Saturday, November 13, 1999

The Region Crisis

In the intricate field of film criticism, region is everything. Residing in locations that tend to receive the more big-budget flicks than lesser-known pictures poses much of a problem for aspiring film journalists, because it can limit their exposure to certain cinematic experiences (usually the ones that receive better consensus than some more widely known films). This may very well be why all the famous critics--Roger Ebert, Janet Maslin, Kenneth Turan, and Desson Howe, just to mention a few--are employed in places more widely populated and known; they aren't habitually cut off from non-mainstream products. Although some, such as myself, can persist as a movie reviewer even in some places less extensive than those like Chicago and Los Angeles, one cannot argue that we would be much better off in areas as large as those. Can one, for instance, be a Broadway star only if they live in New York? Not necessarily, but it helps.

Main examples of missing out on certain pictures exist even as we speak. The year has already seen prominent filmmaking achievements, but some scarcely get the nationwide exposure they deserve. For instance, four of my most eagerly anticipated--"Princess Mononoke," "The Red Violin," "The Straight Story," and "Sugar Town"--have yet to be seen in this area. And "Being John Malkovich," a film that is being called one of the year's surefire Oscar contenders, is currently playing in less than 600 theaters, most of which are in New York, Los Angeles, and other large cities. In Oregon, the nearest showing is over 70 miles from my current location outside of Portland, Oregon.

Needless to say, it would be nice to accept those generous screening invitations for movies opening up in limited engagements, but most of them, sadly, take place either out of state or in the big cities Los Angeles and New York. If only those invitations came with airline tickets....

A reader is one of the most important assets, especially when dealing with online film criticism. Too keep their interest, one must maintain decent writing styles, respectable tastes, and the relentless ability to supply them with reviews for several recent and/or upcoming movies. For most, these things come easy; for lesser-known critics, such as myself, they tend to meddle with a region issue. Not all readers will be satisfied with what they grasp in film reviews, yes, but some expect too much from those who do not have the accessibility to certain motion pictures--I once got an e-mail from a viscous reader who "warned" me that, unless I saw and reviewed that infamous Trey Parker film "Orgazmo" within two weeks, he would never visit my site again. Too bad he didn't realize that my age (at the time) and my current distance from the nearest showing were the two determining factors that prevented me from attending that NC-17 trash.

This difficulty acts as a weight on my back, but those who attend largely-known movies help relieve some of the turmoil. In large part, this is due to an intriguing amount of response from the average moviegoer in the area; those who know they are seeing garbage on the screen are not afraid to demonstrate their dislike in front of others (on some occasions, viewers are even escorted out of the theater). Some throw popcorn, others boo at the screen with incredible volume, and almost all of them heighten the plausibility of the motion picture experience.  Are any of these kinds of incidents taking place at local theaters in the big cities? I dunno. Maybe it's a region thing, too.

Studios have offered their cooperation with online journalists. Most have accepted it. Those who haven't, such as myself, may have very good reason--usually a more important gig in life interferes with the time and devotion we have given to the movie journalism world. My current intervention is college; something that will easily last another three or four years. It does not distract from my pursuit for a career in film criticism, but it certainly slows down the process.

In time, things will shift, and my pursuit can be further inquired (if it requires traveling, than so be it). But like the cinema itself, time is unpredictable and changes without notice. Who knows exactly when things will settle and movie journalism becomes the prime focus?

Written by DAVID KEYES

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