11. Aesthetics and the Futures of Cinema
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11 AESTHETICS AND THE FUTURES OF THE CINEMA A E S T H E T I C S A N D T H E F U T U R E S O F T H E C I N E M A • 593 . . . Although prophecies about the future of the cinema and its imminent death emerged almost as soon as the cinema itself, in recent years, with the arrival of digital technology and the celebration/wake of the centenary of the medium in 1995, they have taken on a new urgency. This urgency is tied to changes in the ways that films are produced, distributed, and consumed. Responding to these changes, Susan Sontag famously, during the cinema’s centenary, penned its obituary, or at the very least, the obituary of cinephilia. In “A Century of Cinema” Sontag wrote: “Cinema’s hundred years appear to have the shape of a life cycle: an inevitable birth, the steady accumulation of glories, and the onset in the last decade of an ignominious, irreversible decline. . . . If cinephilia is dead,” she concludes, “then movies are dead . . . no matter how many movies, even very good ones, go on being made. If cinema can be resurrected, it will only be through the birth of a new kind of cine-love.”1 She notes that the practices of what she calls the “capitalist and would-be capitalist world—which is to say everywhere” (117)—leads to a product that offers only superficial entertainment. But what Sontag really laments is the death of cinephilia, of a profound conviction that only the cinema mattered, that it was indeed an instantiation of Gesamtkunstwerk: “Cinema had apostles (it was like religion). Cinema was a crusade. Cinema was a world view. Lovers of poetry and opera or dance don’t think there is only poetry or opera or dance. But lovers of cinema could think there was only cinema. That movies encapsulated everything—and they did. It was both the book of art and the book of life” (118). The death of cinephilia was brought on, according to Sontag, by many things: the rise of capital and blockbusters, yes, but also by a proliferation of screens: To see a great film only on television isn’t to have really seen that film. . . . No amount of mourning will revive the vanished rituals—erotic, ruminative—of the darkened theatre. . . . Images now appear in any size and on a variety of surfaces: on a screen in a theatre, on home screens as small as the palm of your hand or as big as a wall, on disco walls and mega-screens hanging above sports arenas and the outsides of tall public buildings. The sheer ubiquity of moving images has steadily undermined the standards people once had both for cinema as art at its most serious and for cinema as popular entertainment. (118–119) The mourning that Sontag undergoes for a certain moment of cinema history is both understandable and wrongheaded. The cinema—from 8.5 mm amateur films of the 1920s to the expanded cinema Stan VanDerBeek addresses in his manifesto contained herein—has always found ways to break out of the studio/art cinema, or “Hollywood/ Mosfilm,” paradigms. Similarly, audiences never constituted a collective identity of 594 • A E S T H E T I C S A N D T H E F U T U R E S O F T H E C I N E M A cinephiles; the supposition that they did plays exactly into capitalist or totalitarian assumptions that they should. The manifestos contained in this chapter trace this particular aspect of cinema history, namely its interest in defining itself as a completely distinct and epistemologically privileged art form. Concentrating on new screens, like YouTube, and on the artisanal and low-budget DIY movements that can be seen as responses to dominant modes of filmmaking practice, the manifestos in this section call into being a new kind of cine-love that demonstrates the strength and resilience of the cinema when it is understood to be diverse, dynamic, and heterogeneous. Ricciotto Canudo’s “The Birth of the Sixth Art,” from 1911, argues for maintaining the specificity of cinema and for the new medium not simply to rely on older forms of art as an aesthetic. Only by developing a new language of the cinema can film take its place as the sixth art. Alexandre Astruc’s “The Birth of a New Avant Garde: La caméra-stylo” argues that the...