Short Clips

March 02, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this past week's e-mail was the lack of volume associated with The Oscars. There were a few obligatory messages but not the usual avalanche. The majority opinion of those writing to me is that this year's telecast was dull and hard to get into. The TV ratings would seem to confirm that. Hollywood executives, famous for sticking their heads in the sand (or in a particular body orifice), have ignored the obvious and decided to blame the low audience on: (1) "obscure" titles, (2) poor build-up due to other awards shows not being televised because of the WGA strike (when it doubt, blame the writers), and (3) limited "star power." The real problem, however, relates to the question of content versus running time. Consider that few viewers care about 2/3 of the awards being distributed. Makeup? Costume Design? Animated short? Documentary short? Sound editing? The handing out of these awards encourages channel surfing and bathroom breaks. It fills up time but kills viewer interest. What does the TV audience care about? Picture, Director, Lead Actor & Actress, Supporting Actor & Actress. To a lesser degree, Song, Foreign Language Feature, Documentary Feature, Screenplay (Original & Adapted). Editing, Cinematography, and Score are important but not "sexy." That's 11 to 14 awards. The rest should be given out earlier in the day. Pare the show down to two hours and hold it at that length. Keep it moving. Don't pad it with bad comedy routines and endless montages. Three-hour-plus shows won't cut it in today's era. As a society, we have collective ADD. The Oscar program in its current format is already a dinosaur. If steps aren't taken, extinction looms.

I have been asked if the nosediving economy is impacting my advertising income. While it's true that revenue is down significantly over the last two weeks, it's difficult to pinpoint how much of the downturn is a result of the struggling economy and cutbacks by advertisers. There are two other factors that play heavily into this. The first is that clickthrough percentages have been low and, since they're a key driver of ad revenue (especially with Google's text ads), fewer clicks translates into less money. Secondly, movie enthusiasm is at a low ebb right now. There's not much excitement out there for movies in general at the moment. (There will probably be a minor spike associated with 10,000 B.C., but nothing huge or sustained.) This means less traffic, and traffic influences earnings. It's difficult to ascertain which of the three factors contributes the most to plummeting revenue. It may not be until April, when the "hot" spring releases arrive, before it's possible to make a determination.

Whither Roger Ebert? I don't know, as I have informed several writers. My knowledge of his situation is limited by what has been made public - that he underwent surgery with the goal of regaining his speech. After that, there has been a silence that has grown louder with every passing day. One would hope he is recuperating quietly, although the lack of any information is - if not ominous - at least curious. Of course, Roger and his family have every right to disseminate information about his health as they see fit but most of the interest is born from genuine concern rather than idle curiosity. I'm sure Roger is aware, however, that the thoughts of millions of movie-lovers are with him.

When Lust, Caution was released in theaters, there was much discussion about whether the charged sex scenes between Tony Leung and Tang Wei were actual or simulated. Director Ang Lee intentionally sidestepped the question when asked, issuing cryptic replies The recent DVD release, however, may have provided an answer. Intrepid "investigators" have gone through the sex scenes frame-by-frame and apparently discovered incriminating evidence indicating that something sexual occurred between the actors. I use the term "apparently" because I haven't seen the screen cap of the frame in question, but I'm told it's pretty easy to hunt down on-line. I'm still disappointed this film wasn't released in high-def, not because of the penetrating view it might offer of the couple, but because Rodrigo Pietro's cinematography is deserving of the best presentation possible.