Not too many years ago, around the turn of the century, being a movie lover in the Triangle was often frustrating. Area theaters couldn’t always get the films that were being written about in Film Comment and Cinemascope, and waiting for video releases was iffy at best. Would the local video store get the good stuff? Would the stuff playing in New York theaters come out on video at all? A charitable friend in New York once rented a bootleg of Lars von Trier’s The Idiots and mailed it to me, because that was the only way I was going to get to see it. By the time I’d watched it a couple of times and sent it back, I’d racked him up 50 bucks in late fees.
Soon after that, I moved to New York myself, in large part to be able to see the movies I wanted to see. But by 2009, not only could I have caught the latest von Trier (Antichrist) without having moved, I wouldn’t even have had to wait for video: The film was available on the IFC channel concurrent with its run in New York. No, it didn’t play the Triangle, but so what?
In 2010, the democratization of movie loving continued, and even though plenty of films that should have played the Triangle didn’t, it matters much less than it used to. In addition, the distinction between theatrical release and small-screen availability is diminishing. I was disappointed to miss Olivier Assayas’ epic Carlos when it played New York theaters, only to find out later that it was made for French television in the first place.
As viewing platforms multiply, directors are surely anticipating the change and making films that can be appreciated on big screens, flat screens and laptop screens alike. Going to the theater may no longer be the way a movie was necessarily meant to be seen. Purists might bristle at this, but this paradigm shift will give filmmakers in search of studio financing the opportunity to make work that is outside the outdated strictures of normal feature-length run times.
Going forward, there might be room for many more series like the Red Riding trilogy. Originally made for British television, then screened in marathon sessions at the IFC Center in New York and later available with the Instant Watch option on Netflix, these three films, all by different directors, concentrate on one series of murders. (Why hasn’t this happened before?) They are relentlessly grim, exquisitely paced and contain a great narrative complexity.
Also in the true crime genre and missing from Triangle theaters in 2010 were the Mesrine films, Killer Instinct and Public Enemy #1, a diptych of films about the French master criminal Jacques Mesrine. Brimming with appealing stars of French cinema, with Vincent Cassel in the title role, the Mesrine films are joyous, violent romps through the period cool of the ’60s and ’70s. Like Carlos, Red Riding and plenty of other films with more than just niche appeal, the Mesrine movies have played select cities but haven’t yet crept across the country.
But if you don’t want to wait and see if Cassel and company make it to the Triangle, a simple Google search will turn up (illegal) ways to download the movies. While this method is neither sanctioned by the law or (presumably) the aesthetic anticipations of the artists, it’s another way that the wealth of current viewing options are closing the gap between urban movie houses and smaller-city homes, between the distributors and the viewers, between the People and the Man. You don’t have to wait for a “four-wall” release or Netflix to see films anymore.
Speaking of Netflix, some Triangle fans of Harmony Korine may have joined the Facebook group 1,000,000 Weirdos Who Want to Rent Trash Humpers From Netflix this year. Even after distributor Drag City released the film on DVD, Netflix threatened not to pack any red envelopes with Korine’s anarchic freak-out because (at least according to Drag City) they deemed it too inappropriate to carry. But before the Facebook group even reached 700, Netflix started stocking the title. If the outcry from a small community of movie lovers had anything to do with forcing a major corporation to distribute a fringe film like Trash Humpers, this is another example of the way digital media is narrowing the gap between the festival circuit and the general population.
Seeing movies in actual theaters may become a more rarified pastime in the next decade, which is a shame. But simply getting to watch the movies you want to see no longer needs to mean moving to another part of the country (or getting your friend’s video rental account suspended). The fact that anyone with a computer, a few cable channels, a mailing address and a credit card can now see almost anything is one of the best things to ever happen to movie culture. Lots of great films that play in select cities don’t make it to the Triangle every year. Fortunately, that might not matter anymore.