A federal court has just blocked the attempt by the major film studios to impose a "screener" ban on anti-trust grounds. In this case, the recipients of the DVD's and videotapes would have been film critics, whose votes in year-end awards ceremonies often presage Oscar nominations. The rationale behind the ban was to prevent film piracy, the thinking being that these DVD's go from the recipient to some video chop-shop in Taiwan, and then to the black market, or the internet.
I happen to oppose the ban for purely selfish reasons; my sister is an art director, and as a member of that guild gets screeners of certain films in the hope that when the Art Directors have their annual awards, her vote will cue Oscar voters in the right direction. When Jack Valenti initiated the ban, it impacted not just members of the Academy and film critics, but members of the various guilds as well, the overwhelming majority of which are not members of the Academy. Since she tends to hold the Oscars in contempt, and believes, with good reason, that the quality of movies has irreparably sunk since the 1940's, she has never tried to vote in those elections, and therefore does not view her screeners. However, she knows that I have no such scruples, so for the past few years she has brought down the latest batch of DVD's in time for Christmas. Today's ruling means I will have a more informed vote when I take part in the annual Sherry Bebitch-Jeffe Oscar-night pool.
My own interests aside, I can see why the studios might want to maintain such a ban for reasons having nothing to do with preserving their intellectual property rights. I've written before about how I loathe going to movies; what it comes down to is they are simply not a cost-efficient way for me to be entertained. For me to go to a movie, I either have to be on a date, or the movie itself has to be an event, something which I could not duplicate on my home computer or on TV (there is also a third scenario, but that has to do with having had too much to drink at the 3rd Street Promenade). In most instances, though, I have options that I didn't have twenty years ago, when TV shows like The Shield, The Sopranos, Alias, Prime Suspect et al. weren't routine, when digital or high-definition sets were merely a pipe dream, back before TiVo switched the power-relationship from the network to the viewer.
So for me, the only good reason to go to a movie is for me to see something that I can't get at home. After all, why go out to dinner when the home cooking is delicious. Since the traditional advantages film had over television are almost all gone, from superior acting to more challenging plots, I need the few things movies still have going for them, such as the wider screen, the more spectacular picture, and the communal experience of watching a self-contained work of art with a large group of people, to make me spend $20 on a ticket, parking and popcorn. So I will be in the second row up front when Return of the King is released, but I will wait until The Cooler comes out in DVD before I see that flick. Or at least til my sister gets a screener.
Understandably, an attitude like mine should concern the media conglomerates that run the studios, since I'm clearly not the only person who shares it. If film critics, if the industry pros who belong to the Academy don't feel the urgent need to see every great film when it gets released, or feel that their interest in films is enhanced by watching a screener from the comfort of their own home, how can they draw the masses to see a movie that's going to be available at Blockbuster in four months. More importantly, how do these studios justify the costs of producing a film to their shareholders, when the same benefits could accrue from shooting it for television, without the attendant risks that are involved in producing a film.
UPDATE: Roger L. Simon, who is an honest-to-goodness member of the Academy, discusses the ruling on his blog. Do AMPAS members have any say in the BCS standings as well?
December 05, 2003
Self-proclaimed "Shrink to the Pundits" Charles Krauthammer doesn't like criticism of George Bush, so he attacks Howard Dean as psychotic. Get it--if you believe that people disagree with you because they are unhinged, and not because they simply share different values, or have an honest disagreement, you can treat them as if they were sub-human. Bob Somerby knows his track record, so he puts him in his place, catching the neo-con's version of Walter Duranty in a bit of dowdification to boot.
December 04, 2003
Absolutely wicked parody of Mickey Kaus...although we disagree on much, I actually enjoy Kausfiles; it's one of the few places on the internet that I visit at least twice a day (he's not on my blogroll b/c he links to hatesites). I'm sure his schtick as a "liberal-who-bashes-other-liberals" is well-intentioned, but in order for it to be effective as criticism, he actually has to have credibility as a liberal. Every now and then, he has to fight for our side. In other words, there has to be a feeling that if we liberals don't change, we run the risk of alienating potential allies; instead, his rather predictable attacks on targets such as Hillary, John Kerry, Paul Krugman, et al., have less impact than they should, since those are precisely the sort of targets that should piss off someone on the other side. If we've already lost you, there's not much point trying to woo you back. Life's too short to be stalking one's ex'es.
December 03, 2003
Two different takes on the Skank Queen, from Tacitus and Tony Pierce ...btw, as much as I like his blog, ODub is all wet on this issue. Her sister is the cute one; Paris Hilton is as "gorgeous" as Jacko is handsome, which I believe is part of the joke. Every generation needs its LaToya.
I have begun to realize that supporters of the Bush Administration's policy on Iraq are a lot like the people who continue to believe in the innocence of OJ Simpson. They hang on to arguments such as "mass graves", WMD "programs", and "proven links" between Al Qaeda and Saddam the same way OJ-philes will argue that because there were racist cops in the LAPD, their hero was framed. After awhile, I just quit paying attention to them; it didn't seem to serve any purpose re-fighting old battles. [link via Hit&Run]
December 01, 2003
The attempt to re-redistrict Congressional seats in Colorado just got slapped down by that state's Supreme Court. A similar effort is being challenged in Texas, although the chances of success for the Democrats are less likely in a state where the judiciary is barely removed from that of a Third World country.