I was listening to French director Bertrand Tavernier on Radio 4 the other day talking about his new film In the Electric Mist starring Tommy Lee Jones. He was describing how when he showed his final cut to his American distributors they went absolutely mad and insisted that the story was unclear, it would never work, etc, etc. They asked him to change so much that in the end it was decided that he print his final cut for territory outside America – American distributors could use his source material and make their own final cut for their market. So now as far as I understand, there are two completely different cuts. He was describing how the Americans were using very old fashioned methods of ‘car driving up to office’ as establishing shot, just to make sure everyone understood exactly that we were at the office location before cutting to office interior – and many other examples. Interestingly, he said that in feedback from both cuts, audiences understood his nuanced, unexplained, more subtle version and were confused by the unneccessary sign posting that was a feature of the American cut.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately – how emphasis is often being put on the wrong thing to judge the success (which often means quality) of a work. I feel we are moving towards a culture where assessment of quality is being judged by audience figures and their vocal appreciation of the work – as if the criteria for excellence is if a large number of people turn up in the first place and then applaud the work. So very often a selected few with a very particular taste are often an excellent judge of quality, but I see the value in particular sensibilities that respond to work that is often complicated and nuanced beginning to disappear.
I remember hearing filmmaker Asif Kapadia (The Warrior) once say that he figured that if he liked a particular type of film there must be others out there who also liked the same thing – so he only ever made films that he wanted to go and sit in a cinema to see himself. One now needs great confidence to defend an idea that may not at first glance suggest mass appeal. I fear for the next generation of artists looking around them and seeing numbers before nuance being rewarded.