New Cinephilia: toward a retro-maniacal future?
‘One can look forward to future contests, their outcome by no means predetermined, since problems that seem insurmountable today will yield to the more complex intelligence of children still playing ball in the parks of the world.’ (Amos Vogel, 1974.)
The following (confused) thoughts and many questions are somehow related to the New Cinephilia debate, the musings it unleashed, the critical elaboration it stimulated and the many interrogatives it implicitly posed. More than a critical contribution to the ongoing discourse, the following lines present some of the questions we feel remain unanswered and may constitute an additional incentive to the development of this debate, we hope.
Could it be that the greatest danger for the future of cinephilia is its obsession with the past?
The Hollywood clergy has christened the silent nostalgia of a depthless work ‘Best Film’ of the year; Cannes picked Marilyn as its seasonal brand, the local multiplex is advertising Titanic in 3D. The past, whether remote or very recent, pervades the present of cinema so much so as to leave us uncertain about what exactly constitute the ‘new’. Our consumer-entertainment complex has granted us almost unlimited access to the vaults of film history. Has it also deprived us of the need to face the present? Critics and filmmakers used to live in a cinematic present tense where the past was chronologically ordered into a more or less coherent (hi)story. We are now invaded by a ubiquitous past fragmented into cultural sub-units removed from their linear contexts. If the future of moving images is on the one hand aiming to artificial ‘perfection’ (high-definition TV, 5.0 surround-sound home-movie theatres, digital projection, 3D and so forth), on the other hand our daily visual diet features copious intake of low-fi images from the Internet, the majority of which comes from the past. Overdosed on visual debris from an exotic past, we can hardly conceive anything but the familiar. Hollywood’s historical task has been to save its spectators from the need to grow up, has its mission exhausted itself in a timeless gape?
Are nostalgia and retrospective fetishization curbing cinema’s progress or is it the lack of a forward surge that is triggering these inherently conservative attitudes?
Economic scarcity seems to have enveloped criticism in a warm haze of acceptance and appreciation. Who can afford to attack what already threatens to collapse? A socio-economic crisis of monstrous proportions rages on, the catastrophe is no longer coming, it is here. Is the audio-visual continent registering these tectonic shifts? Like most of our commons (education, health, etc.) cinema too has been privatized, it ceased to be a collective experience to become an intimate obsession. Isn’t youtube (an attempt to self-authenticate our lives and give meaning to our lack of experience?) eroding our capability to concentrate and our willingness to let stories unfold? Aren’t we constantly attracted to the next curiosity being advertised at the margins of our craving gaze? Will Citizen Kane be seen by the children (not) playing ball in the parks of the world as some sort of romantic dinosaur whose actual presence on earth will be viewed as surreal? The idea of a media mogul reshaping reality, one suspects, will appear naïve and almost nonsensical to someone who has experienced media as the only reality.
Are we incessantly re-discovering, re-programming and curating artefacts from the past like there is no tomorrow because we can no longer imagine a tomorrow?
Are the Romanian, Iranian or Thai ‘new waves’ genuinely new or just the backwash of European cinema swamping the periphery of the empire? Aren’t we drawn to the extra-cinematic vicissitudes of these films for there, where dissent has not yet been turned into a consumer good, we can still sense the relevance of cinema in relation to its container (i.e. the world)?
Aren’t the films of a Miguel Gomez or a Pedro Costa refined and sensitive chinephiliac ruminations beyond the void of our social predicament? Is cinephilia a comfortable retreat for the fearful antiquarian? ‘Art cinema’ increasingly resembles the prescribed playground for the castrated and the repressed. Can we still be shocked into life? Will the cinema of the future plug directly into our brain? The Internet has democratised cinema, so they say. We don’t discuss films outside our movie theatres, but we do insult each other online, is this the new polis? Present and past are confounded on the Internet, creating a spongiform perception of time where the speed with which we consume data is matched by a motionless frustration. Solid storytelling has migrated to TV, the illegitimate bastard child of cinema; why is the big screen avoiding ‘grand’ narratives if the public seems to appreciate? Is there anything left to say when communication becomes a means in itself, a sort of circular producer of self-authenticating meaning?
We have been expropriated from our own language by education, from our songs by reality TV contests, from our flesh by mass pornography, from our city by surveillance police, from our friends by the willing slavery of wage-labour.
Certain films have, in our opinion, envisioned possible worlds where what seemed to be inevitable turned out to be mere contingency, therefore reversible.
For cinema is not a view of the world but is what binds us to it in a passionate way. Films are not something we hold, but something that carry us.
Can cinephilia escape its own ghetto and reach out for the joy of an encounter that survives its expected end?
Celluloid Liberation Front is a multi-use(r) name, an “open reputation” informally adopted and shared by a desiring multitude of insurgent cinephiles, transmedial terrorists, aesthetic dynamyters and random deviants. For reasons that remain unknown, the name was borrowed from a collective of anti-imperialist blind filmmakers from the Cayman Islands. Twitter feed here.