everything there is to know about Black Swan and Drive. But films like Cold Weather, Gallants, Road to Nowhere – all of which would have made my Top 10 of 2010 if I had ever got around to doing it – still possess some kind of jewel-like luster about them, untainted by a wailing chorus of fans. I’m not saying they’re unknown movies by any means, but they have do an edge over more hyped-up movies simply by being less discussed – less in my face. They feel personal to me. I feel like I can cradle them and live with them for a while because there is no viral marketing gimmick stabbing me in the eye or universal critical hosannas screaming in my ear. I “found” them on my terms.
Sad to say, but these days I’m finding the magic of cinema does not lie in going to the cinema. It doesn’t lie in the latest tech wizardry. It lies in the richness of its history. The nearly bottomless pit. The fact that I’ll die before I ever get to see everything I want to see. The search, the chase, and yes, the discovery.
Let me put it this way… I’m as pumped for The Dark Knight Rises as anybody. It’s coming in July, it’ll be in massive IMAX, Nolan will blow us all way, etc. But it’s just, you know… there. I know it’s coming out. I’ll go see it, I might love it, might hate it. Then I’ll probably forget about it because I can’t bear to hear another thing about it. That doesn’t really excite me anymore.
I find it more exciting reading a blogger’s “first time viewings” where I might learn about a film or two that might interest me. I find it exciting that the previously extremely-hard-to-find Welcome Home Soldier Boys is coming out on DVD this month. I find it exciting revisiting old films and seeing them in a new light (Final Analysis is way more entertaining than I remembered at 13). I find it exciting that there are little labels in the US like Code Red and Scorpion Releasing unleashing forgotten rarities on DVD and I’ve got some of them sitting there on the shelf to watch at my own leisure. I find it exciting stumbling onto a Oklahoma Gazette article on an obscure Joseph Cotten ‘50s noir called The Steel Trap which is now available from Warner Archives, and I desperately want to see right this minute. I find it exciting to be able to watch Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch in bed with a cup of sleepy tea by my side. And I definitely find it exciting that I still haven’t seen all of Hugo Haas’ work.
These experiences – the act of discovering and watching movies – are distanced from any sort of wild hype. And they’re infinitely more rewarding than any theatrical experience I’ve had in a while. This is both a curse and a blessing, and maybe the only thing that still gives me an appetite for cinema.