By tacit agreement, the major studios tend not to open any big movies on the Oscar telecast weekend. (Here are the weekend offerings , actually>"/>
By tacit agreement, the major studios tend not to open any big movies on the Oscar telecast weekend. (Here are the weekend offerings, actually quite good.) They don't want to compete with what is, essentially, a three-hour unpaid commercial for their wares, though ratings for the show have been declining for years. People have other things to do at home than watch TV; and for that same reason, both Hollywood and the networks are hurting. Everyone's surfing the Web, updating their Facebook pages, downloading porn, or, in some cases, watching new movies that aren't in theaters, aren't yet on DVD.
One such example is the found-footage indie Must Read After My Death, which has played limited dates in New York, L.A., and Chicago (where Roger Ebert said, "I watched this film horrified and fascinated!"). I've seen it, and I agree. It's like the secret therapy tapes from Revolutionary Road. How can you see it? Keep reading...
Must Read is being released today by Gigantic Digital. Through the company's Web site, you can download the film for a three-day window for only $2.99, which is less than your average rental at Scarecrow, and competitive with the dusty older releases at Blockbuster.
Now it should be noted that that latter company, along with ever-popular Netflix, is already in the digital movie download market. (So is Amazon, for that matter.) But every purveyor of digital content is essentially looking for a niche, seeking to strike bargains with studios and TV show creators. This is why you can't always find that one obscure favorite movie or television program at this site or that site, or on one premium paid cable channel versus another. Streaming is still hit or miss, yet more and more companies are putting a toe in that stream.
Gigantic is apparently building its business model on pure art-house movies. Must Read, directed by Morgan Dews, is an intimate, often painful documentary about his grandparents. It's constructed entirely out of home movies, snapshots, and audio tapes. The latter were used as a form of long-distance communication (or, depending on how you view it, emotional evasion) between a married couple we know as Charley and Allis--no last names are given--during the 1950s and '60s. With four kids in Stamford, Connecticut, this is very much the family milieu of Richard Yates and Revolutionary Road. Both spouses feel like their marriage was maybe a mistake; they feel overwhelmed by their kids (yet love them); everyone drinks and smokes too much; psychiatry is ridiculously in vogue; and infidelity, while acknowledged, isn't necessarily grounds for ending an outwardly stable marriage. It's the ice storm before The Ice Storm. If this sounds a lot like the recent documentary 51 Birch Street, it is. Only Dews is entirely absent from the film. There is no narrator, and only a few explanatory titles. He only discovered the trove of candid movies and tapes after his grandmother Allis' death; grandfather Charley was basically unknown to him.
The film, at only 75 minutes, is so close and intimate, almost claustrophobic, that it feels a little long. It's essentially a feat of editing and selection--which wrenching audio confessions to place over which benign home movie scenes. But it doesn't feel unfair to either party. And it's ultimately less depressing than it sounds, less of an indictment of suburban family life. (To put it differently: Dews is no Yates.) Yet for those reasons, it's well suited to home viewing. You want to pause occasionally, go make dinner, get a glass of wine, take a break from this unhappy family.
At present, I can only find two other titles on the Gigantic site, The Doorman and Year of the Fish. But the company is headed by a longtime indie film maven, Mark Lipsky. In an email, he said this to me:
"There is fear of a flood of films suddenly appearing online and how can any publication cover them all with space shrinking and layoffs looming. Very simply, there is a finite number of bonafide film distribution companies and therefore a finite number of films that we release. The volume of films then, is not increasing at all. The only difference is the inevitably evolving method of distribution. Exactly along the lines of the media's own evolutionary embrace of the internet and broadband. We're fellow travelers along the very same road."
He's got a point: Traditional movie exhibition venues are a flat-to-shrinking business. And newspapers are certainly shrinking--or moving more content, film reviews included, online.
Lastly, here's a short review of the film by SW contributing writer Ella Taylor:
Who owns this devastating documentary portrait of domestic misery in early-1960s suburban America? Charley, the angry, tidiness-obsessed father whose careless updates about his multiple infidelities to his wife, Allis, sound less like confessions than salt rubbed carefully into the wounds of her alleged insufficiencies? Allis, who is heard confiding her escalating unhappiness into a crackly Dictaphone originally purchased to narrow the gulf between her and the husband whose work took him away from home for long stretches? The shrink, who bullied and tranquilized her into taking the blame for her husband's peccadilloes and her children's difficulties? Or the couple's grandson, filmmaker Morgan Dews, who juxtaposes Allis's high, querulous, and increasingly desperate recorded voice with the pitifully banal home movies that show Charley, an unlikely Lothario in specs and a bald pate, posing or roughhousing with the grinning kids we know to be sliding into depression and dysfunction? An artful arranger of evidence, Dews tacitly shifts the balance of domestic power to his grandmother. Honoring both her shocking vulnerability and the rebellious spirit that her domineering spouse never fully quashed, Dews helps Allis hold out a gendered posthumous snapshot of an era whose smug surface, barely masking oceans of suffering, makes Revolutionary Road look like a tea party. (75 minutes, not rated) ELLA TAYLOR