September 03, 2014

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation

I don”€™t want to criticize awards season too much. If Hollywood did just what was economically”€”instead of egomaniacally”€”rational, as reporter Edward Jay Epstein noted in The Big Picture, they”€™d only make movies that were toy-merchandising vehicles. But the current Oscars season is far too long (as demonstrated by how the lesser awards, such as the Golden Globes, are now largely over by the first half of January). There would probably be more interest in the Oscars telecast if they weren”€™t celebrating such stale films.

So, you move the Academy Awards ceremony up from late February or March to one week after Super Bowl Sunday (the big game will be on February 1 in 2015). The Oscars are already known as the female Super Bowl, so it’s perfectly fair and reasonable to put the two events on successive Sundays.

Then use the Oscars telecast to heavily promote four weeks”€™ worth of upcoming movies that will start opening the following Friday (in 2015 that would be February 13).
This third season would stretch across Valentine’s Day, the Presidents”€™ Day weekend, and into early March. These movies could target a more female audience than the male summer blockbusters and a less serious, more populist audience than the Oscar-bait season. The Hunger Games sequels would be ideal for launching this new tradition. They star Jennifer Lawrence, but boys like them too; they aren”€™t good enough for Oscar respect, but the public is crazy for them.

Second, let me address my fellow Baby Boomers. I read a lot of comments about how kids these days don”€™t know how to behave at the movies and are ruining it for everybody with their talk-talk-talk. I don”€™t know … I attend a lot of movies in working-class, Mexican Van Nuys and audience behavior seems fine to me.

What doesn”€™t seem so good anymore is my hearing. I”€™m reaching the age when my father started lamenting how everybody had started mumbling. Unless you are Beethoven, going slightly, slowly deaf with age is not a tragedy like blindness is. English painter David Hockney has long claimed that his increasing deafness has made him a better painter. And after all, he’s probably heard everything he wants to hear other people say by now.

Hence, I watch most movies on my TV with closed-captioning on, and would appreciate having the same option in the theater.

Similarly, American opera houses used to expect patrons to understand Italian, having no doubt picked it up on their grand tour. But supertitling librettos in English is now standard.

(Indeed, this has opened up a new avenue for making operas entertaining. I can”€™t afford Grand Opera anymore, but the sandlot Pacific Opera Project in Los Angeles is in my price range: a table for four with a bottle of cheap wine and a tray of cheese and fruit is $100. This opera company has discovered that with comic works, such as The Barber of Seville, literal translations for the supertitles are unnecessary. Now, they just make up any Mystery Science Theater 3000-style zaniness they feel would be entertaining.)
But, then, I like subtitling because I like reading. Many other moviegoers might find captions distracting. They don”€™t much like reading and they hear just fine.
Fortunately, I think there is a low-tech compromise that would be cheaply feasible in the newer movie theaters with steeply raked seats. Since the older folks tend to sit higher up toward the back, subtitles could appear beneath the screen with a raised covering in front of them that makes them invisible except to those sitting in the top few rows.
If you want to see the captions, sit in the back, and if you don”€™t, sit in the rest of the theater.
Of course, as a third alternative, the industry could try making better movies …


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