Publishing in a Pandemic

The Daily — Feb 24, 2021
Duane Jones in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Yesterday brought good news and bad news to those of us who appreciate great writing about cinema. Maybe we had better start with the bad. Cinefex, the bimonthly journal widely regarded as the definitive word on the state of visual effects, has ceased publication after forty-one years. “The pandemic deprived us of subject matter, retail outlets, and most critically, advertisers, many of whom, like us, struggled to remain afloat in a climate of intense turmoil and uncertainty,” writes publisher Gregg Shay, the son of Don Shay, who, in 1980, founded the handsome magazine known for its eye-catching covers and eight-by-nine-inch format. “We did our best to weather the storm,” writes Gregg Shay, “but ultimately the storm prevailed.”

Readers have taken to Twitter to mourn. “Cinefex served as an incredible inspiration and resource to so many in the industry,” reads the official Industrial Light & Magic account. “We are heartbroken.” Visual effects artist Todd Vaziri, known for his work on Transformers (2007), Avatar (2009), and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), writes that the magazine “pulled the curtain back on how movies were made and was significantly responsible for sparking my enthusiasm for filmmaking and nurturing it for decades. This is a huge loss, and I’m very grateful for all of the knowledge and joy it has brought to all of us.” Like Vaziri, many readers have posted photos of their collections of back issues. “The printing and binding on these books was a joy to behold,” tweets filmmaker Cal Brunker. “They did not feel disposable. They felt important.”

On to the good news. Screen Slate has relaunched with a playfully brash new design by Bráulio Amado. Founded in 2011 by programmer and media artist Jon Dieringer, Screen Slate has evolved from a simple yet vital service to New Yorkers as a set of daily listings of local cinematic goings on to a full-blown publication featuring reviews, essays, and interviews. And that’s just the half of it. Having worked on special screenings and series with theaters such as Anthology Film Archives, Screen Slate has now also set itself up as a standalone virtual cinema with programming overseen Nellie Killian, known for her work at BAM, Light Industry, and the Metrograph.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Dieringer began working with developers on revamping the site to accommodate all this rapid expansion. “But in the course of 2020,” he writes, “we ended up creating something that is in many ways totally new as we shifted course to respond to the anticipated needs of a post-catastrophe film culture whose relationship to access, history, business models, and of course, filmgoing, will be different from what it was during our first nine years.”

The new Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair is out, and like everything else since last March, this year’s is a little different. The cover is usually a fold-out extravaganza gathering a healthy batch of top stars dressed to the nines and posed just so in a photo more often than not taken by Annie Leibovitz. For this issue, working from Costa Rica, “the renowned conceptual artists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari directed ten photo shoots across four continents, using techniques that allowed us to minimize on-set personnel and maximize COVID-19 protocols,” explains editor Radhika Jones. “It was a feat born of necessity but suffused with artistic purpose—to demonstrate not just that the show must go on but that there’s joy in its continuance, even in the most surreal and challenging of times.” Among the online offerings from this issue are profiles of Spike Lee, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael B. Jordan, and Charlize Theron.

In film magazine news that has little or nothing to do with the pandemic, American Cinematographer has posted its tribute to the late Giuseppe Rotunno, a fine appreciation of a humble man whose spectacular career spanned nearly six decades. And Cineaste has put up excerpts from its new issue—previews of articles on Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales and a “return of politics” to horror movies—as well as a round of online exclusives that includes Matthew Eng’s remembrance of Duane Jones. “Before he died in 1988 at the all-too-early age of fifty-one, Jones had lived many lives as an actor, an academic administrator, an educator, a scholar, a director, and an executive overseer of the Black Theatre Alliance,” writes Eng. “He worked on just nine films in his lifetime, including Bill Gunn’s perverse vampiric romance Ganja & Hess (1973) and Kathleen Collins’s groundbreaking independent drama Losing Ground (1982). But it is [George A. Romero’s] Night of the Living Dead [1968] that has emerged as a bona fide landmark in the decades since its release and has caused Jones’s image, if not his name, to linger in the cultural memory.”

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