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139 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2009 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 5, ISSUE 1 PP 139–144 CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/175174309X388536 BOOK REVIEW HOW DOES FILM MATTER? MICHAEL H. GOLDHABER The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle, Jonathan Beller, Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006, 332 + xiii pages, $35/£20.50, PB ISBN 1584655836 Are technological changes determinative of cultural changes? Consider the series of inventions and their deployment that led to the modern cinema and later to video, and so on. Did they together lead to a particular kind of change in the overall nature of society and culture? Great numbers of us now often find ourselves spending much time in front of screens in darkened rooms, with fellow audience members either crowded around us or watching exactly what we are watching in other places. How does this affect who we are and how we live, even outside those darkened rooms? Can anything very general be said as to all this? I think these are worthwhile questions; they are basically what Jonathan Beller in his new book proposes to address. MICHAEL H. GOLDHABER IS A SOCIAL THEORIST, CONSULTANT, ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST PAINTER, AND FORMER PARTICLE PHYSICIST WHO FIRST INTRODUCED THE TERM “ATTENTION ECONOMY” IN THE MID-1980S. HE CURRENTLY BLOGS MOSTLY ON THAT SUBJECT AT HTTP://GOLDHABER.ORG. WHERE OTHER REFERENCES MAY BE FOUND. > CULTURAL POLITICS 140 BOOK REVIEW Significant though the issues are, however, Beller’s approach falls short of its promise. Judging by his book, which is adapted from his mid-1990s Ph.D. thesis, the author came of age intellectually at the height of the dominance of postmodernist theory. While some postmodernism works as an important corrective to excesses of modernist rationality, unfortunately Beller’s work illustrates that too much can be quite toxic to thought. It did not help either that as an apprentice to Michael Hardt, at Duke, he picked up or failed to question a very dogmatic version of anticapitalism. Though Beller claims to be saying very general things about what films do, he focuses exclusively on a very few offerings, all highly schematized, driven by simplified ideology more than by plot, dialogue, scenery, or character (Man with a Movie Camera, Eisenstein’s The Strike,Beavis and Butt-head,The Matrix,Barton Fink, and Natural Born Killers, principally.) His analysis, in six chapters and a rambling epilogue, even then, has less to do with the films than with texts that he takes up and quotes extensively, but with insufficient understanding. I do not have space here to describe the entire, rather dense work in detail, so I will focus on what strike me as the two key chapters. Chapter 1 takes up Man with a Movie Camera by the early,idealistic Soviet director Dziga Vertov. It follows a cameraman (Vertov’s brother) through a daily cycle of filming ordinary life (and tram traffic) in a couple of newly Soviet cities. Wildly, Beller interprets this cycle as the circulation of capital (contrary to what the film depicts and to Vertov’s stated intent). Beller takes this analogy to another level, concluding that film cameras and projectors themselves resemble the assembly line, and, furthermore, film is a form of money, because, like money, film “circulates” in the projector. Why we should accept this, I do not see. In a finite world, after all, almost everything can be said to circulate, from the blood in our bodies, to the earth around the sun, to nutrients in a rain forest, to precapitalist peasants going back and forth from home to field. Hence the match between film and money is just a random association, from which no sound conclusion can possibly follow. But Beller does require his “discovery” to have real validity because he relies upon it in Chapter 4. At the outset of that chapter, Beller announces he will explain why the capitalist “rate of profit” fails to fall as Marx famously predicted it would. The reason he proposes is that capitalists profit not only from what Marx called the “surplus value” extracted by underpaying workers in the course of...


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