What is Cinema?

This is a manifesto of a sort I wrote for a friend who was considering a new film production platform....

What is possible with cinema, in cinema?

Cinema and life have always been intertwined, intimate, mimicking each other, prodding each other, amplifying and inflecting each other. It is how we have imagined ourselves and each other, modeled ourselves and each other, explored ourselves and each other.

Cinema has always been an exploration of the relationship between the human, the social, and the recorded image — an exploration of how we see and are seen.

Cinema was once pure spectacle, something out there: a stage, a privileged space, stars and sets and technology — a certain monumental magic.

Today, this architecture has changed. The means of recording, distributing, and playing back is in everyone’s hands. Cinema is no longer on stage. Cinema is now everywhere, between and amongst us all. We are no longer simply spectators. We have become spectacle and spectacle makers.

The old ways of the story and the exotic, while still beautiful and powerful, are no longer what they were. If cinema was always a question, always a way of asking how is it to go in this age of technology, this question of cinema has only become more pressing.

The modes of technology — phones, microcomputing, the web, the Flip, desktop publishing — has shifted the very relationship between the human, the social, and the recorded image.

Today, we record the world without even thinking about it: point, click, shoot. Today, we no longer only see cinema up there, on the big screen. Today, we live in cinema — in chat rooms, on YouTube, on iPods, on Skype and FaceTime, on reality television, on surveillance cameras.

This is a new kind of magic, no longer monumental but perhaps more powerful for it. This is not Fred Astaire putting on a top hat. This is Gene Kelly singing in the rain, on the street corner, in an old tenement. This is the magic of the moving image everywhere, everyone, all the time.

In creating films, we are always exploring this juncture, this relationship, this humanity and this technology and the different ways the two inflect each other. There is, of course, a long history of such explorations — in Godard and Bunuel, in Cassavetes and Pasoloni, in Wong Kar Wai and Scorcese (once upon a time), in Ferrara and Kubrick, in Harmony Korine and David Lynch, in Eisenstein……

In all our films, we join them all in asking: What is cinema? What is possible with cinema, in cinema?

1 comment:

drwatson said...

I'm 30 and when I was in high school the most popular films for my friends and I to watch were Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Clerks. I'm not ashamed of that list at all, which makes it different than a lot of my other high school tastes. Why was I defending late-era Clapton? Who knows.

But when I think about those films, they were playing with possibilities and I think what we were responding to is that we didn't know cinema could go that way. We didn't know who Bunuel was and I had not yet been totally mesmerized by Bergman and early Woody Allen.

The problem I see with cinema - well let's not say problem. I don't have a good word yet, but I think this will make sense. Whereas painting (which i really know nothing about) stopped being representational and more or less stayed that way, film and music have stayed conventional in ways that are a bit perplexing to say the least. Or perhaps not, maybe cinema's greatest strength is it's ability to entertain. There is something that is sort of not entertaining about watching Lynch's Inland Empire, for example. so maybe the conventionality allows for the entertainment. I'm really not sure.

I've heard people argue that film is not a medium built for dialogue - that "true" cinema would be devoid of dialogue, just images I'm not sold on that idea at all really, though I do love the way it sounds.

I think the question is hard because I only recognize limits when they are pushed, tested, broken and so forth. So "What is Cinema," reminds me of how I felt after reading Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves, when I finally asked "what is a novel, anyways," and what the hell was that thing I just read that looked like a novel.