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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Do you feel like you need to reinvent yourself as a consumer of entertainment?

For the last six months or so, I realize as I look back, I’ve been in some sort of larval state as I try to figure out how I can make at least some of what I’ve been doing here since 1997 continue to work in an environment in which, we’re told, film criticism is dead, which is also an environment in which 10-year-old “critic” Perry Chen gets jetted around the country by studios who want him to cover their films. If this is the level of discourse, well, we can hardly call it discourse, no matter how smart that 10-year-old is.

But I can figure out what’s working here and what isn’t, and I can come up with new stuff that I think will work (there’s lots of advice available for we film critics who are done whining and are ready to get the nose back to the grindstone). So I’m pupating some of those ideas now, and taken a big leap in dropping some other work that was a distraction, and hoping that it all pays off in the not too distant future. You’ll start seeing some of these new things soon, but don’t worry: it’s nothing too radical.
As I think about reinventing myself on this end, however, I realize that I’ve also had to think about reinventing myself on the other end. As a consumer of movies and TV (and games and books and so on), I’m suddenly presented with all sorts of new options. If I want to watch a movie, I can go to a multiplex or rent/buy a physical DVD, like I’ve been doing for years. But now I can also stream a movie from Netflix to my TV or my laptop, download it from iTunes to watch on my computer or my iPod Touch, or watch it on demand on my TV via my cable box. (I can also download things in less legitimate ways, and plug the laptop into the TV to watch it!) I can buy a physical book, or I can download an ebook to my iPod Touch or (when it arrives from Amazon today!) my Kindle. And so on. It’s a dizzying array of choices, and I love that, but I’ve also just realized that because I haven’t really reorganized how I think about those options, I’m feeling a bit lost. Too much choice can be paralyzing.

So: Do you feel like you need to reinvent yourself as a consumer of entertainment? Or are you letting it all just wash over you?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Do you feel like you need to reinvent yourself as a consumer of entertainment? Or are you letting it all just wash over you?

    Neither, I guess? It’s hard to describe, but with all these new methods of delivery, plus the added ability to (hypothetically) get my grubby hands on nearly anything I want for free (not that I would), I kinda feel like I’ve surpassed being just a “consumer”. Now, I’m more like the Master of All the Entertainment I Survey. Everything’s at my fingertips, so to speak. Maybe I did have to “reinvent” myself, but I don’t remember doing it. Things have been changing since I downloaded my very first MP3 (“Don’t Fear the Reaper”), and it’s been 14 years since then, so I guess it’s all been kind of gradual.

    But inexorable!

    It actually strikes me as kind of odd when people aren’t quite with it. How do people not have the ability to do Netflix on their TVs? Why do you pay $120/mo for television when everything you could ever want to see is online and all you need is a laptop and a $3 s-video cable? It’s a weird sort of crossroads, I suppose, but it’s very difficult to understand how anyone has been left behind.

    Then again, my father pays for Satellite TV and Cable TV, because he wants all the available channels and my mother doesn’t want to learn new channel numbers!

    Anyway, you’re more saavy than you think, MaryAnn… if that’s even the question. I don’t believe the site needs to change very much. Don’t start video-blogging (that’s lame) or podcasting (who has the time to listen?). Just keep reviewing movies and tv shows, and don’t stop. She who persists, prevails.

  • Dokeo

    “I don’t want more choices, I just want nicer things!” — Eddie Monsoon, from AbFab

    With all the options, I actually watch fewer movies. Love Netflix to TV, but I’ve occaisonally spent so much time looking through available titles that I end up not having time to actually watch anything. Which is absurd.

    Add to that all the instantly-available information ABOUT movies and topic fatigue can set in. Once I read the review and comments here, look at the movie website, check out IMDB and read the article in Entertainment Weekly, I’m saturated. It’s got to look pretty spectacular to get me to want to spend more time with/on it.

    It’s easy to look at 10 available movies and pick the one you like best. It’s another thing entirely to try to select, out of thousands of options, the movie that calibrates perfectly to your own mood. Add to that a sweetie-pie who needs to agree, too, and poof! Head Explosion!

    So thanks for being a reliable filter. MAJ. Can’t wait to see the new stuff!

  • cuemchugh

    I’m 25 so its a bit weird to write this but I think all this technology and on-demand restricted content is creating a real problem. I never thought I’d miss Sam Goody.

    Back in 2005 I bought my music exclusively from iTunes and all was well until I was living in Ireland and my iPod died with no warning. I *COULD* have bought another iPod, and paid the VAT and all that nonsense while doing so, but I didn’t. The thing died a week after the warranty ended! I felt wronged by Apple and I didn’t see a point in rewarding them just because they locked my music up (I’ve since purchased a new iPod and paid to free my music so I guess Apple won in all kinds of ways). Come 2010 I already own a Kindle and I’m so tempted to buy a Roku so I can easily watch my Netflix streams and my Amazon Video-on-Demand purchases on my tv. However, Amazon has the same restrictions I ran into five years ago and I’m worried that I’ll stop buying real books and rely on my Kindle only for it to die on me when I need it most. Who’s to say that iTunes or Amazon will still be interested in selling movies in 10 years? If I had bought my music in 2005 from Walmart’s digital music store I’d have been doubly screwed at this point since they went out of business and took access to the music with them.

    I’m all for these new technologies and new methods of getting our entertainment but so much of this just seems like a trap. If I decide I like the iPad better I sure as hell don’t want to re-buy my Kindle books for it. I know Amazon makes an app so I guess we’ve got progress but all this just seems like a mistake that I can’t avoid making sometimes. Other times I just love me some MST3K streamed from Netflix on a rainy night.

    I’m still hoping the ‘Twitter and Facebook noise are a good enough critic’ thing dies down. Noise does not substance make. And that’s my rant.

  • mortadella

    Confession time…I hate upgrades and I like cable TV. I think people get caught up in the techie aspect of everything to the point where the actual film, music or whatever is besides the point. I think it sucks that kids don’t listen to albums anymore….the artist picks the order the songs come in and the sleeve art is cool.
    I like books…I like holding them in my hands and dog-earing the pages at my convenience. I think we’re suckers ’cause they reinvent the method in which we listen to or watch our favorite stuff constantly, then hold it hostage until we fork up the cash to by a new system, drive, membership or whatever they happen to be selling this week. I’m no luddite, but Jesus, can’t they slow it down just a little?

  • LaSargenta

    I take umbrage at having to call myself a “consumer” like it is an identity. I’m a person, a citizen and, because one does if one is alive, I do consume stuff — air, food, bed linens, books, movies, whathaveyou — but, I am not a Consumer. (And, yes, I noticed that MAJ did not capitalize the word up there. It capitalized itself in my brain.)

    So, no, I have no intention of reinventing myself as a consumer. I actually still buy music on CDs and vinyl(some bands are putting out vinyl, there’s a fad for it at the moment). If I have access to something only as an MP3, then I listen to it on a computer. But, there is so much different technology that I cannot be bothered to stay on top of it. I see no benefit to being an early adopter.

    If I want to hear or see something, I try to. If I don’t have access to it because of the technology interface needed, then, well, honestly, there’s always going to be someplace I never went, someone I never met, something I never did…

    and that’s okay.

  • misterb

    MaryAnn,
    I’m still reading you after all these years (and format changes) because you think about things like this rather than follow the crowd like a sheep.
    McLuhan would say review the medium as well as the content (and I know what happens when you paraphrase McLuhan)
    The content industry hopes that I’m not the prototypical new consumer because I’m not ashamed to be cheap. Tell me how to watch or listen to the same thing for less and I’ll do it (trying to stay on the right side of the law)

  • Reinvent myself as a consumer? Well, I did run out of shelf space, and I know I’ll be moving in a year or two, so I’ve decided to use the library more instead of the bookstore.

    I’m waiting for the dust to settle before I decide how to buy movies.

  • CB

    I’m 25 so its a bit weird to write this but I think all this technology and on-demand restricted content is creating a real problem. I never thought I’d miss Sam Goody.

    Don’t feel too weird. Geeks of all ages have been predicting the downsides you mention, especially the “you need to contact the retailer to be allowed to use your legally purchased content, but they no longer exist or support the DRM” variety.

    At least iTunes has mostly dropped the DRM (I think, not an itunes user, but I have heard that most songs off itunes are no longer encrypted). But for a variety of sources this isn’t the case.

    In a hilariously and depressingly ironic case, Amazon revoked people’s copies of 1984 from their Kindles. Yeah nothing Orwellian about that!

    I take umbrage at having to call myself a “consumer” like it is an identity. I’m a person, a citizen and, because one does if one is alive, I do consume stuff — air, food, bed linens, books, movies, whathaveyou — but, I am not a Consumer. (And, yes, I noticed that MAJ did not capitalize the word up there. It capitalized itself in my brain.)

    Mmm, yes, this is a common sentiment. In fact, our market research shows a 13% increase in positive response and a 15% increase in message uptake among consumers when they are referred to as “people” or “citizens”.

    ^_-

  • I see no benefit to being an early adopter.

    Neither did my parents. You’re in good company.

    Too many people I know are either unemployed, underemployed or living on a fixed income right now so I guess the chances of me becoming an early adopter are between slim and none–and slim just left town. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

    Seriously, it’s a bit ridiculous for me to think of buying more gadgets, movies, music, whatever, at this time when most of my friends are having to make do with either redbox, library rentals or watching stuff they already own for the umpteenth time.

    Fortunately, I was always a bit of a cheapskate. It must be hereditary.;-)

  • Boingo

    Years back (10-15?), I opted to hop into the movie
    theater rather than wait an hour or more in traffic
    on my way home. Result: I saw umpteen movies.
    I’m still a movie lover, but given the cost of rising
    prices,and more so,an increase in movie disappointment,
    i.e.,trailers are sometimes all the best parts(zats it?),I fell into a new love with good ol’ books.
    I swear, reading”Girl With The Dragon Tatoo,” was
    like eating a fine dinner vs. the McDonalds ala
    Hollywood.In a sense, I did reinvent myself to be
    more resistant to too much hype. That’s why I
    read your site.

  • RogerBW

    I don’t buy anything with DRM that hasn’t been thoroughly cracked.

    At this point I don’t remember the last time I went to a cinema. I think it may have been the second Lord of the Rings film.

    I consider myself a bit like LaSargenta in that consuming non-interactive media is only a small part of what I do. On the other hand, I have heavily optimised the way I do it: all my CDs/MP3s/etc. are on one big file server, so it takes only a few seconds to be listening to any bit of music I own. (Yes, that’s playing through computers, but there’s another computer hooked up to the hi-fi stack.) If I want music in the car, I have a program to copy from the same music store onto a USB stick. Same idea with films and TV: DVDs are ripped onto another server, and if I want a big-screen experience I play them through the PC that’s attached to a projector.

    (I don’t do consumer electronics like plasma TVs or stand-alone DVD players – too expensive and too restricted in what they can do. The current “early adopters” are mostly people who’ve been sold on the image rather than genuine hackers in the old sense, people who like pushing the limits of what tech can do.)

    All this means that there’s close to zero delay when I want to listen to or watch something; I never have to look through racks of DVDs or CDs (they’re all in the attic), and I never have to suffer through compulsory trailers or advertisements on a DVD. I would like to think that this convenience is the way things will end up, but it’s getting harder to find systems that allow it…

  • Lisa

    I like choice but I pick and choose what suits (within my budget). So I am not an early adopter either. Why bother when a better version of the tech will be availiable in a couple of months?

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