Jonathan Rosenbaum’s visit to St. Andrews, Fall 2009

November 29, 2009 at 3:45 am

I am really happy that this project finally materialised: Jonathan Rosenbaum, the critic whom Godard compared to Bazin, spent a period working and teaching at our programme here in St. Andrews.

I have been a fan of Jonathan’s since 1996 when I lived in Chicago and first came across his writing in the free local weekly, The Chicago Reader. I since became an admirer, mostly in response to his insightful Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Movies We Can See, a real eye opener which exposes the deeply problematic status quo in global film distribution (even if his focus is mostly on American film, which is not one that I am interested in, really). Jonathan’s writing spans a range of topics in film, yet to me his contributions on matters related to festivals as well as his observations on the clandestine distribution matters are of most interest. Most of his oeuvre is featured at the eponymous blog.

So, when I was teaching at the University of Chicago last fall (October 2008, in the context of the Chicago euphoria preceding the US presidential election), I finally managed to get in touch with Jonathan. During lunch at the famous Medici on 57th in Hyde Park (where at the time waiters were wearing T-Shirts with a sign ‘Obama Eats Here’), I extended an invitation for him to come to St. Andrews as our visiting professor in the Fall of 2009. He since joined the international advisory board for our Dynamics of World Cinema project. Now, more than a year later, I am so happy to report that it all worked, in spite his busy schedule and writing commitments. I believe we all, faculty and postgraduate students, benefited from his presence. His lecture on Iranian cinema to undergraduate students seems to have triggered serious interest among second year students in this film tradition, as I understand they have produced numerous essays on the subject. PhD students have enter dialogue with him on a variety of matters, as one can see, for example, in this entry on Matthew Holtmeier’s blog Cinema Without Organs. Jonathan helped us with a review of the manuscript of our forthcoming Film Festival Yearbook 2: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities; he also praised William Brown’s film, En Attendant Godard, which premiered here during his visit.

Rosenbaum keeps saying he is now retired. What does this mean, however? When I introduced him for the talk he gave here on 27 October 2009, Goodbye Cinema, Hallo Cinephilia!, I could not help noticing his writing was everywhere: I had just read Richard Porton’s collection Decalog 3: On Film Festivals, where Jonathan has got a contribution; I had just browsed through recent issues of Film Quarterly, and in each one there was a contribution by Rosenbaum. And, just the previous day, I had just received a gift from him and Claudia Siefen, The Unquiet American; Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., the fabulous illustrated book published by the Austrian Film Museum in conjunction with the programme at Viennale.

I hope we are all as prolific in retirement as he is!

© Dina Iordanova
29 November 2009

Screen International: Explanation on Box Office Tables

November 25, 2009 at 12:59 am

I have received two extremely useful reactions from people at Screen International in regard to the posting dated 17 November 2009, related to the tables listing international and global box office figures. As they explain, these are two completely different things and the direct comparison is not adequate.

Jack Warner has explained:

I wish to inform you that your piece contains a fundamental error. It assumes two commonly used film industry terms are one and the same, where in fact one encompasses the other.

In the film industry, the term ‘international’ is used to describes all overseas territories, everything outside North America (’domestic’). In contrast the term ‘global’ is used to signify worldwide, meaning ‘international’ and ‘domestic’ combined.

It should now become clear to you that Screen’s Global Top Ten, as indicated on the chart itself, is a tally compiled from the North America box office chart and the Top 40 International Chart, with which you have been comparing it directly.

Conor Dignam writes:

the two tables you refer to on ScreenDaily and in Screen International are completely different. The international table means films that exclude the US box office – while the global films include US box office. The aim is to give a picture of the box office outside of North America, where the scale of the US skews the figures.

Both comments are made on the blog, and in both cases I am asked to remove the posting and to check with Screen International first before making comments on the information they feature. As the information is clearly erroneous, I would be happy to consider removing it. It seems more adequate to me, however, to leave it with this explanation attached, as others like myself would be misled the same way, provided that the explanation is not readily available.

In fact, I have tried to query the methodology related to compiling the International Box Office figures on several occasions previously with the compiler, to never receive a response. It is a pity it takes a public posting on a blog in order to get a reaction. I hope now that the colleagues at Screen International will be more responsive to queries from academics like myself. I would be more than happy to checking before publishing, assuming that I would be getting a response now. It is something researchers really need and would appreciate.

© Dina Iordanova
25 November 2009

Screen International: International Blockbusters

November 23, 2009 at 1:51 am

I am wondering what the magazine is actually covering by way of reviewing international films. Indeed, there are a number of articles discussing the dynamics in international and particularly Asian film industry lately. When it comes to reviewing concrete films, however, there is a strange discrepancy to be observed. There are always reviews of the American films that are at the top of the international box office, as well as of some of those from Europe. However, almost none of the Asian films that appear in the top forty (or, for that matter, even in the top ten) listings, are being reviewed. Over the past several months, for example, Screen International offered a somewhat belated yet adequate coverage on the Nordic hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a Danish-Swedish co-production, but barely any coverage on the other top-40 European films, which in most cases originate from countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey and Russia. One of the few box office hits from Asia to see a more detailed review was Hachiko: A Dog’s Story, the tale of the fateful dog that waited on the city train station in Shibuya for his dead ‘salaryman’-owner every day for a number of years after his dead. It is a beloved Tokyo story; the statue of the dog can be seen at this most famous intersection in the city.

However, except the brief ‘capsula’ reviews of some of these titles, endurable 2009 box office hits from Asia, such as South Korean Haeundae and Take Off, Indian Kambakkh Ishq, Kaminey, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, or the Japanese 20th Century Boys and April Brides were not written about.

The most endurable Asian presence in the global top ten box office of this past summer (2009), the Japanese baseball drama Rookies, which made nearly a hundred million from its very limited territorial distribution, was not covered either. It is interesting to note that at the time of this writing it appears there is no entry for the film at the IMDb, either. It only lists the TV series on which the film is based.

In my view, the function of the magazine which bills itself as ‘trade’ would be to serve the trade by bringing information on what is hot and what sells. If I am a distributor, I may be particularly interested in knowing more about films that made tens of millions of dollars elsewhere, as they clearly have got commercial potential. Instead, the review section of Screen International offers reviews of small festival films that are regularly assessed as lacking adequate commercial potential. On the one hand, there is information on the performance of global blockbusters but no information on the actual style/content of those. On the other hand, there are reviews of artistically worthwhile (or sometimes disappointing) films that lack in commercial potential. Ultimately, the message as I receive it, is: Only commercial cinema from the US merits coverage and attention, this is the only sphere where money can be made; the only aspect of international cinema that deserves our consideration includes arthouse and indie films with no popular appeal.

© Dina Iordanova
23 November 2009

Screen International: International Box Office

November 17, 2009 at 12:46 am

This post has been removed on request from Screen International, as per the comments below. See also post dated 25 November.

© Dina Iordanova
17 November 2009