Does watching a feature-length motion picture on a tiny smartphone screen constitute a genuine moviegoing experience? Or does it presage the end of movies as America's national theater and its pre-eminent popular art form?
In the provocative “Do Movies Have a Future?” (Simon & Schuster, $27), The New Yorker magazine film critic David Denby offers a passionate, finely reasoned and highly articulate examination of that issue and of several others concerning the state of cinema at the beginning of the 21st century.
This collection of essays and reviews, mostly drawn and expanded from Denby's work for the magazine, serves as a rousing wake-up call for movie lovers troubled by several recent trends in American multiplexes — blockbuster economics that discourage modest, character-driven stories; the predominance of mega-budgeted, CGI-driven action franchises; the obsession with comic-book heroes in cinema storytelling; the deterioration of film grammar that speaks to adult audiences and much more.
Denby blends an exuberant film buff's enthusiasm with an academic's incisive and skeptical analysis as he writes about such wide-ranging topics as “chick flicks,” the shifting nature of star worship, and the ups and downs of hip auteurs such as Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar and the Coen brothers.
In a splendid think piece titled “Pirates on the iPod,” Denby expresses special concern for what he calls “platform agnosticism,” in which young viewers blithely eschew the old communal model of watching movies on a giant screen in a darkened, crowded theater and seem perfectly content with seeing epic-sized films solo on tiny screens (laptops, tablets and even cellphones).
Another thought-provoking piece titled “Conglomerate Aesthetics” decries the dominance of digital spectacle that dilutes story and reduces blockbuster movies to quickly disposable profit machines that lull audiences with jazzy eye candy but provide nothing in the way of narrative substance or worthy thematic material.
Although the answer to Denby's titular question is never specifically stated, it's clearly implied from his elegant prose and passionate analysis that as long as there are critics of such sharp intelligence writing about movies their prominence on America's artistic landscape should be secure well into the future.
Dennis King blogs about movies at blog.NewsOK.com/projections.