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Revisiting Manny Farber's Termite Art Theory


It’s bad enough that the big budget blockbusters clog up the movie screens down at your local theater, but they also are running up the ticket prices. It’s difficult enough to compete against the behemoths. They will slaughter their smaller opponents every time and, in this day and age where money legitimizes a film, it makes a smaller film’s chances of survival all the more slim. Cinema needs the smaller films much more than it does the behemoths. They are vital to the continuing health of the movie industry. After all, a successful army isn’t made up of just generals.

Manny Farber, noted film critic, coined the phrase “termite art” to describe smaller films. He asserted that termite art is far more powerful than its counterpart, the white elephant art, i.e., the blockbusters. His assertions were that the smaller termite art was more mobile and able to adapt. What would Farber say if he saw what was going on today? Searching the internet, you find what the fourth Transformers film did at the box office easier than you can find what it is about. Discussions about its merit are not really that important.  Down the line, the anticipation of a film’s earning potential conjures up more excitement than the film itself does. Sure, film is a business, but the whole concern with the industry at present date is money. Theaters are going to be a thing of the past at the present rate.

Smaller films are taking to alternative methods to compete. DirecTV offers a service where certain movies premiere on their on-demand service the same day they do in theaters, as well does Comcast’s Infinity service. These types of services will continue to grow as long as the bigger movies continue to bully their way into the theaters. As we have seen by this summer’s box office, you cannot always count on the blockbusters to perform. There are times when the public rejects what is fed them and the studios scramble to adjust.

For now, Farber’s dream of termite art overcoming the white elephant is looking less and less likely. The rising costs of movie production have dictated the raising of ticket prices. Smaller movies, when they are allowed in the mainstream cinema-plexes, are forced to like it.

Tags: Batman Vs. Superman