A lot of noise has come from me lately about “entertainment” and the internet. How very soon the concept of television and movies and visual media as we know it today is blending, merging and often colliding with technology and the internet.
Now – Roger Ebert, movie critic and famed television mediary from “At the Movies” has had a on-again-off-again love hate thing going with the internet. Wasn’t so long ago he blasted it as being a part of all that was wrong with the future of visual entertainment. As a critic he was, well, very critical of emerging media and technology.
Now, in true critic form – he’s saying that a recent Youtube video, should be … considered for an Oscar nomination for a short film.
Here’s the film he’s talking about…
Now, this isn’t the first time Ebert’s eaten his own words – in fact he seems to use the critic’s prerogative to do so to bring the term “retcon” to entirely new levels, and he gets away with it because of one reason… He’s not afraid to go back and see something he’s missed and point it out. If anything – he’s a more thorough critic than most because when he sees something out of place in his own view, he tears away at it until he exposes what it was he missed before, often seeing it in a new way and sharing that with us all.
This is why Ebert’s who he is – a respected critic, as opposed to a fanboy with a highly hyped blog. And yes – I am reffering to sites like Ain’t It Cool and similar copies of it. Let me just rant for a moment before I get hate mail that this comment is not meant as offense to Harry or the guys at AICN. AICN’s awesome but it serves a totally different purpose than that of a traditional critical review site, or a traditional critical reviewer. AICN and the like – begin by being fans of a material so there’s an instant bias there… and all reviews are begun at that set point of origin. Ebert, and others are film critics. They hate it all equally and only the best rise to their standards is the idea. (Are they biased as well – yes, of course they are… it’s just their bias is personal and begins without a boundary, AICN is personal and has boundaries. Love you man – but it’s the truth.)
Now… getting back to Ebert and why he’s seeing something others are missing here.
Ebert’s gone and spoken directly to the elephant in the entertainment room, the one everyone knows is there but is too polite to speak out loud about and called it by name and pointed at it directly. Not with derision, but with understanding and affection.
The fact is entertainment, and quality can come from anywhere. For years – if you wanted to be considered for an Oscar, you needed to be connected with a studio. Then the independent film makers broke that mold. Of course – this didn’t end the clique like nature of film making. Where once there were Oscars and Cannes – we now have Sundance and a pleathora of other festivals and awards, all equally imbued with “standards”.
Joe Schmoe, the average guy with a camera… has never been able to really be a contender for the kind of prestigious awards out there without working through one of the various film communities (Studio, Independent, “Avant Garde”, and so on – it’s as bad as high school). Why? Because until now, a respected critic would never give a Youtube video a recommendation. I mean – c’mon Youtube? Really! That’s like nuts. That’s like saying Avatar and “LOL I can haz Cheezburger?” are on the same level… c’mon man!!
And the truth is … they are. Avatar took 10 years, a couple THOUSAND people over 200 million dollars , and the heart and soul (possibly literally – we’re not ruling out a Faust kinda deal here) of James Cameron. LOL I kan haz cheezburger took probably 10 hours, cost maybe $5 for the sodas and chips consumed while sorting through the pictures – and is a tribute to a beloved pet, from the heart of the film maker.
Which would I rather watch? Avatar of course. Which really pushed the envelopes? Avatar. But does that mean they shouldn’t be judged fairly and equally? What allows Avatar to be judged is that it can be considered. I kan haz cheezburger – can, and never will be even allowed to be considered. It doesn’t meet the “qualifications”. No film on Youtube does. And no film on Youtube has ever been suggested to be included in that group, even though there are many many of them that – frankly are as good or better than 90% of the short film nominees we see every year.
But because the media is considered a “home movie” type of entertainment. Essentially something of scoff and ridicule – if you’re just Joe Schmoe and you make an Oscar winning level of film… you’ll never be considered. At least … not until now. We’ve all known that the quality was out there. Quality and creativity – can come from anyone. They don’t require a big budget, or to be honest expensive equipment.
And everyone from Steven Spielberg to Andrew Kramer (<it’s hidden at 10:51, and yes this is another one of my unabashed plugs) began with backyard home movies, and worked their way up to their craft. There are no studios, no distributors, no independent, avant garde or “nouveau trending-popular-stylist-visionary-of the month”, film school or other community or clique who make something “entertaining” or good. It’s just a common person with a camera, an idea and some time and the drive – to make something great. Are the pickings for such things on the internet slim? You bet. Very slim. A lot of sand and not much water. But you do – from time to time – find a diamond amid the muddy works of I can haz cheezburger cats and the skateboarding dogs.
This is what Ebert saw, and the rest of us missed. A good story – regardless of where it comes from, when well shot, and well crafted, and well articulated – deserves and Oscar if it’s that good. And by pointing to Youtube – he’s effectively said ANYONE, anywhere, can be, and are in fact that good. That we need to ignore the media source, and look at the media itself. This moves Youtube into a new light because it’s not just a “home movie” – “3 min internet LOLCats” media. It can be anything, and it’s saying it’s good enough for people to use as a method of viewing Oscar level media. He didn’t have to say this outright. It is implied by the very fact Ebert has said that a Youtube video should be considered.
Reviews of his statement have already caused a stir in the industry.
As I mentioned earlier this year… there are tectonic changes coming to how we perceive media. This will not come in huge jarring shifts like an earthquake but in a number of small tremors and rumblings that slide us into the future, sometimes without us even knowing it’s happened. This is one of those tremors.