MaryAnn Johanson December 6, 2007
There are too many damn movies being released. I never thought I’d ever say that, but it’s true. I can’t keep up. I’m on track to see around 250 of 2007’s new theatrical releases, and I feel like I’ve missed tons of stuff. And no wonder: the industry-watcher site The Numbers says 965 movies will have been in theatrical release in 2007 by the end of December. Almost one thousand movies? That’s insane.
If a professional critic can’t keep up, how can ordinary moviegoers?
Roger Ebert skipped around this point but missed highlighting it overtly when he wrote recently about the film Delirious, which came and went this summer with little fanfare. “Why?” director Tom DiCillo wondered in an email to Ebert. Why does even such a well-reviewed film as Delirious — Ebert gave it three and a half stars (he liked it a lot more than I did, but it’s certainly worth seeing) — seem not to have even a slim chance at success? In Ebert’s response to DiCillo’s completely justified rant, the critic hits on many of the afflictions sickening the movie industry at the moment, primarily the sharp focus on opening-weekend box office and all the other issues that fall out from that, like the resultant direction of many movies at teenaged boys, because they’re the one who will turn out in droves for an opening weekend, and how movies simply aren’t allowed time to find their audiences.
But underlying all of those reasons is this: there are too many movies being released. If Hollywood wants to continue to court teenagers and blockbuster opening weekends with its product, that needn’t affect small independent films like Delirious. That film, and the many others that find themselves lost in the sea of choices even at the art house, play in a parallel sandbox, not the same on the big boys are smashing around in. A look at any given weekend’s release schedule will show you that for every studio film arriving on three thousand screens, there’s two or three or more smaller films opening on one or two screens.
But here’s what happens when those little movies are stuck in a rut of opening and disappearing almost immediately afterward: critics like me are forced to do a kind of triage. What’s the best service to my audience, which is nationwide, and even global: to review a film that will open on one screen in each of two cities and play for a week, or to review a film that most of my readers will actually have the opportunity to see? It sucks that that’s the calculus of it, but it is what it is.
If I had more time, I’d review more of the movies I see rather than attempt to see even more of those nearly 1,000 movies each year. And when the time comes that a film like Delirious becomes available to more potential viewers — when it lands on DVD, or when, as will increasingly be the case with small films, it’s distributed online — it may well make sense for me to review it. But until the sheer volume of movies released slows down a bit, too many worthy films will be all but ignored, by almost everyone.
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