We were surprised to hear Manohla Dargis (NYTimes) lament that Hollywood's embrace of the small movie ("Brokeback," "Crash," others) signals the end to the good old days when we could all go to a theater to enjoy "the oceanic feeling that comes with watching a film with a crowd, finding communion in the dark." You'd think that any film critic would be thrilled to see quality trumping size at the Academy Awards. But the way Dargis described the experience of sitting in a theater was even more interesting. "Oceanic," "dark," "communion" -- I felt like I was listening to someone talk about an old church -- another building that seems to be losing an audience, as more informal religious gatherings are beginning to happen in the home (see this great article in Time Magazine).
I can relate to what Dargis is saying, but I doubt very much that small screens will separate us in any meaningful way from the rest of humanity -- the damage, if any, has already been done by a medium that more often promotes values we detest. If anything, small films enable multiple audiences to commune with each other around things that really matter to them. And that's the true meaning of the long tail -- niche matters, and some niches are rather large. Is there any other way of explaining why some many people were disappointed when "Brokeback" lost and "Crash" won?