State of the Substack Address

On Shuttered Cinemas, Streaming Giants, and Fabulous Prizes

A month or so ago I broke out my fall jacket for the first time and, sticking my hand in the pocket, encountered an unfamiliar object. This was not the scrawled note of illegible preoccupations that had seemed pressing the previous April or the unexpected windfall of a sawbuck, but a wadded piece of cloth; it was a mask, and an occasion for contemplation. “Jesus fucking Christ,” I contemplated, “We’ve been doing this shit since spring.”

That goes, as well, for this newsletter/bully pulpit, the long-contemplated creation of which was expedited by auguries of a coming crisis, and some eight months after my first epistle here, I thought I was due for a little house cleaning: a note on what I’ve been doing, what I intend to do in the future—more of the same, really—and some general observations on what’s transpired in film culture and the wider world since I first put down stakes at this spot. For those who would prefer to get straight to the spluttering jeremiad, I have helpfully marked its start with a page break below.

To begin with: thank you very, very much to anyone who has been a regular reader, and an especial thanks to anyone who has taken out a paid subscription—on which, more anon. Thank you, too, to the friends who have recommended films, and who have added their expertise to my faulty knowledge—my intention has been to cover a broad, international selection of films, and consultation with various specialists of my acquaintance has allowed me to perform a reasonable imitation of expertise in a wide variety of national traditions. This has been my first venture at using a direct-to-reader platform to peddle my wares, after years of drawing paychecks from various mastheads as a freelance scribbler. I avoided it for so long, I suppose, because of a morbid self-consciousness regarding directly soliciting readers. It’s all very ickily intimate and debasing, going about hat-in-hand; with the buffer of an editor and a publication standing between yourself and the reader, you can at least disguise the nakedness of your want, and spare the public a too-revealing glimpse at the ugly economics of your occupation. By the end of March, however, I had a strong presentiment that the editors and publications—at least of the kind that I’d care to consort with, or that would have any use for the sort of thing that I do—were soon going to be growing thin on the vine, and that if I wanted to stay afloat, I would do well to swallow my pride and start passing the cup around.

The results have been among the most fulfilling experiences of my writing life, which now spans nine years of evenings and weekends and eight-plus years as a full-time ink-stained wretch. Writing being both a solitary occupation and a performance without a physically present audience, the writer will sometimes have the vague notion that he or she is fruitlessly issuing their missives into the void. Certainly this was often my sense in my twenties, when my life was as yet blissfully untouched by social media, and any self-promotion of the “So I wrote a thing…” variety seemed unbelievably gauche. (A day job can be a wonderful thing.) Later, participating in “the conversation” as professional duty seemed to demand, I would be in a position to rake in some approbation (and its opposite) and to acquire some sense of my metrics, but one never really knows what to do with the currency of clicks—you can be “Liked” plenty without really being liked. So to discover that there were a not-insignificant number of people with enough of a vested interest in what I do and would like to do that they would be willing to pay cash on the barrelhead to see that I would continue to do it was so gratifying, and so moving and so—in the best possible sense—humbling, that I don’t know how to express my appreciation. I suppose I’ll keep writing, which is what this was meant to be about in the first place.

This enterprise was born of a long-standing back-burner ambition and a suddenly looming precarity: I hoped to make up for some disappearing paychecks, and I wanted to offer something in return. As things presently stand, it has nearly enough done what it needed to do for my flagging finances, and in terms of return for dollar value, I don’t believe I’ve stinted: around 10,000 words a month, appearing however erratically, of original material—or at the very least new-to the-internet-material; admittedly I did turn to the archives for a bit over the summer, as other commissioned gigs were demanding attention.

If paid subscriptions continue to grow apace, I can’t imagine myself producing exponentially more written material than I have been up to this point, but such an event would give me some liberty from those pressing commissions, freeing up time and resources to funnel into other projects that would hopefully be of interest to readers. One, which I’ve been planning to allocate time to for approximately the last decade, would be a proper website where those so inclined could sift through my sprawling (or, if you prefer, bloated) corpus with relative ease. Another possibility that’s been floated to me several times over the years is that of a podcast, which I’ve more or less retired the possibility of. I don’t have anything against the format; it affords a living wage to several freaks of my acquaintance, and I’m all for anything that keeps people out of the cubicle and the dick-sucking factory. I’ve appeared on several “pods” through the years, and warbled on many a commentary track as well—lists of both, as complete as I know how to make them, appear at the end of this piece—and so I really don’t think there’s any dearth of me talking about movies in my trademark drab Midwestern baritone out there. But I believe that I only have so much opinionating juice in me in any given week or month, and I prefer to employ it on the written word which, even if I don’t believe for a second in the possibility of posterity, at least has the salubrious effect of checking my glibness with a bit of circumspection. (Say what you will about the original podcaster, Ezra Pound, those EIAR radio broadcasts out of fascist Italy were the product of a real workhorse, possessed of a capacity for bloviation far beyond my own.) With all that being said, I have given some thought to some kind of “audio component” that would involve something other than movie chat: maybe spinning some records in-between muttering indecipherably into my mic, I’m not sure. These are a couple of propositions; I’m quite open to others. If nothing else, being entrusted directly with other people’s money has made me immensely eager to be of use.   

This whole mishigas here was a hastily planned operation, but re-reading my opening statement of purpose, I believe I’ve hewed pretty close to the original intention for the space as expressed: practicing a criticism of enthusiasm, with an eye to celebrating the marginal, misbegotten, and forgotten. One item in that first column on which I’ve gone back and forth, however, has been figuring out how to acknowledge the confidence and support implicit in a paid subscription. Initially I’d intended to keep access free and payment optional during the presumably brief caesura of the pandemic, then to move to a model in which every other piece would be visible to paid subscribers only. Seven months on, pandemic has become permanent purgatory, lingering economic catastrophe seems assured, and the success of this enterprise on a payment-optional model has been of a degree sufficient that I don’t feel obligated to try to put the squeeze on hold-outs. It feels cooler this way, and so I’d like to keep it as it is.

I do, however, feel compelled to offer some “value added” feature for the Employee Picks subscriber, and towards that end I’ve been racking my brain and soliciting advice as to what the people crave, nay, demand. T-shirts and tote bags and the usual swag are a little above my price range, though if there’s really interest in merch—honestly I have no idea what people are into— I’ll whip up something appropriately brainless. The idea of a ‘zine was floated to me by a few readers, and I think it’s a good one—some kind of printed token of gratitude for subscribers, somewhere between WFMU’s old LCD (Lower Common Denominator) “program guide” and the Touch & Go ‘zines, but significantly cruddier than either. To-date I’ve “commissioned” exactly one piece, a comic about Little Rascal Norman “Chubby” Chaney, which should give you an idea of the tone that I’m aiming for. If cinema is worth writing about at all, it’s worth writing about with precision and passion and patience; I believe it is, and I hope that is what I’m doing here. But there’s no point in pretending that my one-man-band, organ grinder operation is any kind of august and dignified institution, so in this area of things I’d like to embrace the amateurishness of this undertaking, and to treat it like the janky little clubhouse endeavor that it is, which will probably mean membership cards and pins and some junk like that in the package as well. Following a film critic has absolutely none of the cool cachet of following a band, but I think it might be funny to pretend that it did. The whole shebang I imagine will come together sometime at the beginning of the following year, at which time I’ll start thinking about to collect addresses and deal with domestic and international postage and all of that. I hope these tchotchkes bring my readers some amusement; it’s the very least I can do, for your support has made me feel as indomitable as Chubby looks here.

I’m still very much making this up as I go along, as are all of us right now. In the mail this week I received the first issue of Infuriating Times, a ‘zine made by the programmers and projectionists of the Chicago Film Society, and a product of energy redirected during the seemingly endless cessation of theatrical film screenings, which begins with a summary of 2020 to-date, in particular the impact of CoVid-19 and its associated fallout on the ecosystem of film distribution and exhibition. “In the non-profits arts sector,” it reads, “CoVid has been a godsend for the managerial class, a black swan event that’s been turned into a right-sizing jubilee. They finally have the cover to do what they wanted to do all along… We’ll get through this, intoned the managerial class—and they will, provided they slash salaries of essential subordinates and fire everybody else.”

In my first post here, I wrote in a similar vein of the uncertain times ahead, that “my fear—and I pray that it is unfounded—is that the result of the this pandemic will be an expedition of processes of dismantling and destruction long underway, with catastrophe employed as a cover for enacting amidst the chaos the ‘necessary austerity measures’ that have been planned for and put off only for fear of public censure: slashing staff and wages, dealing print pubs the killing blow, and making those short-sighted, identity-diluting ‘popularizing’ pivots that inevitably end with a ‘Going Out of Business’ sign going on the vitrine a few years later and a trip to the glue factory.” The fine people at Infuriating Times, I believe, eloquently sum up how things have indeed played out, addressing among other topics the end of the print publication of Film Comment magazine, handled with a degree of ceremony usually reserved for disposing of a sack full of unwanted kittens in a creek.

The result of so much furloughing and firing and “We’re all in this together” messaging from higher-ups who’ve felt none of the pinch of belt-tightening, I have to suppose, can only be a wave of institutional delegitimization and disillusion the likes of which I have never seen in my lifetime, after which all of the old bromides about “community” and “family” must take on an additionally bitter taste. To this add ever-mounting evidence of the total lack of backbone of much of the curatorial class when faced with the faintest whiff of controversy—I write with news of the craven postponement of a travelling Philip Guston exhibition still in the air, and festival programmers retracting support for films that attract blowback—and it becomes near impossible to take seriously the pretensions of many arts organizations to act as champions and caretakers of culture. What sort of message does it send to artists, who have a duty to vex and irritate, when they see that the appointed gatekeepers absolutely, positively will not have their back at the first hint of trouble? This is a moment of utter catastrophe and, as such, a moment of opportunity—the opportunity, as institutions show their asses and existing structures display their frailty, to think of how to work outside of those institutions, or how to create alternative structures that better service everyone, and not just the managerial caste.

Launching this newsletter in March, I wrote with the same uncertainty that most of us had regarding the brevity or longevity of this interruption to life-as-we-knew-it—expecting the worse, perhaps, but by no means wholly convinced of its inevitability. I think it was sometime around the middle of the summer that I became inured to the idea that cinemas, like any business dependent on public congregation, were now facing a real existential threat, and that the continued existence of New York City’s network of movie theaters, which have been central to my personal and professional life since arriving in the city at the beginning of 2003, was by no means guaranteed. Cinemas have been closed in New York since early April; today, Friday the 23rd, theaters outside of NYC will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity. No timeline for the reopening of NYC cinemas has been advanced, and the material assistance they’ve received for weathering the shutdown has been on level insufficient to ensure their continued existence. Independent theaters, like small businesses across the United States, have been left to twist in the wind, and even large chains haven’t proven invulnerable, as Cineworld, parent company of the Regal group, recently announced the indefinite shuttering of its US and UK locations, this following the announcement that the slated release date for the new James Bond film No Time to Die had been pushed from November to spring, 2021.

A Variety piece published last week proposed that the Empire State would be key in determining what happens next, titled “Fate of the Global Movie Business May Hinge on Andrew Cuomo”—if true, about as inauspicious a sign as one could ask for the fate of the global movie business. Cuomo has been praised in many sections of the national press for his perceived hands-on approach to the CoVid-19 outbreak, an antidote to the puttering and procrastination of the Trump administration, though often overlooked was the fact that much of Cuomo’s proactivity had been worthless, destructive, or some mixture of the two: clowning on television with CNN anchor brother Chris Cuomo; showy misallocation of resources; a March 25th order that moved “medically stable” coronavirus patients into senior assisted living facilities and killed thousands of those most vulnerable to the virus as surely as if they’d been lined up against a wall in front of firing squads. A preening egoist, Cuomo has been only too happy to accept credit for successes in containment that were in fact largely the work of rank-and-file New Yorkers operating according to their own common sense and feeling of shared duty, issuing a bizarre, inside joke-laced piece of outsider art to commemorate “his” accomplishments while arbitrarily issuing ukases through legally dubious emergency powers which promise to keep New York State mired in debt until sometime in the 22nd century.

The issue of cinema reopenings—or of any sort of reopenings whatsoever, in the absence of the imminent availability vaccine—has been a touchy one, particularly in the United States, where access to affordable health care in the event of illness isn’t guaranteed, and where the utter ineptitude and incoherence of response on the local, state, and federal level has effectively shifted the entire burden of responsibility onto individuals, with all of the stressors and internalized cop mentality hijinks that implies. I was fortunate to be at least reasonably well situated to weather this situation, constitutionally and professionally, and I’m aware that it has broken my brain entirely; it will be a very long time, if ever, before we come to terms with the full scale of the lunacy these last months have unleashed.

For my part, I tend to believe that most of the positive developments in these months have been bottom-up rather than top-down in origin, a credit to the average person’s ability to act responsibly in their own best interests and in the interests of the people with whom they are in regular close contact rather than fearless leadership. This informs my attitude towards the operation—or present inoperation—of cinemas as well. I don’t have confidence in the average multiplex manager to correctly mask for aspect ratio, but I trust them to know their jobs more than I trust Donald J. Trump, Andrew Cuomo, or Bill de Blasio to know theirs. Many people, I know, emphatically do not share these sentiments, and even were cinemas to reopen in New York City at reduced capacity, it’s unlikely as to if a very understandably shell-shocked population would show up for those reopenings. Variety records the arguments presented to the Cuomo junta by lobbyists for the National Association of Theatre Owners of New York and allies in the Motion Picture Association: that “we are not aware of any virus outbreak that can be traced back to any theatre in the U.S., or globally, that has reopened,” and “that theaters can survive and even profit with reduced capacity.”

The first point is, to the best of my very flawed knowledge, valid, though consensus on anything is a long time in coming with regards this virus—we’ve only just been informed, courtesy an extensive Department of Defense study, that aircraft ventilation renders the risk of infection on flights next to nil, and I doubt anything approaching the same resources are being poured into studying a coughing dummy with aerosol tracers in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater. The second, I’d imagine, is very much contingent on the specifics of the theater in question, and likely to favor sprawling multiplexes to smaller operations, for whom a fresh drip of revenue from quarter-capacity seating may not be enough to defray the price of reopening. In any case, the filmgoing culture that was once one of the glories of New York City—the international shipping of cumbersome 35mm prints, programming decisions made for reasons to do with cinephile ardor rather than an unforgiving bottom line—seems unlikely to reappear in the near future, if at all.   

I am writing this column in Ghent, Belgium, where I arrived thanks to special dispensation from the Belgian consulate to teach a Young Critic’s Workshop as part of the Film Fest Ghent, as I have been doing now for six editions running. It is the first time I’ve left New York State in 2020 and, save for three days in Greene County over the summer, the first time I have left New York City. On Thursday, October 15th, my first night in town, I broke the my longest streak of going without seeing a movie in a cinema since I saw a theatrical re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) with my mother in 1983. The movie was, of all things, Radu Jude’s Uppercase Print, playing at the Sphinx Cinema in the city center; for all of my pleasure and excitement at being in a theater again, jet-lag got the better of me, and the latter half of the film came to me only in intense, lucid flashes. The following evening, however, I successfully powered through the three hours of Wim Wenders’s Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road, 1976), and I’ve been going strong since.

I was chuffed to get inside a cinema again, of course, but also interested to see an example of European soft-reopening in practice, and to get a sense of how such matters were being discussed here, if only as a point of comparison to the polarized nature of the conversation on reopening in the U.S., which has tended throughout to follow deeply entrenched ideological lines. The crudest simplification of these would be something like this: a left position that calls for a complete and total stoppage with benefits to keep workers and businesses afloat, and with any life lost viewed as a sacrifice made to the markets; the right position for a complete reopening, with the argument that the loss of life through economic downturn and deaths of despair in a shutdown will be still greater. I don’t happen to believe that my countrymen and -women are by nature extremist wingnuts, but rather people placed in a no-win situation, trying to negotiate an impossible dilemma as best they can. The average Belgian enjoys the luxury of a social safety net that the average American does not: there are support packages for  businesses here, and for the poor there is no threat of being made still more ruinously impoverished by medical expenses.

Not driven to the same degree by a not-entirely-unfounded perception of life-or-death precarity, people here have more room for circumspection in the handling of matters, and as a result different countries have in different ways allowed for the tentative resumption of something like normalcy after the hard-hit months of last spring. (Here, as in the U.S., a principle concern is steering clear of a situation in which hospitals are stretched to capacity and beyond. Here as in the U.S., no-one has been able to explain to me why established demand has not driven supply.) Film festivals proceeded through the summer months, albeit in reduced capacity venues with seats left strategically empty and audiences masked and parping away at hand sanitizer bottles, and I have heard no tales of mass loss of life associated with them, even though the average western European festival-goer was born around the time of the coming of the Talkies, and the average European festival venue theater is, compared to the North American standard, a fetid hotbox of stale air, the word “HVAC” being very much not a part of the language. (A particular issue complicating matters in American cinemas is the culture of the concession stand, hardly compatible with masked viewing; I happen to believe eating in a movie theater is foul and should be avoided to begin with, but one supposes concessions are tied to slim profit margins in such a way as to perplex matters still further.)

I would love to point to my experience in Ghent, and the general mend-and-make-do perseverance of European festivals in the latter part of 2020, as evidence that cinemas can operate prudently and safely, but it would be disingenuous to call Belgium, to take one example, a smashing success story—like much of western Europe, the country is currently facing a second spike in coronavirus cases, and is now in the midst of another partial shutdown. While I was watching Wenders’s road movie, which follows an itinerant film projector repairman, Bruno (Rüdiger Vogler), who services cinema booths in villages and cities on the Western side of the East German border, the convening Belgian Consultative Committee, responding to the rise in cases, announced a four-week closure of bars and dine-in restaurants, as well as a midnight curfew, and a kibosh on sex work in the country’s red-light districts—as I pass through Glazen Straatje, the girls are no longer there to tap the glass. Cinemas, as well as live theater venues, have remained open with half-capacity seating and mandatory masking. I tend to believe, as the Consultative Committee apparently do, that movie theaters are less of an issue than are drinking and eating establishments, which had been operating here with far less stringent rules than those that govern bars and restaurants in New York—four-to-a-table was about the extent of it—and that common sense would dictate that you’re less likely to spread infection sitting quietly masked in a large cinema with plenty of elbow room than you are braying open-mouthed in a barroom. There is more to the matter than this, however; the cultural sector has some pull here, and politicians—newly minted Prime Minister Alexander De Croo was on-hand for the festival’s opening night—seem to have committed to the maintenance of some shaky continuity in the field of cultural amenities, serving as a beacon promising better times ahead. Andrew Cuomo, for his part, over the summer offered the following inspirational observation: “I am sure there is a whole group people who say, ‘I cannot live without going to the movies.’ But on a relative risk scale, a movie theater is less essential and poses a high risk.” (Gyms were re-opened in New York City a couple of weeks after this.)    

I can survive without sitting in a cinema for months at a time, but I greatly prefer not to; I can think of few cinemagoing experiences that I’ve felt would’ve been bettered by a home viewing, and several that have been elevated to the ecstatic by the theatrical treatment. Some time back I had the occasion to see a 35mm print of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) projected on carbon-arc lamphouses at the grandiose Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City’s Journal Square, one of five lapidary Loew’s Wonder Theatres to be erected in Greater New York in the late twenties, and there is no question that the experience intensified the scenes of the film’s Club Silencio, played by equally opulent c. 1927 Tower Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles. (And while atmospherics can make a great film better, they cannot redeem a mediocre one—I saw 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in Shanghai’s stunning Grand Theatre, a Deco knockout built in 1928 by Ladislaus Hudec, and cannot report the experience as transcendent.)

As for Im Lauf der Zeit, viewed at the 5-screen Studio Skoop, well, I’ve never gotten on particularly well with Wenders—such lovely films to look at, but so many of them somehow sticky to the touch—but I like to check in every few years and see if I haven’t come around. This re-view didn’t make me a convert, though in present circumstances it would be difficult to be entirely unmoved by its depiction of provincial movie houses teetering on their last legs. The most puncturing moment in the film comes towards the end, courtesy of a theater proprietress who has shut down not from necessity, but by choice; though she keeps her projectors serviced and in working order, she won’t sully them with the trashy pictures that are making the rounds. “It’s better to have no cinema,” she tells Bruno, “than the kind of cinema you get nowadays.”

And there is, with all of this, a temptation to go full accelerationist, to think that it might be better to let the old cinema go entirely, the better to build a new one from Ground Zero. When worrying about the fate of the cinema—not the artform but the physical space, from which the artform has become increasingly uncoupled over the space of some seventy years—I must confess that the actual number of cinemas whose disappearance I would bemoan is not so great; limiting the case to New York City, I think offhand of Anthology Film Archives, Metrograph, MoMA and MoMI, the Japan Society, the microcinema Light Industry and a couple of other like spaces; a few ‘plexes with character, like the Regal UA Court Street and the Kent Theatre and the AMC 19th St. and the Alpine in Bay Ridge… (Downtown Brooklyn’s Alamo Draft House was redeemed by the programming of Cristina Cacioppo, but I have every anticipation that without her return it will be nothing more than a venue to sling Funko Pops and queso to Comic Con neckbeards. Quelle tristesse.)

While I tremble for the fate of neighborhood cinemas and repertory houses, I can’t manage to squeeze out more than a single salty tear for the multiplex in the form it has taken in the last two decades. Without suggesting that the multiplex of my youth was any kind of movable feast, it at the very least was a more variegated ecosystem, in which blockbusters shared space with assorted mid-budget genre movies, star vehicles, etc. The current state of affairs, in which new releases have slowed to a trickle, with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet very nearly the only game in town over a span of months, is in some way the logical endpoint of a process which has been underway for years, where it is not unusual for one to visit a sixteen-screen ‘plex and find half of the screens or more dedicated to the $200M tentpole du jour. The studios, overawed by the success of Disney under Bob Iger’s investment in franchisable intellectual property and cultivation of a small release slate of absolutely massive movies, have developed an anathema for the conventional wisdom of putting together slates consisting of a variety of small-to-medium films, in hopes that they would score one or two break-out hits to end the year in the black; they’re going all-in all the time, staking huge risks for the promise of still more massive rewards. The result is popular American movies—I still call them this, though they rely on exportability for a significant percentage of their box-office, and they resemble cinema as much as being chucked through a plate glass window resembles the act of physical love—that are bigger, and worse, than they have ever been before.

When films become too big to fail, every precaution must be taken to see that they won’t, the result being that before these juggernauts are ready to begin their blitzkrieg rollout, they have been at every stage of their conception committee-criticized, focus-grouped, and stripped of any possibility of spontaneity, eccentricity, or the potential to in any way alienate any sector of the broadest possible audience. A system that depends for its health on the monumental success of a handful of franchise behemoths is not a system that deserves to be perpetuated. If people have come to feel that the entire cinemagoing experience—if not movies themselves, which show no signs of imminent disappearance—is not something worth saving, the blame rests squarely with the corporations responsible for this state of affairs.

The pandemic and the response to it has precipitated certain tendencies long evident in the reshaping of the world around us, many of these in the U.S. shaped by an agoraphobic inclination in the American people that has been encouraged and exploited by those who stand who garner a profit from it. Movie theaters are only one instance of the brick-and-mortar businesses, already hard pressed to hold onto a share of the market in the face of online retailers, that now face something approaching apocalypse. Long before most Americans had heard of Wuhan, the concept of public space had been under siege; a keynote of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was an insistence of the dire state of the country’s crime-ridden urban centers, a message apparently at odds with the experience of city-dwellers, who went for Trump’s opponent by significant margins.

You could and should take issue with the manner in which America’s cities have in recent memory been reshaped and sanitized, but that they in the main were more dangerous places than they had been, say, twenty years ago was not an assertion borne out by any available statistic—though this was hardly the point. Trump, a child of Queens, New York, was indicting the very concept of the city for his faithful, a largely rural and suburban base. The city, which by its nature demands a constant reckoning with one’s neighbors, tends to breed broad-mindedness with regards to differences between people and a concept of the commonweal; as such, it is an irritant to the conservative worldview. The Infuriating Times observes how the present moment has been used to further inculcate us with a horror of the crowd: “Reactionary forces have seized the moment to bolster their ideology under the guise of safety. The regular precincts of conservative order—the home, the family unit, the community under external threat—are more salient than ever and the old nonsense syllogisms are riding their coattails. City life is dead. We are only safe in cars. The commons is a cesspool.”

The Republican Party, however, has by no means cornered the market on the cult of the home. The online retailers, apps, and streaming services, many of them chaired by the kind of Good Democratic Party Donors who’ve used their platforms to bury Hunter Biden calumny and curry favor with the presumed incoming administration, have mostly continued to do a brisk business through recent months, having been in the process of advancing a case to a great many Americans, pitched to city-slicker and country bumpkin alike, that there was nothing to do outside of your house that couldn’t be done just as well and with less irritation from the comfort of your sofa. Shop via Amazon! Dine via Seamless! Meet a mate via Tinder—filtered for age appropriateness and suitable lifestyle accessorization—and avoid the awkward unpredictability of the chance encounter! And then, of course, when you want to unwind, you have your choice of whatever content is dribbling out of the streaming service nozzle of your choice, without having to descend down among the hoi polloi.

Those who regard such jostlings with horror had their prejudices reconfirmed in the pages of the Paper of Record last week, with another long expulsion of damp gas from gentleman critic A.O. Scott titled “How Much Do You Really Miss Going to the Movies?” After out-of-hand dismissing the vaunted “pleasure of sitting in the dark among friends and strangers and partaking of a collective dream” as an “idealized if not downright ideological, a fantasy of film democracy that has rarely been realized,” Scott goes on to whinge on about “talkative senior citizens,” “unruly teenagers,” and other hazards of encounters with the great unwashed.

That Scott has never given a thought to the role he’s played in advancing a view of cinema strictly in line with the laws of middle-class propriety is a certitude—and considering the total dearth of insight he has taken to offering us into the Subject of Race in America, which he discovered sometime in 2016, God help all us if someone ever hips him to the Subject of Class. Going to the movies seems to be an awful ordeal for Scott, who has to suffer through seeing everyone else doing it wrong; well do I recall his recounting of his first trip to the then-newly-opened Metrograph to see a 35mm print of John Farrow’s The Big Clock, in which he mused on the “self-conscious retro-ness” of the experience, representative, surely, of “someone else’s nostalgia for something”—presumably, the Golden Age of analog cinemagoing—“I knew firsthand.” The Big Clock, incidentally, was released in 1948, eighteen years before Scott was born, so who knows what the fuck he thinks he’s talking about.

Airily pooh-poohing “the fantasy of film democracy” is itself an expression of ideology, the only ideology to which a significant portion of the Bluecheck commentariat subscribe, the triangulating ideology of the down-to-earth “adult in the room,” that wise soul who has tempered the enthusiasms of hot-blooded youth, and can now smile at them wistfully over a snifter of tawny port at the Staff Writer’s Club. Scott’s piece begins by fretting as to if posing the question “Will moviegoing survive the pandemic?” sounds “trivial,” which gives you some sense of his level of commitment. If you are a film critic, I would suggest that it behooves you to believe that the medium you cover has crucial value. For those of us who have skin in the game, there’s no question of the import of the issue, as there’s no question in my mind that a more democratic cinema—as difficult to achieve as any democracy—remains a fantasy worth reaching for, and that audiences add something more than irksome inconvenience to cinemagoing. With all of their aggravations, the audience is an essential part of the totality of the moviegoing experience, the threat to which is just one front on which an all-out war on public life is being waged, with the intention to cultivate a more perfectly placated home-bound consumer. Nothing could please the powers-that-be more, for congregations are unpredictable, and pose a threat to the status quo; not for nothing does Glenn O’Brien, in his 1981 “TV Party Manifesto,” assert that “SOCIALISM begins with GOING OUT EVERY NIGHT.”

To answer the question semi-sarcastically posed by Scott’s piece, for all the failings of the modern multiplex, I’ve missed going to the movies quite a lot. It’s unusual, given how often I’ve heard this very sentiment expressed in conversations with friends, how little I’ve seen it reflected in public forums. Scott ends his missive with a faux-chipper “I’ll see you at the movies,” but the issues of when and under what circumstances that might come about are set aside, perhaps because so much as broaching the question may be taken as “irresponsible”— though one would think there is no greater responsibility than for us to speak frankly and honestly about what’s at risk right now and how we are muddling through, lost when the stuff of private discussions is self-censored for fear of opprobrium. When Russell Crowe vehicle Unhinged became the first title of note to receive a wide theatrical rollout following the shutdown, it seemed to be de rigeur for reviewers to remind viewers to watch the film at home, if at all. In August, as film festivals in formerly stricken corners of Europe carried on without incident, The A.V. Club ran an interview with two public health officials forebodingly titled “Please don’t go to a movie theater: ‘It’s just about the last thing I’d do right now,’ says expert,” in which one concludes that “the safest thing is to stay home and watch [a movie] on Netflix.”  

I’m not sure how theatre managers hanging on by their fingernails felt reading this sort of thing, but presumably the streaming services appreciate the free plugs. Streaming content has today supplanted broadcast television as our “home entertainment.” An echo of Infuriating Times’s words on the precincts of conservative order can be found in the damning words of Roland Barthes from his 1975 elucidation of the discreet erotics of filmgoing, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” discussing the natural enemy of the cinema: “Television doomed us to the Family, whose household instrument it has become—what the hearth used to be, flanked by its communal kettle.” Replace “television” with “content,” and the point stands.

Slaked with content, we’d got used to staying home. In the modern industrialized world, quite a few of us had commenced to effectively quarantining without any medical pretext, thanks to the availability of an online marketplace premised on the idea that any interpersonal activity was inconvenient and potentially discomfiting, and that the more we could steer clear of the commons and do business from our minimalist hidey-holes, the happier we would be. And who can be blamed for seizing on such corner-cutting conveniences when we carry the workplace with us on our smartphones, and must wrest every moment of leisure from a work culture that worships at the altar of incessant productivity? On a recent evening out in a Manhattan increasingly resembling Enzo G. Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982), air filled with the now-omnipresent buzz of NYPD helicopters, my friend, the filmmaker and cogent thinker Michael M. Bilandic, made a shrewd point about the role of Silicon Valley in shaping our present landscape: the architects of our future, all of them antisocial dorks weaned on dystopian sci-fi, have succeeded in willing the Shadowrun hellscape of their wet dreams into existence. Below is a picture of former Google CEO/Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who is worth $13.8 billion dollars, at Burning Man. Forget Bretton Woods and Bohemian Grove—our fates are determined now in Black Rock Desert by hacky-sacking tech goobers like this. Take one long look at this mutant and tell me that he doesn’t want desperately to live in a cosplay cyberpunk nightmare, and to drag the rest of us into it with him.

The streaming services appeared at the intersection of cinema as we’ve known it and the platform capitalism of which Schmidt is but one of the mandarins. And the centrality of these streaming services to American life is, let us remember, a relatively recent phenomenon. Twice, in spring of 2016 and 2019, I taught a course in the history of film criticism at Eugene Lang College, and would open every class by asking the students what they had been watching, and then discussing the films in question. On my second go at the class, I was struck by the degree to which, in three short years, the answers to that question had shifted from a mixture of theatrical and streaming releases to a marked domination by streaming releases. Had the quality of product on offer at the streaming services outstripped that at cinemas so completely in so short a time? For purposes of the argument, that season offered up the following features of note: Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and High Flying Bird from Netflix and, from Film4 Productions by way of Amazon Studios, Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, one of the year’s best films, given an insultingly cursory rollout; it also saw, in New York City, theatrical runs for Climax, Happy Death Day 2U, Triple Threat, The Souvenir, Ash is Purest White, Glass, The Beach Bum, Puppetmaster: The Littlest Reich, Dragged Across Concrete, Diamantino, and High Life—if not masterpieces all, than movies I would term “worthy of serious consideration.” (Velvet Buzzsaw and Us are not accidental omissions from the above tallies; they are both terrible.)

To my mind nothing here suggests a great leap forward in quality, but rather a new success in monopolizing attention. None of this I mention as any discredit to the students—in the best of circumstances it’s difficult to get a grip on what’s going on in contemporary culture, and our increasing isolation in algorithmically determined filter bubbles, combined with the marginalization of any cultural journalism that might offer alternative narratives, can’t help matters—but to illustrate how triumphant the streaming services have already been, in a fairly short period of time, in centering “the conversation” around their content, that now-ubiquitous term that simply smacks of contempt for the messiness of creative process, the risk of artistic ambition, and the potency of passionate personality. How much moreso will this be the case, then, after so many cinemas have been sidelined for a still-indeterminate period?

Netflix, a pioneer in the streaming field, have been joined by a flock of competitors following the model that Netflix developed over time: a catalog of licensed titles (or, in the case of a Disney+, the company’s back catalog), either sharing space or in time making room for films and serial programs either acquired by or gestated within the company. On Monday, the Walt Disney Company, responsible for the most profitable and reprehensible theatrical releases of the 2010s, announced a new commitment to their direct-to-consumer streaming service, now 60 million subscribers strong, with an accompanying statement from CEO Bob Chapek. “Managing content creation distinct from distribution will allow us to be more effective and nimble in making the content consumers want most,” said Chapek, “delivered in the way they prefer to consume it. Our creative teams will concentrate on what they do best—making world-class, franchise-based content—while our newly centralized global distribution team will focus on delivering and monetizing that content in the most optimal way across all platforms, including Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ and the coming Star international streaming service.” With U.S. cinemas no longer a dependable revenue source, Disney recently made their new “live-action” remake of their 1998 animated film Mulan available to Disney+ subscribers willing to pay a $29.99 premium fee. While the results were likely insufficient to return the investment—streaming services, operating without middlemen exhibitors to tally receipts, have been infamously tight-lipped about reporting their numbers, so as to maintain the appearance of constant success—this latest move signifies a significant pivot towards a future that will be geared as much or more towards streaming rollouts as theatrical runs.

This is not necessarily a tragedy. I would not have seen Mulan in theaters, I didn’t watch Mulan on Disney+, and I have no desire, at any point in my life, to see Mulan. But it is worth watching what Disney is doing, if not the movies that Disney makes, because where Disney goes, the industry now tends to follow. Part of Disney’s success through the years in monetizing their content has come through their jealous guardianship of it—the famous “Disney Vault” strategy outlined by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, whereby home video releases of titles would be placed on moratorium for long periods between re-release, restricting availability of back catalogue films. Recently, the company has been seen to de-prioritize and delay domestic releases of new titles on physical home video, as to drive more bodies through the turnstiles of their streaming service, while the future of physical releases for catalog titles remain uncertain. (The studios, Disney foremost among them, happily collected revenue from home video sales but they never particularly liked home video—it gave the consumer ownership of a film, and thereby limited the studio’s ability to control supply.) Such fierce territoriality, which extends to their treatment of repertory exhibitors, is particularly concerning when one factors in Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox on March, 2019, which put the masterworks of John Ford in the same grasping, rapacious hands that have spent years trying to extract every last nickel from The Rescuers Down Under (1990). One hopes for the best, while at the same time envisaging a future in which Ford’s Judge Priest (1934) is only available at the convenience of the Mouse, with its Stepin Fetchit scenes excised and banished to the same sub-basement of the Vault that contains Song of the South (1946) and the pickaninny from Fantasia (1940).

Disney has a well-worn—and scrupulously self-sanitized—origin myth and decades of name recognition to their credit, while comparatively newer streaming services still struggle to carve out their own niches. When it comes to constructing its legend from scratch, none of the streaming giants can hold a candle to Netflix, whose teaser trailer for the November release of David Fincher’s Mank is making the rounds as I write. The film, written by Fincher’s late father Jack, is a biopic of Herman J. Mankiewicz, Algonquin wit and Hollywood scriptwriter, most renowned for his co-credit on the screenplay of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941). Not having seen Mank, I can’t comment on its qualities, but it may be noted that it is the latest in a number of Netflix-underwritten projects which make the filmmaking process their subject: Welles’s fabled The Other Side of the Wind (2018), finished posthumously with Netflix dollars, and its shoddy documentary companion piece, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead; Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name (2019), following the process whereby Rudy Ray Moore made his scrappy 1975 Dolemite into a surprise independent hit through four-wall distribution; and Ryan Murphy’s miniseries Hollywood (2020), which looked back at the so-called Golden Age of the studio system with a jaundiced eye.

Without touching on merits and demerits of these works, the one thing that they share is the Netflix imprimatur and, intentions of their creators aside, Netflix in underwriting them effectively advances a narrative of their own, in which film history proposes problems to which the implicit answer is: Netflix. It is Netflix who unties the Gordian knot of Welles’s unfinished film; Netflix who operates as innovator and disruptor, like Welles and Moore; Netflix who has arrived to redress the racism and exclusionism of Hollywood. All of this, it should be noted, is rooted in a desire not only to build brand, but to address bad P.R. When the streaming giants first began to open their pockets in the acquisitions market, Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings was brashly outspoken about his view of movie theaters as competition—this as opposed to the tack taken by Amazon Studios which, given the luxury to potentially operate at a loss on their prestige-purchasing films thanks to enormous profits coming from the elsewhere in the vast Amazon empire, could afford to seem more charitable. Netflix had a cinephile problem and, as to leave no demographic stone unturned, they’ve worked to address this.

One response to this is to say, “Who cares? Good for them. They’re greenlighting things that the studios wouldn’t”—and fair enough. I’m glad The Other Side of the Wind exists in its current form. Getting a budget together for a movie—or recouping investors for a movie that’s already been made—is hard work, and I couldn’t seriously begrudge anyone working towards that end for taking Netflix money. But I have serious compunctions as to if these petitions toward serious-minded film culture should be regarded as a viable long-term alternative that filmmakers can depend on, rather than as a maneuver to edge out competition before continuing with a predetermined game-plan that has very different priorities than those suggested by their present operation.

To predict how Netflix will operate in the future, we can contemplate how Netflix has operated in the past. The service, you may recall, began by offering mail order rentals without the hassle of late fees, and in so doing drove the video store to the brink of extinction. Today, the video store has nearly disappeared—two important hold-outs, Chicago’s Odd Obsession and Austin’s I Luv Video, announced their closures over the course of the summer. Netflix, having vanquished their rivals in the physical media rental game, promptly de-prioritized this aspect of their operation to concentrate on their new streaming platform, a platform that attracted scads of subscribers with the promise of a fairly diverse catalog of titles available immediately, at the click of a button. This catalog dwindled rapidly, however, when Netflix pivoted to producing original content—pushing their own product, they were no longer interested in pretending to act as an at-your-fingertips repository of film history, which has all but disappeared from their platform. Looking over this record, a pattern becomes clear: build up a subscriber base by offering a service that provides something that people want and then, once the subscription becomes habit and the challengers have been neutralized, give the people what Reed Hastings wants to give them instead. 

Further cause for alarm at what might be wrought by this deluge of streams came when, on August 7th, New York federal judge Analisa Torres granted a motion by the U.S. Department of Justice that terminated the Paramount Consent Decrees, in place since the Supreme Court ruling in the 1948 case United States v. Paramount Pictures. That decision ended the vertical integration of the major studios, and led to the studios disinvesting themselves of their theater chains, for which they reserved the profitable first-run showings of their films, with independent exhibitors allowed their leftovers. Torres’s 17-page opinion justifies the decision in light of the fact that “changes in the motion picture industry over the last seventy years have made it unlikely that the remaining Defendants could or would reinstate their cartel to monopolize the motion picture distribution and theater markets,” and that while the specific terms of the Decrees are now obsolescent—terms are dictated to RKO, no longer existent, but not Netflix or Amazon—the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act which the studios were found in violation of over seventy years ago would protect against future abuses, continuing “to provide effective deterrence against any industry-wide attempts to re-establish a cartel to monopolize the film distribution and exhibition markets.”

All this is cold comfort in the midst of the current crisis, however, from out of which many have imagined the streaming services sweeping in to scoop up scores of newly out-of-business cinemas and establish their own chains—though the streaming overlords have to-date betrayed no such ambitions. In an interview posted this Tuesday to accompany the announcement of disappointing quarterly subscriber gains, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos discussed the rare acquisition opportunities available thanks to CoVid-19 as a temporary phenomena: “At some point, theaters are going to reopen and people are going to go back to theaters. I hope so. I’m a fan of doing it myself.” It may be that the streamers are as scared as I’m scared of them, they being in the main speculative operations consistently operating at massive losses in order to grow their subscriber bases, all while issuing transparently artificial numbers to give the illusion of a spotless record of success—there is not a human alive who believes that a number of people equivalent to the entire population of Spain watched Ratched, but that won’t prevent Netflix from asserting that this is so.  

The really galling thing is that the proposition that Hastings and company have long operated from—that theatrical distribution and exhibition as presently constituted is moribund and hopeless—is essentially correct, if not for the reasons he tends to bang on about. In the United States, unless you happen to live in a handful of particularly culture-rich cities, your cinemagoing options consist of the multiplex and possibly an “art house” that specializes in Sundance drivel, the cinema of Dame Judi Dench, and the occasional A24 title, with the film festival circuit operating as an ad hoc distribution circuit where everything else—both the beautiful and the unutterable—will have its only life before a live audience. (As for repertory cinema, the best you can hope for in most cases is a nearby art museum equipped with a projection booth.) Because the few cultural journalists who have any sort of reach—and those who don’t, as well—tend to congregate in those culture-rich cities, the paucity of options faced by most Americans often goes unacknowledged.

To summarize: An already broken film distribution and exhibition system facing further dismantlement in the purgatory of plague times, a gaggle of Silicon Valley “Burners” endeavoring to erect something still worse in its stead, and a field of cultural journalism that primarily exists to perpetuate a “conversation” whose terms are dictated by entertainment conglomerates, in which any position taken, for or against, only serves to reinforce the cultural centrality of their content. Every day achieves new levels of previously unimaginable horror, to the point where the stories of robot ticket-takers welcoming South Korean cinemagoers to screenings of Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York (2019) back in May seem downright quaint.

All of this I bring up not because I’m unduly pessimistic about the state of cinema because, bafflingly, I’m not. If mankind persists in existing on this planet, I’m confident that cinema will, too—if mankind perishes, well… not my problem anymore! I’m also quite certain that cinema has not consistently been best served by arts organizations beholden to blinkered boards, organizations that have revealed themselves repeatedly to be at once at once short-sighted, cut-throat, and timorous; by multiplexes that have crucified themselves on a cross of tentpoles; and by tech CEOs whose dearest ambition for the Seventh Art is to produce content that keeps the Ambien-blunted populace home, suckling true-crime content from the teat.

What confidence I have comes courtesy of the groundswell of independent enterprise that I’ve seen in the last several months, the busy-beaverish activity that friends and strangers have got up to while everything we’ve known has been coming down around their ears, and a conviction that the imperilment and invalidation of old institutions creates circumstances in which new networks and underground economies can flourish. Many people, like myself, have hung a shingle at direct-to-subscriber services—unideal though they are in allowing for Silicon Valley to batten on our labor, nevertheless a temporary means to keep body and soul together—or at least pull down some beer money—in moment when paychecks are hard to come by. Some time back I cancelled the very last of my streaming service subscriptions, a move which has caused me not a moment of inconvenience—I had Hubie Halloween (2020) illegally downloaded within a matter of minutes, come and get me coppers!—and set about reapportioning that money to go instead to people that I like doing things that I admire. I pay into Gina Telaroli’s Patreon for film writing and other trimmings; into Leia Jospe’s Substack for pretty photographs; into Thu Tran’s channel for a relaxing podcast she does about cooking with her cat. I have been meaning to support my pal Max Proctor’s efforts at Ultra Dogme. There, I just did.

Practically speaking, however, I don’t know how supportable any of this is in the long run or how much of a market there is to support an infinity of these kind of independent endeavors, and to what degree this potentially just becomes a game of people passing the same $4.99 Patreon dividends around among one another, with a little cream skimmed off the top every time. If I have any single guiding principle, it is a general temperamental preference for the small to the large, for the handmade to the machine-tooled; nevertheless, the large has its function, and large organization of vast resources and multiple moving parts are capable of feats that smaller operations are not. A Ridgewood gallery space in a converted bodega isn’t going to host a touring Old Masters exhibition; a microcinema in Toledo, Ohio won’t be getting FIAF membership; you can make a movie on your iPhone like Steven Soderbergh, but it’s unlikely that many people will take notice if you aren’t named “Steven Soderbergh”; the Luxembourg Resistance alone would not have defeated Hitler’s army. Likewise, a Film Comment could command resources and direct attention in a way that no single member of a Balkanized bunch of freelancers can. So the fact that institutions will in most cases continue to exist is not one that I regret; the proper preservation of culture for posterity needs elaborate institutional infrastructure, and the very real threat posed right now to the Cinemateca Brasileira should give pause to anyone espousing a “burn it all down” position.  

While certain direct-to-consumer options provide a lifeline for individual endeavors, beginning to redress the deep-rooted problems in distribution and exhibition that the streaming services have exploited in their expansion would require a far greater degree of ambition and organization. My most fondly cherished vision would involve a return of American film culture to its amateur roots—amateur in the sense of non-careerist as well as in the sense of a thing done for love—as a thousand regional cine-clubs and microcinemas and organizations like the Chicago Film Society bloom from the rubble of the current system, but the concepts of mutual esprit de corps trust and volunteerism that traditionally made DIY activity possible have been eroded and denigrated to such a degree that it’s difficult to imagine this as something other than a pipe-dream. There is strength in numbers, but the challenge of assembling numbers under a banner of common cause, without the benefit of a rigid, corporatized framework to dispense and enforce protocol, has never seemed greater. If we are a long way away from realizing the depths of psychic trauma wrought on Americans by this last year, I wonder if we will ever realize the profound damage dealt to the very concept of friendship by the normalization of throwing people under the bus in public forums for clout. (Recently a clip of Orson Welles decrying Elia Kazan and his snitch’s apologia On the Waterfront [1954] was being passed around approvingly on Twitter, but the Kazans online tend to do better numbers than the Welleses.) Meanwhile the managerial class, who’ve expanded their religion of H.R. into every field of human endeavor, have succeeded in asserting themselves as arbiters of rectitude to the degree that they’ve made it almost impossible to imagine a world without them.

Everything seems so insurmountable right now that some kind of positive change, curiously, seems inevitable. What form that change might take is unclear; it stands to reason that a grassroots, amateur-driven film culture in 2020 shouldn’t emulate or really resemble that of 1955 or 1975, and that is so much to the good. Here in Belgium change happens slowly, as in western Europe as a whole; the last time I was through the big news was that the French-owned Mexican food chain O’Tacos had opened a location next to Sint Niklaaskerk, and that the area around the Bourse in Brussels had been overrun with idling Uber Eats drivers. New York City, by contrast, I don’t expect to recognize after two weeks away, a prospect both terrifying and exhilarating with what it might promise. So while America’s closed theaters slumber, let us dream with them a little dream about a more unruly and democratic and living cinema, a cinema without board members and managerial mediocrities, then to let those dreams inspire the great work that will come upon waking.

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Commentary Tracks:

  • Big Brown Eyes (Kino)

  • The Big Knife (Arrow; with Glenn Kenny)

  • Bob le Flambeur (Kino)

  • The Border (Indicator)

  • The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (Indicator; with Glenn Kenny)

  • Buffet Froid (Kino)

  • Calcutta (Kino)

  • Disputed Passage (Kino)

  • Drive a Crooked Road (Powerhouse)

  • The Eiger Sanction (Kino)

  • The Game (Arrow Academy)

  • The Killing of America (Severin Films; special feature interview)

  • Lightning Over Braddock (Kino; with Tony Buba)

  • La Marseillaise (Kino)

  • The Milky Way (Kino)

  • Modern Romance (Indicator)

  • Murder! (Kino)

  • My Man Godfrey (Criterion; special feature interview)

  • No Man of Her Own (Kino)

  • Quai des Orfevres (Kino)

  • Queen of Spades (Kino)

  • Rancho Deluxe (Fun City Editions)

  • Razzia sur la chnouf (Kino)

  • La Religieuse (Kino)

  • The Ring (Kino)

  • Robbery (Kino)

  • Seminole (Kino)

  • The Shakedown (Kino)

  • Stick (Kino)

  • The Stone Killer (Indicator)

  • The Strange One (Powerhouse)

  • Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (Kino)

  • Touchez pas au grisbi (Kino)

  • Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (Kino)

  • Ulzana’s Way (Kino)

  • The Wolf of Wall Street (Arrow; with Glenn Kenny)

  • The World in His Arms (Kino)


  • 12/18/2015- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) The Best Films of 2015 with Nicolas Rapold and Amy Taubin

  • 2/9/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) The Coen Brothers and Peter Greenaway with Kent Jones

  • 4/12/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Everybody Wants Some!! with David Fear

  • 5/10/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) History in the Making with Eric Hynes

  • 5/27/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Love & Friendship with Whit Stillman

  • 6/22/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) The Summer of ’66 with J. Hoberman and Ina Archer

  • 6/26/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Mondo, Mondo with Ashley Clark and Cassie de Costa

  • 6/28/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) David Bordwell and the Rhapsodes with David Bordwell

  • 8/2/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Best of the Worst, Worst of the Best with Cristina Cacioppo, Ashley Clark, and Michael Koresky

  • 10/4/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Social Media and Criticism with K. Austin Collins and Mark Harris

  • 12/6/2016- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) The Marginalization of Cinema with Kent Jones

  • 1/10/17- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Carte Blanche with Ashley Clark and Michael Koresky

  • 1/23/2017- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Sundance Roundtable with Ashley Clark and Paula Mejia

  • 2/14/2017- Film Comment (Hosts: Violet Lucca and Nicolas Rapold) Live recording post-screening of The King of Comedy with Eric Hynes

  • 3/7/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Acting for All Ages with Shonni Enelow and Michael Koresky

  • 3/13/2017- Supporting Characters (Host: Bill Ackerman)

  • 4/11/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Terrence Malick with Shonni Enelow

  • 5/2/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Movie Gifts with Michael Koresky and Aliza Ma

  • 6/4/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day with Aliza Ma

  • 6/20/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Streaming Vs. Theatrical with Daniel Loría

  • 7/11/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Wanda with Shonni Enelow and Margaret Barton-Fumo

  • 7/18/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Location, Location, Location with Eric Hynes and Margaret Barton-Fumo

  • 8/29/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Revenge of the Movie Gifts with Michael Koresky and Aliza Ma

  • 11/21/2017- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Tales from the Campus Film Society with J. Hoberman and Dave Kehr

  • 1/16/2018- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Good Soundtrack, Bad Movie with Margaret Barton-Fumo and Tom Scharpling

  • 2/13/2018- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) China Goes to the Movies with Andrew Chan

  • 6/7/2018- Film Comment (Host: Violet Lucca) Le Cinéma du Glut with Ed Halter

  • 6/28/2018- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Luchino Visconti with Florence Almozini

  • 9/21/2018- Film Comment (Host: Nick Pinkerton) with Ethan Hawke

  • 10/23/2018- Film Comment (Host: Nick Pinkerton) with Peter Bogdanovich

  • 11/9/2018- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Rep Report with Jon Dieringer, Nellie Killian, and Sheila O’Malley

  • 12/12/2018- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Best Movies of 2018 with Molly Haskell, Michael Koresky, and Sheila O’Malley

  • 12/19/2018- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Rep Report; The Mule with K. Austin Collins, Jon Dieringer, and Nellie Killian

  • 2/27/2019- Red Scare (Hosts: Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrasova)

  • 3/20/2019- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Claire Denis with Maddie Whittle

  • 12/4/2019- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) The Decades Project with Amy Taubin and Michael Koresky

  • 1/8/2020- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) New York Movies with Josh and Benny Safdie

  • 3/25/2020- Film Comment (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Quarantine viewing

  • 5/22/2020- The Last Thing I Saw (Host: Nicolas Rapold) Quarantine viewing with Nellie Killian