Perpetual Hollywood gadfly Terry Gilliam reads the graffiti on the wall:
In Hollywood, at least when I was making films there, there were people in the studios that actually had personalities. You could distinguish one from the other. And now, I don’t see that at all. It’s just gray, frightened people holding on without any sense of “let’s try something here, let’s do something different.” ... The big tent-pole pictures are just like the last tent-pole pictures. Hopefully one of them will work and keep the studio going. It’s become … it’s a reflection of the real world, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle class get squeezed out completely. So the kind of films I make need more money than the very simple films. Hollywood doesn’t deal with those budgets anymore; they don’t exist.
Gilliam echoes the same concern a lot of other filmmakers have: there's no middle ground. Everything's either microbudgets or superblockbusters. What an irony: the medium that expanded its palette of artistic concerns to compete with the timidity of TV is now finding itself becoming all the more timid, and with all the more of its creative luminaries gravitating to ... TV.
As much as I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, I knew full well it was a symptom of something very wrong with things, and that cut into my enjoyment of it. It's not that I didn't want to see the film; it's that I wanted to see other things flanking it that were not at all the same sort of thing. But the more I stick around, the less of that I see, and the harder it is to find such things, because the presumption is that there's no return on the investment for such products. Well, sure: if you throw even the best films at unreceptive audiences, you get nothing back, but no discernible effort exists to cultivate audiences the way a record label cultivates artists or listeners.
One of Gilliam's better points, easily breezed past, is that smaller-budgeted films can't compete because they have no promotion - something of the same issue experienced by smaller presses and singleton/self-publishers. There's just no way to be heard save for what few ears you can flag on your own. I take some comfort in knowing they are the right few years (well, I hope they are), but that by itself isn't a strategy. I suspect more of the burden falls to the press to do the cultivation and curation that others won't — but when do they have the time, the budget, or the wherewithal for such a project?
In fact, the critical apparatus and the creative apparatus are starting to resemble each other quite a bit in that they both consist of a bunch of atomized, miniscule forces all working in futile parallel. A lot of praise gets thrown around for good things, but who hears it? A lot of great work gets created, but who ever finds out about it?
One thing that has been in the back of my mind on top of this is the way indie games and indie comics seem to find their audiences far more quickly — and far more faithful and devoted audiences, too — than indie books. I haven't dug into this too deeply yet, but there's something about the way those audiences work that needs to be recreated in other domains. Maybe it's because of the relatively newness of the fields, and the ways we have of dealing with them and discussing them are less inhibited by time and tradition.
More on that to come later.