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June 18, 2005


Joe Swanberg

Gerald Peary, the film critic for the Boston Phoenix, is making a documentary about film critics and criticism. It should be pretty interesting. There's some info about it at his site.


AJ Schnack

Perry's project sounds fascinating. There was something last year (in Newsweek? can't recall) where a filmmaker and critic talked about the film/review. I remember one was with Kevin Spacey. I really liked that for the same reasons that I liked this dialogue with Potter and Foundas.

Joe Swanberg

I was a bit surprised to hear her talk about the Telluride audience being 99% in favor of the film. That's just not the case. It's true that it seemed a majority liked it, and buzz was good around town, but I was one of the people who saw it there, thought it was interesting, but was not at all in love with it. And there were quite a few people who came out of the screening hating the film. I think maybe it was an age thing. The younger people, even those who liked it, seemed to think it was interesting but not great, and the older audience seemed to connect with it more. But Telluride is a much older audience that most festivals, and also whiter, wealthier, and more educated, so it was a good environment for a film like Yes.

AJ Schnack

That's an interesting point. I actually went to check out Yes' reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. It's early - just 6 reviews - but it was split down the middle, 3 apiece. I think that my argument still holds, however, because again Foundas was making a prediction on how audiences would receive the film - and at least from what you describe, the older, whiter, wealthier patrons (who probably made up a sizeable percentage of the audience at Telluride, and for that matter the audiences at many urban art houses) seemed to connect with the film even if the kids did not.

Speaking of the kids, Joe is a filmmaker in his own right and has a very fine film that premiered at SXSW 2005 called Kissing on the Mouth. You can check it out at www.kissingonthemouth.com

Joe Swanberg

Word. Thanks for the plug!

I've seen My Summer Of Love and The Holy Girl in the past few days, both dealing with girls of roughly the same age, and The Holy Girl was the better film by far. But midway through Holy Girl, the old lady behind me started checking voice mail, and then 15 minutes later got up and left. Even old people are now obnoxious cell phone users. What gives?

david kinofist

I also saw "Yes" at Telluride. In fact, it was my first chance at theater managing there, and we not only had a film break, but a print that kept going in and out of focus. So I had a producer talking in my ear pretty much the whole way through. As a result, I may not have been able to give the film my full attention, but I have to say that I would bet dollars to doughnuts against that movie ever ever doing well in a theatrical release.
I think your point about reviewers needing to speak for themselves is a great one, but I also see a sense of obligation, especially from Variety, to comment on a film's box office chances. And "Yes" doesn't have a hope in hell of making money (given a traditional arthouse release), imo.
I also agree with Joe that it's dangerous to give too much weight to audience feedback after a premiere (especially filtered through the director) because everybody is going to tell Sally Potter that they liked her movie. Hell, I told her that I loved all of the mathematical games in it. Which is true, I did, but I didn't tell her that I thought the ending lacked punch or that I found the experiment of writing a whole film in verse to be fascinating but not necessarily emotionally compelling. Fact is, a director is going to hear good things about their movie from the people around them, especially after a premiere.

AJ Schnack

It seems that the reviews are definitely split between those who argue that the film is sublime (as Andrew Sarris does) and those who take a pass. The thing is, enough of those "sublime" reviews from certain, well-regarded critics (Sarris and Ebert among them) could push some audiences into the film - perhaps not the kids (are the kids really going to Joan Allen movies these days? I mean, they should, but...). But what does that lead to - a 2 million dollar box office take? Less? More? What does a film like that hope to do and what was the budget anyway?

As for Variety, I agree that they have a certain responsibility to gauge a film's box office potential. I guess my quarel is, again, with the choice of words - "insprires most to say no". I would have less problem with "might have a hard time breaking even" or "a good portion of the audience might have trouble sitting through this". These types of statements are less definitive, but would have still made the point.

Very glad to have heard from 2 people who saw the film in Telluride and who can at least put Potter's recollections in perspective.

Greg Williams

I just saw "Gigantic" for the first time, and really enjoyed it. The DVD extras are an especially big hit in our household; Our 13-year-old and 9-year-old were somewhat familiar with TMBG before, but now they're full-fledged fans.

You're exploring some interesting topics on this Web site, and not all of them related to documentaries! You can count on me to keep checking in.

Related to your points about musical documentaries finding an audience: Do you think a performance film (a modern-day "Stop Making Sense," for example), or a concert-tour documentary that profiles an engaging but less-than-superstar act, would stand a chance in today's market? What's most likely to draw an audience to a film about an unfamiliar performer: a sense of humor, a sense of "gravity," a buzz about the film's structure or concept, a straight-forward presentation of good music - or all of the above? (Or none of the above?)

AJ Schnack

Thanks so much Greg - and spread the word.

I think the questions you ask related to music documentaries are very interesting and definitely worth exploring. I'll definitely talk about them at length in a future post - please keep an eye out.

Greg Williams

I'm generally willing to give any documentary a chance, but straight-up performance films usually don't catch my interest - even if they feature people whose work I know and like. Maybe I'm not a typical viewer, but I need something more to keep me going: a high-concept premise, some up-close-and-personal moments away from the stage, other faces, other places, etc. (You assembled a good mix of all these elements in "Gigantic." It helped, of course, to have John and John in your viewfinder ...)

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