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Cable TV, streaming compete with the big screen, art film

Photo: Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper (left) and Al Strobel as Mike return in David Lynch’s reboot of Twin Peaks

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

In our modern era, the true notion of prophecy has seemingly gone the way of the dinosaur (never to be resurrected as in “Jurassic Park,” mind you). Hollywood, in particular, has embraced the metrics of data and the self-serving spinning and bending of numbers to almost completely rationalize creativity out of the artistic process. Gone are the prescient risk takers of yore who dared to dream, or at least hitch their wagons up, with the hungry visionaries eager to paint our screens with lurid myths for citizens in this brave new world.

Of course, if you are so inclined as to look for a heretical prophet among the profit-centers keeping close tallies on the weekend box office receipts, then look no further than David Lynch, the modern purveyor of nightmares and dreamscapes—from “Blue Velvet” to “Mulholland Drive”—who hasn’t released a feature film since “Inland Empire” back in 2006. On the eve of his return to television, revisiting his landmark network series Twin Peaks (with a new season on the premium cable channel Showtime), Lynch offered, in his at once plain yet entirely surreal way, his view of the dramatic shift in both the creation and exhibition of filmed narratives, in this except from an interview posted on MovieCityNews.com.

“On the first Twin Peaks, doing TV was like going from a mansion to a hut. But the arthouses are gone now, so cable television is a godsend—they’re the new arthouses. You’ve got tons of freedom to do the work you want to do on TV, but there is a restriction in terms of picture and sound. The range of television is restricted. It’s hard for the power and the glory to come through. In other words, you can have things in a theatre much louder and also much quieter. With TV, the quieter things have to be louder and the louder things have to be quieter, so you have less dynamics. The picture quality—it’s fine if you have a giant television with a good speaker system, but a lot of people will watch this on their laptops or whatever, so the picture and the sound are going to suffer big time. Optimally, people should be watching TV in a dark room with no disturbances and with as big and good a picture as possible and with as great sound as possible.”

It would be easy to lose the crux of his idea—that cable television has taken the place of the arthouse scene. With theatres rushing to add premium benefits, like plush recliners and tabletop services with alcohol, to the viewing experience, arthouses, which are primarily independent operations with small staffs and fewer than five screens, simply cannot compete.

Plus, now these outlets find themselves in competition with streaming businesses like Netflix and Amazon Prime that are attacking both sides of the process, as well: producing original content and hitting the festival circuit or buying hot titles for immediate release on their platforms, bypassing the theatrical run. The Cannes Film Festival boldly outlined new eligibility rules for submissions, guaranteeing that films must have at least a one-week run in theatres, a move directly aimed at Netflix original films like Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja.” Filmmakers now face the complex reality of a choice of getting projects made (a certain win) that will never screen in theatres (a tragic loss).

David Lowery, whose new film “A Ghost Story” fascinated festival audiences at Sundance earlier this year and will get a theatrical release, discussed the powerful push and pull at a debate at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, covered in ScreenDaily.com.

“I am a devotee of the big screen. I like to watch everything on the big screen, and I made my movie to be watched on the big screen. That being said, I want my movies to get made. Netflix [is] setting aside the theatrical experience more than I’d be comfortable with, but I’d rather them do that and not make the movies. I fully support and endorse them and I’d be delighted to collaborate with them. I know that most people will ultimately see my films on a screening service of some sort … so I should set aside my own ego to a certain extent to have my own work projected on a giant screen … They do a service to the industry by producing movies that would otherwise not find financing. If you look at these movies that cost $2–10 million, no one else is paying for them. It’s a great thing to have an outlet like that.”

The question for film fans, though, is whether or not we’re ready for the arthouse to go virtual.