To the NYT

The New York Times has an outstanding tradition of reviewing all of the films that play in a theater here, and a deserved reputation of quality criticism. Yet an increasing number of quality films are not getting the attention they deserve simply because there is no place for them in the Times’ current format.

A film gets a release in New York because a distributor chooses to release a film in New York. The fact is that many distributors choose to release their films here simply because they get the review in the New York Times. It has nothing to do with the quality of the film. It has to do with the quality of the review. If it plays in a theater, it will be reviewed by the New York Times. A distributor can take a good review from the NYT to the bank, but even a bad review means that it garnered the attention of the most wide-read and well regarded paper in the country. If it can make it there, it can make it anywhere. It is a de facto seal of approval.

New Yorkers have a wide variety of films that they can choose to see in a theater, foreign films and domestic, independent and films from Hollywood. But New Yorkers live in a rarefied world. The rest of America hasn’t had any options beyond the multiplex for years. The cinemas that used to offer an alternative to Hollywood are gone. If someone in Peoria, or even in Cincinatti, wants to see a film that wasn’t made in Hollywood, they get it on DVD. People – New Yorkers too – increasingly watch their movies on large, widescreen TV’s with theatrical sound.

But while the audience has changed its viewing habits, the New York Times seems stuck in its old ways. If a film didn’t get a release in the theater in New York, and instead went straight to video, it will not be mentioned in the New York Times.

Straight-to-video is a term that got a bad reputation in the 80’s. They were the B movies of their day. This stigma remains today. But times have changed. For most people, the stigma of straight-to-video evaporated a long time ago because all of the films they see are straight-to-video. They simply have no other options.

I suggest that the NYT adds a DVD Review section, in the tradition of its Book Review, and in a similar style. This could be a monthly addition to its Sunday Edition, depending on the quantity and quality of the films that the editors would choose to review. I can’t imagine that advertisers wouldn’t cough up the change to pay for it. Like the Book Review, inclusion in the DVD Review would mean that, even if the film was not very good, there was something notable about it, something that deemed it worthy of discussion. Like the Book Review, the decision to include a film would be the decision of the editors, not the decision of the people selling the film.

This would have a major impact on the quality of films being distributed in this country today. There is a perception in this country, perpetuated by Hollywood, that films are measured by their budgets and their box office. In this scenario, it is the “small” films that get lost, while the “big” films dominate. The irony is that the “small” films are the films with the big ideas while the “big” films rarely have any ideas at all. These “small” films would have a much better chance of being seen, and getting made, if a paper with the integrity and influence of the New York Times found a way to include them in their critiques. Imagine if these films were measured by the quality of their ideas and not by the size of their marketing budgets. If they were, maybe they wouldn’t be called “small” films anymore.

Anyone agree with this?  It couldn’t hurt, could it?


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