A Staggering Statistic [Chicago Reader blog post, 6/28/07]

Film A Staggering Statistic

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 05:42 PM

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Check out the June 26 post on Dave Kehr’s blog for an important piece of news and a staggering statistic.

The important piece of news is the launch of the Turner Classic Movies database, TCMDB, a potential alternative to the often less-than-reliable Internet Movie Database. (Sitting on a panel in Austin with Monte Hellman several years ago, I heard him recount writing to the IMDB to inform them that some of his film credits on the site were incorrect, only to be informed by them that because he wasn’t a qualified film scholar they couldn’t make the required corrections.)

As Dave points out, the TCMDB “has as its core the unsurpassable AFI Catalog of American Feature Films, previously accessible only with a $50 AFI membership (or through certain libraries). For those who don’t know it, the AFI Catalog is a towering work of scholarship that covers the period 1893 to 1971 in exquisite detail, with full credits, reliable plot summaries and significant side notes.” I can only concur with Dave. Indeed, there are times when I think that the only two irrefutably towering achievements of the American Film Institute are David Lynch’s Eraserhead, produced on its west-coast premises, and this reference work.

The staggering statistic, gleaned from TCMDB’s home page, is this: “Of the 144,366 titles listed in the database, only 5,257 are available on home video. That’s 3.64 percent.”

To attempt to contextualize the meaning of this, consider Sturgeon’s Law, credited to the great science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, that “90 percent of everything is crud.” If this applies to movies, and it surely does, then that leaves us 6.36 percent of unavailable movies that aren’t crud. So we still have a ways to go.

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Comments (11)

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Hi Jonathan, Did you have anything to do with the omission of The Third Man from the AFI’s most recent list of the “100 Greatest American Movies” list? I know that 10 years ago when they released their last list of the 100 Greatest… you wrote about the fact that The Third Man was included as a classic bit of American isolationism that the AFI could consider that an “American” movie. Just wondering if you had anything to do with them leaving it off this time.

Posted by Matt on 06/29/2007 at 6:46 AM

I have no way of knowing. They didn’t even send me a press release about their latest list, so I certainly have no special access to their thoughts or machinations,

Posted by Jonathan R. on 06/29/2007 at 8:49 AM

Oh well, it’s quite odd that a film that originally placed so high on their list would disappear from their next one. I’m guessing your writing about it probably forced them to acknowledge how inaccurate it was to call the Thid Man an American film.

Posted by Matt on 06/29/2007 at 10:02 AM

Dear Jonathan, Can I use some of the quotes from your book “Movie Wars” for the festival we are organising here in London. Just to give you some backround… I have made a movie that it seems none of the press critics liked (many links under “in the name of” beata hughes). In fact reading some of the reviews I doubt if they have understood it. However, some people (specially women) liked the movie to the point of organising private screenings and discussing issues raised. In addition I was asked to organise an independent film festival in the spirit “in the name of” promoting work that is ambitious but cannot find its distribution. Apart from several articles of yours, I am a big fan of “Movie Wars” and I’d like to put some of the sentences on the website advertising the Festival. Please let me know if this is acceptable or if you would like to have more information, kind regards, B.

Posted by beata hughes on 06/29/2007 at 11:50 AM

While the IMDB certainly has its share of mistakes, I’m not convinced that TCMDB is any better, particularly for films that are not coming from the AFI database. (In fact, I’ve never had any problem correcting the IMDB, which I’ve done many times, mostly for my own credits and films I’ve worked on.) For one example, it doesn’t include many short films – “La Jetee” is not included, nor are the early shorts of Godard or Kubrick (the Kubrick shorts even aired on TCM earlier this year). For another, the database seems to be fairly USA-centric – most films are listed under their English titles and the years given are (I think) based on their US premiere dates. In Godard’s listing, the TCMDB has “A Woman is a Woman” listed as a film from 1964, “Le petit soldat” as 1967, and “Two or Three Things…” as 1970. Also, not to get too nit-picky, but in your last paragraph you seem to be assuming that no cruddy movie has ever been released on home video (which actually gives a figure of 6.59% non-cruddy unreleased movies). If we assume that crud is equally represented on home video as it is in movies as a whole, there are actually 10% of unreleased movies that are not crud. (I also suspect that they haven’t included non-Region 1 DVDs in their numbers.)
Posted by Jonah V. on 06/29/2007 at 12:36 PM

Thanks, Jonah V. Several good points.
Posted by Jonathan R. on 06/29/2007 at 2:35 PM

JR – This is actually about yr Global Discoveries column (can’t locate an email address for you anywhere), which contains two important typos: “yesaia.com” for “yesasia.com” & “Saxia Haoren” for “Sanxia Haoren.” Don’t know whether you or yr editor is responsible, but it sure made my ordering “Still Life” harder than it should have been. Thanks for the heads-up though! Great to know I’ll soon get to see Jia’s new film.

Posted by MR on 07/01/2007 at 7:45 PM

Whoops, one more thing: if you enter “Sanxia” at yesasia.com, you end up with no fewer than 3 DVD editions of “Still Life” – the two you mention, plus a “Hong Kong version.” Any idea what that’s about?

Posted by MR on 07/01/2007 at 7:50 PM

To MR’s 2nd post: No. To his 1st: Thanks for pointing out these typos. I don’t know if anything can be done about this or not, but I’ll direct your points to Andrew Tracy, the managing editor, in the event that these mistakes (whether they’re mine or someone else’s) are correctable.
Posted by Jonathan R. on 07/01/2007 at 10:06 PM

Regarding updating erroneous information, or adding new information, to the IMDB site — The interface is a nightmare. This is why the errors stay errors for a very long time: IMDB has been built specifically to frustrate emendation, what with the number of hoops that need to be leapt through for the sake of making a simple single change. As it stands, the process requires extravagant patience and a hell-bent determination. Note that only a few months ago IMDB “retooled” its “look” — and opted not to adopt the obvious interface method which could facilitate easier correction and addition: wiki. craig.
Posted by craig keller on 07/02/2007 at 2:39 PM

Wikipedia is growing at an astonishing rate, and though still only a rather small reference for films compared to IMDb, it could eventually grow to something substantial. As Craig implies above, wiki is the way forward.

Posted by Alef on 07/06/2007 at 10:57 AM

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