20 July 2006

Not Necessarily Newsworthy

A few strange—and by "strange" I mean "not from this reality"—news items over the last few days. (Note: Sporadic posting is going to continue for at least another few weeks.) In no particular order—

  • According to a remarkably ignorant item originally in the LA Times, Publishers Want Higher Billing in Book-Film Deals. I have but one question to ask: How are the publishers going to participate in book-film deals while they continue to exclude unagented submissions and no agent who is worth a damn will allow the publisher to participate in dramatic rights? Since the early 1980s, only a few types of book contracts have allowed the publisher to retain any share of dramatic rights: Those from certain rapacious presses who refuse to negotiate; those involving sharecropped material (e.g., Star Trek novels, series dreck like Sweet Valley High and Goosebumps, and derivatives from other media like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles); and those from unrepresented (unagented) authors. One would think that the LA Times reporter would at least try to ensure that his story is not the unintentional equivalent of the news from Middle Earth (MP3 file, authorized by the artist).
  • Describing a scheme startlingly evocative of one of the less-recognized masterworks of twentieth century American fiction (puns intended), there was a fascinating story of art forgery by a painter who made no pretenses about forgery in a weekend magazine.
  • The Perfesser discusses the relationship between just war and just warfare in an essay at TCS. From a military operations point of view, he didn't need to go into the arguable morass of moral imperatives, or even treaty compliance; sound military strategy also counsels proportional response and use of the minimum force necessary to ensure a successful military result. That's what one gets when putting the principles of "mass" and "economy of force" together in a world of limited forces and virtually unlimited possibilities for using them. In short, excessive and wasteful use of military force (as the Israeli attempts to respond to Hezbollah appear to be) isn't just immoral; it's incompetent.
  • Leaving aside his own dubious standards, A.O. Scott—a film critic at the NYT—tries to explain the discontinuity between film critic opinions and box-office success. Over at Madisonian, guest blogger Frank Pasquale tries to shoehorn Scott's blather into an invocation of networking effects. I think this mistaken for many of the same reasons as Scott's own explanation fails: context.

    Ultimately a film critic (or, for that matter, any other critic in the arts) is judging not just the immediate "worthiness" of a work, but its ultimate opportunity for influence on other "worthy" works; box office (and other sales) numbers, however, reflect judgment of the entire experiential context of the work. For example, as much as I love Hoop Dreams (and agree with Roger Ebert's and Gene Siskel's assessment of it as the best film of 1994 and one of the very best films of the 1990s, regardless of type), and as much as I think it would benefit from the "big screen experience," I won't go see it in a theater; at 170 minutes long, the theater experience wouldn't be pleasant for me. Mr Scott, there's an immense difference between seeing a film at an hour convenient to you, as part of your job, in a quiet theater surrounded mostly by other critics, and seeing a film after trekking to the multiplex, dealing with kids (both one's own and in the theater complex, or worse yet in the same theater!), scheduling around everything else… In short, you're off base because your filmgoing experience isn't comparable.

    To put it another way: I'm not going to go to someplace that serves desserts as good as Rose's if my choice of entrees is limited to greasy variations of McZorgle's Earthlingburgers (fortunately, it isn't at Rose's). The payoff of a huge slice of Death by Chocolate cake would not be enough to overcome the rest of the experience. Until both critics and theater management recognize that, critical acclaim and box office success aren't going to match very well. How else can one explain this monstrosity or the differences between the top ten on this list versus the top ten on this one (PDF)?