talking movies

Why Cannes is right: Netflix’s made-for-TV movies just aren’t the same as cinematic releases

The French festival had ruled this year that the streaming giant’s films could not be screened as part of the competition section.

Netflix is the future, Cannes is “stuck in the history of cinema”, according to Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. He was responding to the Cannes film festival ruling that movies without a cinematic release could not compete, effectively banning Netflix films.

Cannes previously allowed Netflix in 2017. Though there are undoubtedly subtle economic motives behind the ban, the debate between Netflix and the festival has been waged along aesthetic lines, and in this, Cannes’ position – as a film, and not television, festival – is perfectly justified.

Netflix original films, alongside the made-for-cinema films that Netflix distributes, are made to be seen on the television (or the current analogue of the television, the computer screen). As telemovies, they are aesthetically different from made for the cinema movies. This is not to suggest that telemovies are worse – they are just incomparable (which would make judging the festival a nightmare).

For example, something that is made for a TV-sized screen can afford to include a great deal more movement of both the camera and subject, a style virtually synonymous with made-for-TV productions like music videos. Although this style has had an influence on cinematic aesthetics in the late 20th and 21st centuries, it is still far less prominent in large-screen than small-screen productions. It thus makes perfect sense that made-for-Netflix movies would not be included in Cannes.

At the same time, Netflix, as a television production company, follows a radically different production model from the film production company. The mere fact that Netflix, for example, has a “chief content officer” says it all.

While cinema has always occupied a precarious position between art and entertainment – one of the fascinating things about it, as the French philosopher Alain Badiou argues in Cinema – television has always been firmly located on the entertainment end of the spectrum.

Its primary function was historically to stream ads into the viewer’s private domestic space, interrupted from time to time by the thing that TV programmers call “content.” Even though “narrowcasters” target a more specific audience through subscription and therefore don’t need to run ads, services like Netflix still emerged from television and televisual aesthetics, with the “content” produced to be seen via television screen.

Play
Okja.

The death of cinema?

Netflix does pose a major threat to other, more expensive and less convenient subscription services such as Foxtel. As a source of individual entertainment, Netflix (like home video) offers stimulation on demand. It’s cheap, easy, you can watch when you want, and there are no ads.

Sarandos is likely simply trying to spin his company’s way out of their embarrassment at being rejected by the prestigious festival. But his comments are no cause for alarm for the cinéphile. There’s not really any indication that people will stop going to the movies, that this is a thing of the past, or that Netflix poses any major threat to cinema. While in the US movie tickets sold have declined slightly over time (not including 2018), box office takings are still growing strongly. Moreover, US cinema ticket sales still dwarf global Netflix subscriptions.

The “death” of cinema has been prophesied four times since the onset of commercial cinema in the early-20th century. Three of these have proved toothless. Television, popularised in the 1950s, was the source of the first major panic, followed by home video in the 1980s and Internet streaming in the 2000s. The fourth, the video game, has replaced movies as the dominant audio-visual medium, but involves sufficiently different practices to pose no real long-term threat to the viability of cinema.

Commercial cinema (with Hollywood at the forefront) has responded to these threats by proferring (and advertising) new technologies and gimmicks (for example, surround sound and IMAX). At the same, films have tended towards bigger-budget, more diffuse and immersive spectacles best seen on the big screen.

It is no surprise that the popular periods of perhaps Hollywood’s most enduring gimmick, 3D, have coincided with the rise of television, home video, and Internet streaming. Similarly, the “family film”, popularised in the 1970s and 1980s – the Indiana Jones franchise and films like ET, for example – is unimaginable divorced from the context of the twin threats of television and home video.

At the same time, studios have opted for stories with broader appeal, that are definitely more anodyne in flavour than the cinema of years past. Gone, for example, is the violent studio B-movie, even as independent production companies have sprung up, replacing this gap with straight-to-video (or, now, Internet) films. The result is a polarised commercial cinema, with massive crowd-pleasers on the one side, and extremely minor, low-budget films on the other, firmly targeting the audience of a particular genre – such as horror.

Cinema’s survival comes down to the simple fact that people continue to delight in the participatory nature of collective events. Commercial cinema emerged from popular theatre as a form of mass entertainment. People have been enjoying collective entertainment for thousands of years, and cinema belongs to this continuum. As Antonin Artaud discussed in The Theatre of Cruelty , theatre – cinema’s foremost antecedent – emerges from religious ritual and the practices of magic dating back to human culture’s earliest years.

There seems to be something anthropologically appealing about watching spectacles in large groups; possibly, as French cultural theorist René Girard argues in works like Violence and the Sacred and The Scapegoat, all culture emerged out of collective ritual spectacles. The experience of cinema is more like a rock concert, or going to church, than watching television.

I would, in fact, suggest that as streaming services increase in popularity, and televisual content becomes more individualised, people will increasingly crave the collective big screen experience. If, however, Sarandos’ claim that the future is Netflix proves to be true then things are far stranger, in the 21st Century, than they seem.

Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Media Studies, University of Notre Dame Australia.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Can a colour encourage creativity and innovation?

The story behind the universally favoured colour - blue.

It was sought after by many artists. It was searched for in the skies and deep oceans. It was the colour blue. Found rarely as a pigment in nature, it was once more precious than gold. It was only after the discovery of a semi-precious rock, lapis lazuli, that Egyptians could extract this rare pigment.

For centuries, lapis lazuli was the only source of Ultramarine, a colour whose name translated to ‘beyond the sea’. The challenges associated with importing the stone made it exclusive to the Egyptian kingdom. The colour became commonly available only after the invention of a synthetic alternative known as ‘French Ultramarine’.

It’s no surprise that this rare colour that inspired artists in the 1900s, is still regarded as the as the colour of innovation in the 21st century. The story of discovery and creation of blue symbolizes attaining the unattainable.

It took scientists decades of trying to create the elusive ‘Blue Rose’. And the fascination with blue didn’t end there. When Sir John Herschel, the famous scientist and astronomer, tried to create copies of his notes; he discovered ‘Cyanotype’ or ‘Blueprints’, an invention that revolutionized architecture. The story of how a rugged, indigo fabric called ‘Denim’ became the choice for workmen in newly formed America and then a fashion sensation, is known to all. In each of these instances of breakthrough and innovation, the colour blue has had a significant influence.

In 2009, the University of British Columbia, conducted tests with 600 participants to see how cognitive performance varies when people see red or blue. While the red groups did better on recall and attention to detail, blue groups did better on tests requiring invention and imagination. The study proved that the colour blue boosts our ability to think creatively; reaffirming the notion that blue is the colour of innovation.

When we talk about innovation and exclusivity, the brand that takes us by surprise is NEXA. Since its inception, the brand has left no stone unturned to create excusive experiences for its audience. In the search for a colour that represents its spirit of innovation and communicates its determination to constantly evolve, NEXA created its own signature blue: NEXA Blue. The creation of a signature color was an endeavor to bring something exclusive and innovative to NEXA customers. This is the story of the creation, inspiration and passion behind NEXA:

Play

To know more about NEXA, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of NEXA and not by the Scroll editorial team.