The New Yorker has been on a roll lately. Only a couple of weeks after Anthony Lane's fascinating, where-did-this-come-from essay, in which he laid out an argument for the reassessment of Walt Disney's importance to film history, the other critic at the House of Kael, David Denby, has delivered a multi-faceted 8,300 word piece that sums up the state of the film industry at the start of 2007. The essay is a Candide-like stroll through a landscape both in decline and on the cusp of possible renewal, beginning with a caustic slap at the video iPod, with its pretensions of delivering cinema in the palm of your hand, and then delving into a treatise on the big subject of distribution, and how studios will manage (or mismanage) it going forward. Denby slaps away the "content when you want it, where you want it, how you want it" blather that studio chiefs are now trumpeting with the salient point that young people who watch Citizen Kane on a tiny screen are getting a bad experience "even if they never know it."
He points out that nothing can bridge the disconnect between sound and picture when you're watching a film on a hand-held device and listening to it on head-phones. "In Brokeback Mountain, as a storm breaks, the lightning flashed on-screen, but the thunder roared in my head." For a counterpoint, Denby also evaluates the ultimate in home theater entertainment -- a $200,000 set-up with strategically positioned speakers and the very best HD DVD available -- and acknowledges the awesomeness of the experience. He generously concedes that there are wonders that only digital can do, but also explores what it lacks and what it can't recreate, like the rich, painterly bleed of color and shadow that exists in a film like Taxi Driver. His complaint that human flesh looks synthetic in digital film is answered by a digital technician: "You want pores, we'll give you pores." Denby concludes that, like it or not, digital will create a "radical break with the many ways of watching movies that have given us pleasure in the past."