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I do sometimes think they should take away a critics pass at about age 45, Norton, 41, says today. I kind of think theyve seen too many movies, and when theyre writing about movies, I see them interacting with their own erudition.
Norton is, as youd expect, an intense presence in a room, but for most of our conversation he has been subdued, speaking calmly between sips of tea. He becomes much more animated when the topic turns to film criticism, and the state of entertainment journalisma phrase he enunciates slowly, mockingly. He suspects that the entertainment medias process of instant and knee-jerk evaluation gets in the way of the audiences organic interaction with art.
I dont think Guernica is, like, intended to be an easy picture to look at, he says. A lot of what you come to understand about that painting is in fact the inheritance of a couple of decades of people thinking about it. Ive been through this experience a few times, where you begin to realize a deep conversation takes time to evolve between a thing and people. When you experience that, its very freeing because you realize, what gets said 10 minutes after [a movie] comes out is not that relevant.
So why does Norton do press at all? For certain films, he has put forth a minimum of effortat the peak of Hulks promotional tour, he took off for a charity trip to Africa. But he says hes ready and willing to promote the movies that need his star power to reach an audience. I dont want the very few people that are brave enough to put up the money to make a film like Stonewhich is very, very few peopleto get stung by the experience when they reach out to you and say, Will you help us support the film in a way that attracts more people to go out and see it? I think you gotta kind of ante up on some level.
Norton went all in for Leaves of Grass, which finally opened in limited release last month after distributor First Look yanked its release just days before its initial scheduled opening in April. At the time, Norton says, First Look, frustrated at not getting any higher offers for the film they financed, had booked a token two theatersuntil Norton and director Tim Blake Nelson intervened. Tim and I were pretty much begging them, like, Would you give us some time to try to find a different situation? They did, very nicely, and we took it to a couple more festivals and it played really well at the festivals, so thats how we persuaded them to go a little bit wider with it now.
Its tough, its just a tough moment to be selling, Norton says. Over the past decade and a half, he has watched the film industry evolve in a number of meaningful ways, particularly the collapse of financing and distribution models for mid-range movies. But when it comes to the end of the studio indie-arm era, he sees an upside.
Its never bad for people to have to fight to get their films made. I think inevitably something will come thats authentically a revolution. Some really well-known filmmaker is going to make a film and theyre going to put it out like Radiohead did with their record and theyre going to say, Hey, what do you think its worth? [Youll] download it in HD and watch it on your big screen at home and theres not going to be any studio in the mixand thats when I think [the studios are] going to start trembling, because this whole notion that theyve got some special sauce in the distribution, that theyre essential to reach people, its going to start to evaporate. At that point, if youre a filmmaker, then you cant really say, The studios keeping me down. Youve got no one to blame but yourself.
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