Double shot of gloom for indie fans

Leading film-blogger Glenn Kenny is out at Premiere; Warner Bros. to fold its Picturehouse and Warner Independent subsidiaries.

Topics: Beyond the Multiplex, Movies,

In the wake of New York Times editor Bill Keller’s startling announcement that the leading American newspaper is cutting 100 jobs, here are a few more rumblings of media-world gloom and doom specifically calibrated for indie-film lovers. Leading critic and blogger Glenn Kenny announced today that he’s been fired by (which is all that remains of the once-popular Hachette Filipacchi movie magazine). I am not the first to ask what the doggone heck the point of that site is without Kenny on it. And Warner Bros. announced, also on Thursday, that it will close down both Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures, its two semi-autonomous “specialty” divisions. (Anne Thompson at Variety got the story first, or at least damn early.)

Kenny is one of the finest, most erudite and funniest commentators in the business, and I can’t imagine he’ll remain unemployed for long. (I consider Glenn a buddy, though we don’t hang out away from our interlocking professional lives.) But this is clearly another illustration of the precarious status of film criticism, and all other forms of independent critical intelligence, in a rapidly changing — and perhaps rapidly imploding — media universe.

It’s too early to evaluate the effects of the Warner news, but it ain’t good. WB president Alan Horn’s statement was a masterwork of business-speak nothingness (and split infinitives): “After much painstaking analysis, this was a difficult decision to make, but it reflects the reality of a changing marketplace and our need to prudently run our businesses with increased efficiencies.” Those efficiencies begin with killing off New York-based Picturehouse, which under Bob Berney’s leadership was among the most ambitious of the quasi-independent “mini-majors.” Berney backed some duds, like any exec, but he’s an extremely knowledgeable film buff, and his notable pictures of the last four years have included “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “La Vie en Rose,” “The Orphanage,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” “The Notorious Bettie Page” and “Ushpizin.”

Polly Cohen’s West Coast-based Warner Independent has always been more a mixed bag, seemingly a bit more under the thumb of the parent company and a little less clear about its own identity. WIP had a great 2005 with Oscar-nominated fare like “Good Night, and Good Luck” and the controversial “Paradise Now,” but has had numerous misfires since then, sometimes with fine films (like “Duck Season,” “A Scanner Darkly” and “The Science of Sleep”) that never found the right audiences. More recently, Cohen and her staff seemed to be guessing: There were socially conscious documentaries like “11th Hour” and “Darfur Now”; there were attempts at more commercial fare like Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah” and Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” remake. None of it quite worked.

All this results from Warner Bros.’ recent corporate absorption of New Line Cinema, which apparently couldn’t maintain its independent existence within the Time Warner empire after the quasi-debacle of “The Golden Compass.” But New Line, while it’s got an admirable production and distribution history, has always been a studio (albeit a relatively small and eccentric one). Unless New Line gets reshaped into something totally different, it’s not a company likely to seek out the adventurous auteur-driven indies, foreign-language films and documentaries that WIP and Picturehouse favored. Based on today’s reports, it appears that New Line head Toby Emmerich is staying on while Berney and Cohen are unemployed.

Both Picturehouse and Warner Independent have various projects in the pipeline. Sergei Bodrov’s Oscar-nominated “Mongol” is slated for release next month by Picturehouse, which has the sci-fi comedy “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel” and Diane English’s update of George Cukor’s “The Women” listed for next year. WIP has Alan Ball’s “Towelhead” and Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” scheduled later this year, and a Steven Soderbergh thriller called “The Informant” in production. I imagine those movies will all be released, but exactly when or how or under what label remains to be seen. The bigger picture is clear: Time Warner has reached a top-level executive decision to back away from making or distributing adult-oriented, art-house films.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>