Days after writing a piece on the press and industry blaming audiences, I find Jonathan Rosenbaum had written a piece in 2000 outlining almost identical concerns…
In a previous feature I wrote here on CineCola, I referred to the fact that the spectators are often blamed for what they define as a general degradation and eventual death of cinema. If the article was to be read by more people, I would prefer it to be identified as a piece calling for an empowered audience that ventures out of its comfort zone and explores the back end of VOD catalogues and enters screening rooms at film festivals without knowing what films they are about to see, only to then compose their own literature based on the subjective experiences of such explorations.
Of course, this is nothing new; in many ways I am merely continuing on the tradition of cinephile writers on cinema, a tradition that started in the very early days of film, through the statements of Georges Melies upon leaving that, allegedly, official first commercial screening of film in Paris on November 1895 or the writings of impressionist filmmaker and theorist Jean Epstein and my favourite philosopher of all, Walter Benjamin.
Nor am I the only one writing like this nowadays. Many of the most remarkable authors on film are cinephiles, and they include Rashna Wadia Richards, Adrian Martin, Girish Shambu, and Jonathan Rosenbaum. In fact, I recently read a piece by the latter that outlines the same problem I did in my own article; it is his introduction to his 2000 book, Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What We Can See. I thought it only fair that I refer to it and quotes some of its key passages:
…the audience is always to blame, except when it no longer makes sense to blame them, at which point the operative premises are forgotten. The alternate possibility, which I explore in this book, is that we aren’t seeing certain things because the decision makers are narrow-minded simpletons who want to cover their own asses – interested only in short-term investments and armed mainly with various forms of pseudoscience – and it becomes the standard business of the press, critics included, to ratify these practices while ignoring all other options.
Getting used to subtitles takes time and experience, and if the larger distributors were thinking more in terms of long-term investments, showing more subtitled pictures wouldn’t seem mearly as risky. But as long as business thinking remains short-term, it’s much easier to justify one’s business decision tautologically and blame the audience.