March 4, 2009

"Whatever happened to cinephilia?"

Asks Scott McLemee.

Another way to ask the question is: Why did we ever have cinephilia in the first place? Have we simply overcome a delusion — aided, perhaps, by the immediate availability of everything — or was there some beautiful devotion to film art that we should long to recover?

19 comments:

Jack is Back said...

The only movies I have gone to in the last 5 years are "Cars" and "Spiderman". And only with my little boy. All movies we have on DVD are kids movies. Hollywood and its product are irrelevant when you have good books and great classical/jazz/latin music to read by.

onparkstreet said...

I watch more movies than ever, but in my own bloggy mixed up way.

DVDs I check out from the library or buy, bits of this or that that I watch on television as I flip channels, sometimes stopping to watch the whole thing or ordering a movie on demand. Netflix is something I haven't got around to - maybe I will or maybe I won't. We'll see. I don't like homework.

Flipping channels one day, getting ready for work and having tea, I watched about five minutes of some Ingmar Bergman film, I think it was, don't know for sure. I have a completely vivid image of the rain and the china and the stone of the house in that bit of film, but nothing else about it remains with me. Just a little bit of visual poetry.

My cinephilia is very haiku-ish. Oh, I don't want to end with that sentence so here is another one.

TMink said...

My wife and I still enjoy movies a lot, but we almost NEVER go to a theatre.

Everything is better in our living room. Calibrated and infocus screen? Check. Clean print of the movie in dvd or better definition? Check. Well balanced audio that enhances the movie and is user adjustable? Check. Cheap snacks? Check. You can pause the movie to go to the restroom? Check. Thousands of choices every day? Check.

The theatre cannot compete.

Now I am an old film guy, and my dlp tv canno compete with film projected well in a well set up and run theatre. But those no longer exist in Nashville. I can see the dot structure of the new digital "films."

So I believe that people still love film, but they watch them in new locations.

Trey

Ron said...

Here's a good explanitory quote:

In the mid-1990s you heard a lot about how Quentin Tarantino had worked in a video store and immersed himself in the history of film in much the same way that the French directors had. But the resemblance is limited at best. Godard engaged in a sustained (if oblique) dialogue with literature and philosophy in his films -- while Tarantino seems to have acquired a formidable command of cinematic technique without ever having anything resembling a thought in his head. Apart, of course, from “violence is cool,” which doesn’t really count.

You see, you have to have that elitist passion, not fanboyism! Ugh, let them go!

ricpic said...

Cinephilia means love of film and I think it is hard to love the relatively signatureless films that are churned out nowadays. What once made film so memorable and lovable was its great auteurs: Bergman; Fellini; Antonioni; John Ford; Howard Hawks; Truffaut; Hitchkock: each with an immediately recognizable imprint or look, whatever the story each was telling. I doubt that personal era will return for the same reason that I doubt the era of great novelists will return.

Where will film worthy of cinephilia go. I think it is already going in the direction of extraordinarily creative and moving documentaries. A few years ago I saw a French film about one year in the life of a rural elementary school teacher. Genuinely moving without a drop of sentimentality. Sorry, but I can't recall the title. Recently I saw a film, Of Time And The City, about the decline of the once great if gritty city of Liverpool, which uses passages of english poetry and a catholic music score to great effect.

The documentary gives cinephilia new life.

Palladian said...

"Whatever happened to cinephilia?"

Whatever happened to good cinema?

Palladian said...

"You see, you have to have that elitist passion, not fanboyism! Ugh, let them go!"

"Elitism" is necessary and positive in the arts. Democracy in artistic endeavor encourages and produces garbage.

Dario Argento's "Tenebre" is better than anything Tarantino ever made and just as bloody and cheap. This has nothing to do with class or content and everything to do with quality.

Chris said...

I think I've blocked out all the movies I saw in Film School (should that be capitalized?). In any case, every once in a while I wake up to a nightmare that was surely inspired by Argento. Which reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me about taking a girl to see Salo on a first date (neither knowing exactly what they were getting into). Which reminds me of Taxi Driver.

Chris said...

Palladian.

I was thinking about "quality" recently and I'm not sure what it means. Taste is so subjective. I can say that I can watch some films over and over again (like LA Confidential) whereas other films that blew me away when I saw them in the theatre for the first time haven't really held up. The Player and Pulp Fiction are on this list (although I think Pulp Fiction might be worth a re watch now that it's been a while since I've seen it).

Chris said...

Once Upon a Time in the West is a movie I can watch relentlessly. The soundtrack alone...

Ron said...

"Elitism" is necessary and positive in the arts. Democracy in artistic endeavor encourages and produces garbage.
Elitist twaddle. Perhaps some egoism is necessary for artists themselves, but "the arts" as a phenomenon need the declasse energy of a Tarantino more than New Wave bloviation.

Dario Argento's "Tenebre" is better than anything Tarantino ever made and just as bloody and cheap.
Well, it's nice to get such a guffaw so early in the morning, coffee out the nostrils and all! Sorry, man, not even in the ballpark. Still, if I had a nickel for every "X made a better movie than Tarantino ever did" line...

This has nothing to do with class or content and everything to do with quality. Yes, I wonder the same thing when 80% of what cineastes trumpet is so stunningly, lifelessly without any quality. Their richly deserved slow cultural deaths have more to do with that attitude of condescension than any coarsening of public tastes.

Palladian said...

"I was thinking about "quality" recently and I'm not sure what it means. Taste is so subjective. I can say that I can watch some films over and over again (like LA Confidential) whereas other films that blew me away when I saw them in the theatre for the first time haven't really held up."

The reason you can re-watch certain films is because they're good. There's a synergy of craft: the story, the acting, the photography, the lighting, the design, the music are all at a high level and give a quality film a richness and density that a shallow, poor-quality film lacks.

Bad food sates hunger, temporarily, but you don't reflect back on it, or ask for the recipe so you can make it again.

"Elitist twaddle. Perhaps some egoism is necessary for artists themselves, but "the arts" as a phenomenon need the declasse energy of a Tarantino more than New Wave bloviation."

No, tasteless populists need "declasse energy". We the elite are treated to all the déclassé energy we need just walking down the street. Or reading some comments on Althouse.

And Tarantino is hardly an example of déclassé energy anyway. His films are the equivalent of a Brooklyn hipster drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and wearing mesh-backed trucker caps. Pretentious to the hilt, the elite simulating the lowbrow.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I don't know where this guy is coming from. I once saw four films at four separate movie theaters on the same day. And I see at least 50 movies a year. I know lots of other people who are the same way.

With Netflix, pirating, and home theaters cinephilia is bigger than ever. He just needs new friends.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Palladian : And Tarantino is hardly an example of déclassé energy anyway. His films are the equivalent of a Brooklyn hipster drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and wearing mesh-backed trucker caps. Pretentious to the hilt, the elite simulating the lowbrow.

Tarantino knows how to synthesize the high and the low. Just like Almodovar or Apatow. That is their special genius and what makes their films so great.

Smilin' Jack said...

Over the past decade or two movies and television have exchanged cultural roles. Nowadays movies are entertainment for children--most of the blockbusters are literally live-action comic books (Seen Superspiderironman N yet?) Interesting drama for adults--Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men--has moved to TV.

William said...

I think the VCR killed cinephilia. To see an old Fellini or Godard title, one had to trek to the Thalia. The Thalia was a shabby old theatre on the upper west side with sticky floors and a small screen. It is the only theatre I have ever encountered where the seats sloped down from the screen....The rarity of the titles and the shared experience of seeing them made the viewer feel special..... I liked the old Hollywood movies best. To see them without commercials and fuzzy lines was a revelation. I wasn't sure if Godard was boring, or I was dense. Bergman was the real deal. He was to cinema what Shakespeare was to drama. Fellini was great but very strange and dissolute. It was like going to church and having a fresh epiphany every week.....When the VCR first came out, I was able to have my own private film festivals. But the ease with which it could be done and the satiation of the desire, ended up subverting the passion. I dare you to see three straight Bergman films and not think "Jeez, lighten up a little."

Freeman Hunt said...

Whatever happened to cinephilia?

Nothing, as far as I can tell. It's still around.

In fact, the guys' night (+ me if I feel like joining) among my husband's friends is a weekly get together in our basement to watch a movie. Probably not the movies you would expect either. ALL kinds of movies. And there is intense discussion about film and what constitutes great film and what falls short. I know of no other group of men with better taste in movies. They've been doing this for over ten years and have logs covering everything they've watched together and who selected what. There is even a complicated system (The System) that has evolved for selecting the movies.

My husband used to go see a movie or two almost everyday. He doesn't now because of other commitments, but I'm sure he'll be back to it as soon as he's able. And yes, most of what comes out now is pretty bad (often terrible), but you can still learn from what doesn't work.

Cinephilia is, I think, alive and well.

BJM said...

Chris, Altman's eight minute hat tip to Welles makes "The Player" a must have and a re watch from time to time.

Kubrick's "2001" and "Lolita" fall into the same category, neither stand up well in today's technologically saturated and liberal society but Kubrick's touch was so deft that they are still watchable. I watched "Dr. Strangelove" on Netflix-to-TV this weekend and it's still insanely topical in a weird way.

"Pulp Fiction" doesn't hold up for me as well as "Reservoir Dogs", but then I would watch Keitel read the phone book, preferably naked.

Kubrick, Altman and Welles fought their own demons and excesses and the audience was often the worst for it. Far too seldom they demonstrated that they were masters of the craft.

Cinephilia is indeed live and well and as more vintage film comes online many more fans will emerge.

blake said...

I confess I gave up reading the lament when the late '60s and early '70s were mentioned. I don't know if the author actually went there but reading the last condemnation of movies I knew in my bones that the essayist was going to hearken back to the "golden age" of about 1967-1977.

It's not really gotten worse, you're just getting older.

If anything, the ubiquity of the form makes it easier for the good to flourish. You can argue that Tarantino never had a thought in his head, but you can't argue that he and Rodriguez don't have a mastery that would've been challenging for them to achieve without being able to watch all those movies on tape. (And in Rodriguez' case, to shoot a whole bunch of throwaway video.)

And these guys were watching movies, for the most part, with the far ends cut off.

Anyway, it's clear that they're talking about a rare group of people to begin with: How many people can go see a different movie every day?

I could maybe do it, if I saw every movie that came out and went to all the shows at the universities. Box Office Mojo shows 63 releases this year, which makes it sound do-able, until you realize that only the top 25 have cracked a million bucks. (Few will have a chance to know about them much less see them.)

The home theater changes things, and although I think the social aspect matters (especially for some films), I think it changes things for the better. Particularly for the bottom 38 films that people aren't going to see in the theater.

There are probably more cinephiles than ever. And if you stay home, you can easily watch a movie a day.