- Everyone I Know Is Stayin' Home:The New Cinephilia
I don't get out to concerts any more . . . but, oh, the recordings!Konrad in Visconti's Conversation Piece
At the recent Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, the festival's directors (and cinephiles of the first water) Peter von Bagh and GianLuca Farinelli organized a series of lunches at which film historians, critics, and archivists, lubricated by salumi and Lambrusco, discussed cinephilia in terms of personal history: the first film they ever saw, what movies made a mark on them, how they developed a passion for certain kinds of cinema. Widely variant as the accounts were at the lunch I attended—most participants recalled a Disney or nature film as their baptismal experience; mine was Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, US, 1960) and the concomitant memory, hardly Proustian, of my mother's mouton coat pressed to my face throughout the screening—the lineaments of "cinephilic formation" remained surprisingly similar. We were mostly Anglophones, all white, and of an older generation, which in part explained this commonality of experience, a cultural past that would seem not only antique but profoundly alien to today's emergent cinephile, who, through DVDs and downloads, on every manner of media from in-home cinemas to iPhones, can access films we waited years to see, often traveling great distances to do so.
An autodidact and hopeless movie lover from a village in northern Saskatchewan with no television (so no late night movies, the provenance of many nascent cinephiles), and long before video recorders, much less DVD players, I took my holidays in New York to see the Mizoguchi retrospective at the Japan Society, or in Toronto to see Angelopoulos or Godard. Today, many [End Page 206] of the same films I traveled hundreds of miles to see can be easily had, often instantly, in the hinterland, even as the formats and systems by which they are delivered grievously diminish the experience. For instance, it required endless negotiation and great expense to get a new print of Quatre nuits d'un rêveur (FR, 1971), made for the Bresson retrospective ten years ago, which has since vanished into Holy Graildom, but recently all it took to secure a DVD of the film for private study was one beseeching email. Was the Quatre nuits that stunned audiences at our cinematheque a decade ago the same film that, swimmy and stippled with video "effects," was nevertheless legible (that is, consumable) on my computer screen? (And can one legitimately analyze a film seen that way? The disorienting strangeness of Bresson's editing, which one experiences physiologically in the cinema, all but vanishes on video, no matter the quality, the inky nights of the film's title reduced to ashen moiré.) "Movie love" may still be possible, but what if its object of desire is literally obscure—endlessly transferable (an acceleration of Benjamin's reproducibility) but inferior, a phantom of the original? Is the "new cinephilia," this Net-flix, YouTube grande bouffe of images in which Costa, Straub, and Baillie can be seen in Nunavut or Cappadocia and immediately discussed online with philes from afar, a miracle of "open museum" cultural democracy or a spurious celebration of the omnivorous and inauthentic?
When Susan Sontag wrote her famous essay in the New York Times Magazine on the death of cinephilia—for that was her subject, and not, as was often claimed, the death of cinema—this digital proliferation had barely begun to transform film culture. One wonders what Sontag, with her enduring concern with taste and connoisseurship, would make of the vaunted community of film discussion on the Internet, which frustrates or traduces traditional claims of expertise among critics, scholars, and curators. (It's little wonder that film programmers joke about our imperiled profession and our future as door-to-door consultants for home cinema owners—at least those who don't consult theauteurs.com!) The phrase "in cinema experience" has recently entered the discourse of film curation—to differentiate traditional filmgoing from gallery and installation presentation of "moving image" works, videotheques, etc.—a marker of the rapid move of cinema's realm from the social and ceremonial to the insular and...